As David rushed down the dirt street toward the meeting house he heard the first peal of the summoning bell. His brown poncho flowed behind him like the sails of a ship he’d seen in one of the old books. The wooden chain with the symbols of the goddesses and his stature banged against his chest.
His morning had been filled with frustration as he’d herded the sheep and goats into the pen. The second peal rang. He dashed through the doors of the brown stone building as the third note sounded. The doors banged shut behind him. Relief made his knees weak.
With difficulty he calmed his breathing and slid onto the rear bench on the men’s side of the room. As the Singers began the farewell to Sola and the welcome to Luna he kept his head bent.
The moment the song ended Chief Elder Jeremiah rose and spoke. “Today begins a new year. Give thanks to Erda, one of the goddesses of Solunda.”
David knew his last moment arrival had been noticed by the assembled elders. At the edge of his vision he saw Simon’s snide smile. Anger bubbled and David fought to keep the simmer contained. His lateness meant some form of punishment, a public scolding or a night in the stocks. Better punishment than banishment and stoning. Only an injury or illness allowed anyone to miss attending any of the four celebrations.
He shifted restlessly on the backless stone bench. The meeting house was the only building in the village with a stone floor. Windows of colored glass, three on each side featured the goddesses in their glory. Sola wore a scarlet gown, Luna had a pale yellow and Erda’s gown was green. Rainbows of color from the setting sun infused the room.
The Singers rose. The women’s voices praised Luna. The men sang of Sola. David heard Gabriel’s rich tenor soar in praise of Erda. “Be fruitful. Bring life to all who inhabit your land.” The voices muted and stilled.
“Rise,” Elder Jeremiah shouted. “For the first time in this new year Sola and Luna bring equal light to Erda. Repeat the story our ancestors told when they left the outside world and came to Sanctuary.”
“Erda wept. The soil was poisoned. Water was polluted. People died.”
David joined his voice to those of the people around him. He repeated the words he’d recited since he was a child.
“Erda cried to her sisters but Sola and Luna could not help.
A few people heard her cries and spoke to all. Few listened.
The wise ones left the lowlands and came here to await a call to return.”
David sucked in a breath. Had Paul really heard the summons? Dread rose and echoed through him.
“Storms appeared. Erda shook. Swirling winds blew. Sleet, hail and ice fell battering the land. Great waves of water rolled over the land.
Fire storms flared in forests and towns.
So we here wait for a call to return.”
Singers’ voices rose in a dirge to the lost days. Notes reverberated from the stone walls of the meeting house.
David studied the faces of the people who had once been his friends. His twin sat with the other healers. Light from the Sola window burnished her hair to a rich red.
How different their lives had been. She belonged to Sanctuary’s elite. Feelings of uselessness filled his spirit. He was of the lowest caste. But he could heal. He thought of the times he had cured sheep, cattle, goats and horses. He had healed dogs after fights with wild animals. His hands clenched. He fought the urge to run from the meeting house where he truly didn’t belong.
The song moved from sadness to notes of the song for the awakening of Erda. He searched for Gabriel who had become a Singer though none of his family had ever shown the talent.
An eerie feeling slithered along David’s skin. Why did he sense the emotions of other and sometimes their thoughts? He had no training other than what he’d discovered on his own. Knives of hatred filled the air. He stared at Simon who acted as doorkeeper. Their gazes met for an instant. David knew who sent the dark emotions.
Holding a groan inside David broke eye-contact. His attention returned to the women’s side. Ruth looked as though she wanted to be ill. As a Sensitive he felt sure she sensed Simon’s emotions. Petite with hair so dark it appeared black, she looked younger than her age. Did she agree with Paul’s plan or had the power of his emotions swayed her? What caused that pinched expression? Were the multitude of emotions in the meeting house responsible? He scanned the other Sensitives. All seemed tense.
Think sheep. The moment he imagined being with the flocks his thoughts cleared.
Elder Jeremiah sat at the end of the row of elders. Did the arrogant man know what his younger son planned? Jeremiah followed the rules of Sanctuary to the letter. Only those who stood against his wishes were ever named sinners.
As the Singers continued the welcome to Luna and the new year, David’s thoughts focused on his past. When he and Deborah turned ten they’d left their mother’s cottage. They’d been scared and curious. For five years they’d learned the
writing and arithmatics. At fifteen they’d been tested to see if they would
enter one of the specialties. Of the five children of his birth year only he
hadn’t been chosen to study for one of the five Elder, Teacher, Healer,
Sensitive or Singer. Reading
Since he was a male the Elders said he couldn’t become a Healer or a Sensitive. His singing voice hadn’t been judged strong enough to train. He had wanted to be Teacher. Several times among the younger students he’d predicted the ones who were later chosen to train for one of the talents.
A touch of anger rose and he thought of Simon’s smug smile during the testing. He had lied. So for five years David had worked as a herdsman.
David’s head jerked. He’d been so deep in memories he’d nearly dozed. If anyone noticed he would have faced a second punishment.
