To our chant of 'Fourth Ten! Fourth Ten!' Chevenga had come to the level of the fessas Gods. Each level he stepped up to had the whole building somehow coming alive with Him. The loincloth was soaked a darker gold, from sweat, and new sweat shone on his skin. But as he faced Risae He stopped. I could see him tremble from where I stood.
“If I were him, I’d be scared shenless,” Gannara whispered.
“Hush, lad,” Sera Eren said. She’d stayed with us as we came into the Temple, following the rite. “Watch and listen. Can you feel the Gods—like your kaharas -- even if you cannot see it? This is our harmonic singer…” He signed chalk.
I saw the stain on the stone. I came looking for it, specifically. It was two paces across. How it did not kill Him, I don’t know.
“This is going to be hard for him. If She asks him to cut his own throat again.”
“Oh fik.” Gannara mouthed it silently, glancing at Sera Eren but I knew exactly what he was saying even voicelessly. The differences in the rite, and in the building… all the old songs and prayers and the Voice coming back, all had the priests on their knees or their faces. Some terrified, some exhalted. Most of us, the crowd, would have been on our knees but for Chevenga’s guard and the Yeoli guard around him. They were standing and if we knelt we would not be able to see. Professional Mother God, please be easy on Him. He’s suffered enough.
“She saved Him but I'd still be scared shenless,” I hissed in his ear.
“I don't know how he can even stand there. I don't know how he could do that in the first place.”
Even as Gan said this, Chevenga knelt on the floor before the Goddess, Her table… with its strange and terrifying instruments immediately to his sword-side, Her face looming over him, cold and forbidding; at least as far as I could see.
“How does he do the Kiss of the Lake?” I asked him. He did the expansive Yeoli shrug.
“Yeah, well, I don't know how he does that, either.” We were all getting more and more quiet as He knelt before one of the most capricious of Goddesses. Will She reject Him this time? Will She kill Him? Will She make him bleed out His life onto the floor in final sacrifice?
I tried to point out to him, the shadows… not shadows because shadows are made of darkness, but these where rather made out of light. I had no name for what I was seeing. “There are four Gods behind him... but they're just waiting... “It’s his choice.” My heart was in my throat as the silence spread around Him, kneeling, just kneeling.
“Times like that, I'm thinking, I'm glad you're the one stuck doing these things, and not me.”
I could only sigh. I had been taught to do the rite by rote. He didn’t realize that I wasn’t truly ‘doing these things’. I shook my head at him. “Just… just feel it, all right?” I had to swallow hard. Was this what the fat guy meant by time taking care of Chevenga for me? Had the Gods told the old man somehow that this was where Chevenga was going to die?
I’d not taken my eyes off Chevenga, even as I commented to Gannara and we were close enough that I could see Him pull the God light around himself like a mantle. “Risae!” He called Her name with a voice that was full of emotion, a jumble I could make no sense of. “Mother of all fessas. I confess my fear to you.”
I caught my breath. You can’t be afraid before the Gods! Oh, ancestors save Him! You cannot show fear! Risae has no patience for fear! By now the whole crowd, packing into the Temple behind him, the priest around him, even his athye guards were silent. They remembered last time, as well.
“I tell You in offering,” Chevenga said. “And hope it is acceptable to You as an additional sacrifice.” He tilted his chin up before her, the scar on his neck somehow gleaming in the Temple light. I’d seen it, faint as a hair or a crease on his neck, at dinner but somehow it was visible now. He bared his neck to her and I and everyone who had voted him in cried out in fear.
“Risae! Risae! Professional Goddess! Mercy! Mercy! Risae, Merciful One! Mercy!” We… all Arkans… cried to Her who made healing by the knife a sacrament, the most cruel, the most kind, the Goddess who had, in the beginning, brought us through the pain of surgical transformation, making us into what we were now. Her statue always had only a hint of a smile, if one had a good imagination, Mahid-like in its calm as She examined Her next subject. “Risae, Good Goddess, please have mercy this once!” Merciful One. Her title, not Her nature.