Hello there! This is a follow up to a fictional piece I did a few years back titled, Sacrifice. It’s a short piece, so you may want to read it before this one, if you care for context. I’ve been toying with an idea for a follow up on that one in particular so I started playing around with it a couple months back and here is the final product. It appears that the Muse isn’t quite done with this story, so this is part two of at least a three part series. I hope you enjoy it.

~Tom

Life barely clung to him.

A long train of ghosts proceeded out of the main entryway . The phantoms stood in preordained positions upon each step, along the path and at each sacrificial altar. The four ancient ones, the matriarchs and patriarchs, stood outside their individual burial mounds observing the scene above them on the Hill. Six spirits led by a seventh more prominent figure, a Chieftan of old, came out of the great entrance of the Hill to where the man lay unconscious on the ground. The six bore him up on their shoulders and proceeded towards the four ancient ones, led by the Chieftan. They walked past each, pausing briefly before each patriarch or matriarch, repeating the process until each had inspected the man. THe ancient ones looked on with expressions of approval and then a nod of permission. At the end of the fourth’s inspection, the seven circled back and began walking towards the steps of the great burial mound, the Hill. The entire phantasmic host looked on, seeming to both figuratively and literally, claim the man for their own; welcoming him to their fold and escorting him to the land of the Dead.

Halfway up the stairs, the procession is stopped by a cry coming from across the clearing behind them in the old tongue.

Placing the man down reverently, the seven, as well as every other spirit present, turned in unison to face the direction of the voice. There, at the edge of the clearing where the man had come leading his oxen, was a woman. She was dressed similarly from the waist down, everything else about her indicated something much different in her station. She was adorned with a headdress of black feathers, woven together to cascade down her back in a kind of cloak. Atop the headdress, a preserved crane’s head, the long beak jutting forward and down. The markings on her belly, arms and bare chest were tattooed on, no cuts, no scars. Her face was painted in the fashion of a flattened bird’s skull, large black hollowed out areas over her eyes where the bird’s eye sockets would be, two long black ovals over her mouth and chin, signifying the nares; the nasal cavaties.

The Chieftan, tilted his head with curiosity and then glided down the stairs towards her, followed closely by the six. With each spirit the seven passed by, that one in turn followed suit behind them, moving towards the woman at the end of the clearing. The woman stepped forward a few meters as they approached, stopped and then bowed her head in reverence. The Four of Old looked on, never moving from their station save to turn and witness each event as it unfolded. Soon, the great phantom host had spread out in a circle around her, aligned by a kind of ranking system. There was deference to the seven, the Chieftan directly in front of the woman with three of each of the six to his left and right. The rest honored by age, station, by deeds and by honors they had won for themselves, their Tribe and their bloodline. The clearing was full of spirits, the Hill had been emptied and they even occupied each of the stairs on the Hill. The young, children who passed, were gathered in between each of the four ancient ones.

A breeze unfelt by the woman, moved through the Great Host, occasionally rustling their garments, decorations and hair. The Chieftan’s voice came like a hollowed out echo of the man he was in natural life. The old tongue, when heard, seems to be spoken slower, with great intention and purpose.

“Who are you who knows the Old Tongue and who bears the markings and regalia of the Old Ways? Who are you? Priestess? Oracle? Seer?”

Lifting her head slightly in response, “One in the same.” She said bowing her head again and then added. “Neither the Old Tongue, nor the Old Ways have been lost to the ages since your passing, Great Chief. We still hold fast and pass them on.”

The more time passed in this realm, the more the Chieftan seemed to remember of the living realm and be aware of it.

“Indeed. It was my wife who was the first woman of Our People to be included in the Order of The Crane. It pleases me to see the tradition continues...How long has it been since I passed into the realm of Spirit?”

“Four-hundred-fifty winters, Great Father.”

The Chieftan looked around, as if he was counting the ranks among him and putting the time span together in his head, he nodded in an approving manner.

“In our Realm, Time does not exist. We only witness the impact of Time when we venture into this realm, and as you can see… it takes us awhile to remember.” He stepped forward into the center of the circle and lifted her chin. “Priestess, your bravery in coming here and speaking in the Old Tongue honors us. Anything less would’ve been a forfeit of your life and you knew this. You seem to me, familiar, yet, you are not…who are you?”

A voice came from one of the matriarchs of old. “Barak, do you not recognize your own kin and descendant?”

The Chieftan studied her closely. His hand gently grasped her jaw as he turned her face from side to side. The look in his eyes becoming warmer as he remembered more, he looked for specific people in the Great Host, his wife, a grandchild, another descendant further from him and closer to the woman before him. He could see it. He released his hand from her jaw.

“Why have you come and interrupted this man’s offering?”

“I am his, he is mine. We belong to each other.” Nodding her head towards the man left on the stairs of the Great Burial Mound, her eyes misting ever so slightly.

The Chieftan looked towards the man laying on the stairs. “He isn’t yours. You carry the mark and the mantle of the Old Ways, Priestess. You do not carry the mark of a wife, nor he the mark of a husband. What do you mean by telling us that he is yours, granddaughter?”

“He is mine. I am his. We are bonded.” Her eyes misted.

In the old tongue, there are a few words that can translate as bonded or bound – of debt or promise, of property, of familial or tribal, of marriage or a deep relational tie; the word she chose means something akin to a spirit-bound marriage/union. A kind of union reserved in their tribe for the Holy ones – the Guides, the Seers, the Priests and Priestesses, the Oracles.

The Chieftan understood this word and nodded.

To be continued…