The final notes of the song faded. Chief Elder Jeremiah rose. “Will Ruth, Deborah, Gabriel and Paul present themselves? They are to be invested as servants of the goddesses.”
David watched his friends leave their places. The young women joined the young men on the platform. Elder Jeremiah gave them the symbols of their specialties. Hands for Deborah, a heart for Ruth, a harp for Gabriel and the three circles, red, yellow and green for Paul.
Resentment roiled in David’s gut. Why hadn’t he staged an accident? A broken leg would have kept him from witnessing the end of his dreams. His hands clenched.
Paul stepped forward. His braced shoulders and his steady gaze evoked confidence. David’s hands clenched. Did Paul realize the chaos his words could bring?’
“On this day when we face the start of a new year I hear Erda crying. Carry your knowledge, talents and the glory of the Three to all of Erda’s people.”
David straightened. Gasps rippled through the audience becoming a roar like winds howling from the mountain peaks. Paul’s expression made David think of a zealot.
“The time has come to disperse. The time has come to spread the words of Sola, Luna and Erda. The time has come to step beyond the barrier of the Gap.”
Jeremiah leaped to his feet. He raised a fist and stalked toward his son. “We were called from the world to keep the talents and the glory of the Three pure. There has been no message. Who but the Chief Priest would hear the words of the goddesses?”
Paul faced his father. “The time for a change has come. The day has arrived and we must leave Sanctuary and go into the world. I have heard the goddesses and I will follow their directions. Have you listened? Have you ignored the signs? The increased births, the failing of the fields. These are warnings from Erda, Sola and Luna. Are you so mired in your comfort and power you refuse to hear?”
David stared at his other friends. Ruth buried her face in her hands. The storm of emotions roaring through the room even reached him. How must she feel?
“Who will come with me?” Paul shouted. “Does anyone hear the cries?” Moonlight shone through the clear window above the platform and formed a halo around him.
Ruth, Deborah and Gabriel stepped to Paul’s side. David rose. He couldn’t allow his friends to stand alone. If a stoning was declared he would accept the punishment. As he climbed the three steps to the stage he felt like a fish being drawn from the water.
Ruth turned toward him. Fear filled her dark eyes. He touched her shoulder. Peace. To his astonishment he saw hope banish darker emotions.
“Traitor,” Jeremiah shouted. “The goddess will punish your blasphemy.” He glared at his younger son. “Who drove you to take this step?”
“We were called. I heard.”
The older man whirled and jabbed a finger into David’s chest. Icy blue eyes strafed David’s face. “Son of sin, the seeds of your destruction were sown by your father. You were made a herder of animals to break the ties you bound around my son’s soul.”
Anger boiled to the surface. David fought for control. Fury blocked his vocal cords. A scream formed and pulsed to be free.
Paul raised his fist. “The call came to me. David knew nothing until three days ago. For five years I’ve studied the histories and the sayings of the goddesses. I’ve meditated. Erda, Sola and Luna spoke to me. I am now an Elder. Judgment must come from my peers.”
Jeremiah turned to the seated members of the community. “My people, go and enjoy the waiting dinner. The Elders will decide the punishment.”
David drew Ruth, Gabriel and Deborah toward the rear of the platform. The Singers brushed past them. Men, women and children rushed to the open doors.
Simon lounged against the rear wall. With crossed arms and a satisfied smirk he looked as though the verdict would be his to give.
The Elders congregated on the other side of the stage. Paul was led to the Seat of Judgment.
Ruth’s pain-filled eyes and her tight mouth caught David’s attention. He closed his eyes and sent thoughts of peace and calmness. Be at ease. When her eyes flew open her tension had abated. What had he done? This was no time to consider.
Elder Jeremiah approached Paul. “You are my son. How could you betray me?”
“How could you not listen and observe?”
“I name you a liar and blasphemer. The goddesses would never speak to one newly invested. You are no leader. You will lead the people of Sanctuary to their doom. Why should we return to suffer what our forefathers gathered here to escape?”
“They came to preserve the worship of the goddesses,” Paul said. “They should have left years ago.”
“You are a fool.”
Elder John strode toward the chair. “Jeremiah, consider the signs. The increase in population. The failure of the fields. Once before these signs rose. Your ancestor, also Chief Elder, handed down new rules forbidding certain women to wed. I suggest we send these young people to explore and find places where we can expand.”
David noted the expressions on the faces of the nine Elders morph from anger to agreement.
“How do we vote,” Elder John said. “Those in favor of sending a small group raise your hands.”
The only one not responding was Jeremiah.
“Send us,” Paul said. “We are prepared and have dreamed since childhood for this chance.”
Simon marched down the aisle. “Though I would rather stay I will go with them. They have no Teacher. My presence will keep Sanctuary safe.”
His smile raised David’s suspicion. Ruth’s body shook. David touched her hand. Be careful.
Jeremiah grasped his older son’s hand. “Your sacrifice will be rewarded when you return. You’ve always heeded my words.” He embraced Simon. “Go with these fools. Return to bring me the news of their failure.”