AT last, the old man raised a hand to still the people’s assembly.
Only he could announce what the bigger sacrificial offering would be.
The offering that was to replace scores and scores of rare white horses sacrificed every year.
Only Jakan the Chief Priest could tell the people what had been decided from above.
The chief priest motioned to speak.
Soon there was a decorous calm, sufficient enough for him to take back the floor.
‘Have you ever wondered why we demand white horses from every clan each year?’ asked Jakan.
A perfect silence descended on the entire arena and every seated soul taught their ears to listen.
‘Well, the answer lies in the purpose of the sacrifice,’ the old man continued.
‘The Earth Purity sacrifice is carried out every year to continually cleanse the land from the Death Curse.
‘But it is not horses’ dungs at the stables that pollute our land. Nor is it the waste we ourselves pass out when we eat until we are full.
‘If it were any of those things, we would have declared a day of work and clean up the dirt, and that would be all.
‘But what stain the land with the Curse is our decadent flesh and blood.
‘The horses we offer don’t have their blood and flesh stained with sin. It is us the people of Jaiye who have our hearts and hands defiled.
‘If man cannot give birth to horses nor can horses birth man, then what makes our fathers think the blood of horses will remedy the death curse?
‘Would horses and beasts even choose to save man from dying the death?’
At this point, mumbles of agreement spread through the people-filled square.
Even the flammable war chief Ragun understood better where he sat at the exalted noble seat.
And he chided himself for hastily walking out of the briefing at the palace assembly the day before… when he’d only heard the announcement midway.
Jakan the chief priest paused awhile, gazed over a sea of people seated, and quietly observed the ripple effect his pebble of words had stirred.
He smiled at the positive reaction, before he went on.
‘Let horses and stallions be for play and for battles,’ he declared again.
‘If blood indeed be for blood, let horses die for horses and let man die for himself,’ he announced.
In a moment, Jakan’s listeners’ understanding cascaded into the territories of fear and frightful temper.
Anyone would curiously dread what monstrous sacrilege the crazy priest was requiring for a sacrifice.
The mere thought that Jakan must be hinting that people would now be their own sacrificial horses, was both horrifying and inconceivable.
And so much that it was extremely unlikely that the old priest could be as senile as to mean that.
Ragun the war chief jumped to his feet at the high seat, ready to storm out again in an ever so predictable fit of temper.
The honourable seat didn’t mean a thing to the old man any longer.
And he had even forgotten he made a solemn promise to his temperamental self to listen to the end before ever concluding.
At this stage, it seemed promises didn’t matter. Ragun was ready to throw tantrums again. And this time around, right in public glare.
But for the Women Chief who begged Ragun to sit still for the sake of dignity, at least… but for her, the war general would have shamelessly stormed out of a honourable assembly in broad daylight.
A grave silence had descended on the entire square now. Everyone was trying to know where exactly the elderly priest was driving at.
The chief priest spoke. And his voice was both loud and resounding.
‘Every year, it shall be someone with beauty so matchless and pure like that of a queen goddess that shall be sacrificed…
‘The blood of that pure damsel shall be used to cleanse Jaiye kingdom!’
And like as of a deafening, thunderous crack greeting a quiet dawn, Jakan’s announcement was met with a terrifying uproar…
One that shook the entire arena and sounded over several hills and mountains.
The audience burst out in an uncontrollable fit of temper; hurling dusts and pebbles at the stage.
Ragun himself couldn’t take the new decree at all. This time he swore he regretted coming over to hear out the full announcement in the first instance.
He jumped to his feet with all the energy he could muster and spat on the so-called honourable seat.
And not even the gentle women chief, nor the promise the old man made to himself, nor even the talk of shame or dignity…
Not anything could hold Ragun back from staying true to his temperamental self.
The old chief stormed out with a mad dash; his elaborately embroidered dandogo robe fluttering behind him in the winds… like flames of a blazing inferno.
‘You must be an old fool, Ragun Slayer of the Dead!’ the warrior scoffed repeatedly.
The old war chief sprinted with a galloping pace toward his chariot waiting patiently for him at the cart park behind the stage.
People started leaving the arena, too; spitting on the ground in disgust on their way out.
They scoffed. ‘Are we going to slaughter our own selves now to purify our soil, huh?’
Several others ranted, ‘Who can ever think our kingdom will come to this giant level of madness?’
Jakan the Chief Priest was eager to tell the people that it wasn’t what they were thinking. That there was yet a conclusion they knew nothing about.
But his listeners were now scantily scattered over the landscape. Like horses without their riders on the battlefield.
Right then, King Obade rose up, in all stateliness and grandeur… from the Imperial Stoneseat.
He walked towards the chief priest and motioned for him to hand him the voice amplifier.
The priest handed the device over to the king. And then, Obade’s voice boomed over the amplifier.
‘By my imperial order over the Kingdom of Jaiye, I command every soul under the sound of our voice to stay silent where they are right now…
‘And to listen to the conclusion of the announcement of the sacred decree.’
In a few moments, the entire arena was as silent as the quiet graveyard.
Jakan finished his words; the amplifier device back in his grip.
‘Listen, people of Jaiye kingdom. The annual sacrificial offering shall be sourced from our outpost at Koje…
‘Our kingdom’s community of slaves. And so shall it be.’
The whole crowd burst out in a wild frenzy of excitement. An unprecedented shouts of joy tore through the morning air.
Dusts filled the air with feet thumping the ground in leaps of excitement. The wild thrill was so uncontrollable that it lasted even till everyone departed.
The screams tore through Chief Ragun’s ears where he was, by his chariot. And the curious man sprinted back to the arena, to get the conclusion of the announcement.
It was a conclusion that raised his own heartbeats, too… in an excitement too great to be put into words.
The last words of the chief priest were like the announcement of the success of the festival itself, in the ears of the people of Jaiye.
The people would be glad to have the entire Koje slaves given up for Jaiye’s yearly rituals than to sacrifice their horses and their sweat.
As King Obade walked to the company of his royal entourage. He pondered over the sacred order.
Slaves die every day but not horses in quiet stables, he thought. A slave is as cheap as they are free. But horses and white horses are the worth of gold and luxury.
He heaved a heavy sigh in a moment of concern.
‘We can sacrifice our slaves who work on our plantations and in our quarries for the purpose of cleansing Jaiye,’ muttered Obade.
‘But the question is if the sacrifice of a mere slave will really be enough.’
And that was Jaiye kingdom’s only concern.
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