Chapter one of "Suffer The Innocent: The Gods Among Us Book Three. Publication date 4/15/12. Books 1 & 2 available on Amazon!
SUFFER THE INNOCENT
THE GODS AMONG US
William L. Deen
INDUS VALLEY CIVILIZATION
A beautiful innocent cherub.
The infant's face filled Herneith's field of vision. Crystal blue eyes stared back and mesmerized her. Within the azure orbs, torchlight shimmered and compelled the sclera to widen and then recede with the dancing undulating flames.
My heart flitters!
Unfamiliar maternal sensations inundated her as she listened lovingly to the infant's giggles. Her smile broadened when his arms and legs wiggled and twitched. She clasped trembling, tingling hands over her pounding heart. Happy tears and breathlessness welled with the joyful moment in time.
Alas, it passed when she pondered the child's fate, and then remembered her own childhood. A lump developed in her throat as she considered both. Her hard swallow removed it and helped repress the billowing emotions.
A sudden onslaught of memories, visions, images, and apparitions flashed within Herneith's mind's eye. She recoiled, folded her legs beneath and sat in lush green grass. Tumultuous turmoil and terrifying childhood recollections fought to escape from a deep subconscious burial. Her arms hung limp by her side and she stared into nothingness. She clenched her teeth, causing her jaws to cramp, while she fought to suppress the remorseful retrospection.
With a defiant lifted chin, she breathed deep and pushed back against an emerging painful past. She attempted to quash what little goodness existed within her soul by garnering anger and malevolence. Unfortunately, recollections seeped through and she contemplated what might have been.
If only I had known my mother. Her mother, Ife, died while giving birth to her.
Raised by her father and brother, Herneith had no fond childhood memories. From her earliest remembrances, servitude consumed her life. Her earliest recollections consisted of stealing from merchants, households, and temples in Ta-Khentit. Though apprehended on numerous occasions, she always escaped punishment because of her age, pleading eyes, and tears. Most dismissed her with warnings to never return. Others felt compassionate and allowed her to keep charitable portions of her ill gotten gains.
It was so easy to use their own empathy against them.
Eventually though, her talents improved and she no longer worried with being captured. She eluded her victims and authorities. This success, however, was only celebrated by her father and brother. Her reward for favorable outcomes consisted of being fed. Her failures resulted in beatings and no sustenance.
She winced from the painful memories.
Circumstances, however, changed drastically at the age of eight. Men from local villages started visiting at her brother's behest. In return, her father received coin for time alone with her. Vulgar, sweaty, drunk, and smelly, they were oblivious to her pleas. In most instances, her cries for help enraged the men further and in response they cut, bruised, and scarred her for life, both physically and mentally.
They made me who and what I am.
At the age of thirteen, the demands placed on Herneith proved unbearable. She'd had enough. She woke one night to find her brother binding her hands and father assisting. Over the course of three days, they raped and beat her repeatedly. Once released, she was told this was a new chore she'd now be expected to perform.
Several long and torturous months passed while she fulfilled her duties and tended to the needs of the men in her life.
The corners of her lips rose. Recollections of her refusal and discontinuation of those chores brushed her memory. A vivid haunting image materialized. Her father and brother had slept, passed out from drunkenness. Her long pent up grievance was addressed in rage-filled acts. She struck back. A knife acted as her words and her message was delivered with slit throats.
Alone with limited life skills, Herneith now relied on those she did possess. As a prostitute, thief, and murderess, her services were much desired and discreetly requested by wealthy clients within many nomes. But so much about the men she pleasured and served reminded her of those who raised her. Just like her father and brother, they lied about caring for her, used and abused her. This brought on an appetite to inflict pain and suffering that constantly welled inside. From that point on, she seethed with a constant desire to seek retribution from those who treated her in such a manner.
When no longer able to contain the vile emotions, she used them to motivate, compel, and direct her actions. With stealth and guile, she distanced herself from suspicion and visited vengeance upon those who'd used her and treated her as so many had before.
They were so easy to recognize. The lust in their eyes, disdain in their voices, and debauchery in their souls. Her smile broadened, eyes widened, and she thought, All of that vanished when I witnessed their last breath.
Soon, however, Herneith changed her ways. The harlot became sanctified and a new direction in life presented itself. She met a man who offered her redemption.
His name was Chisisi, and though he paid her as others did, he didn't ask for anything in return as he said, “I only wish to share the truth with you.”
Chisisi cared for her in a manner she never before experienced. He dressed her in fine clothes, educated her, and introduced her to Apep. Through the beliefs of his malevolent god, she discovered a path in life that would allow her to find a peace and contentment she so desperately sought. Her indiscriminate killings and lashing out were now purposeful and controlled. Murder became sacrifice and her overwhelming desire for vengeance was replaced by a god's retribution.
She became a fervent and devoted disciple, using her beguiling beauty and vivacity to bring others into the fold. A more worthy cause than petty revenge and theft.
With Chisisi as High Priest and Herneith his priestess, the congregation of Apep grew strong and numerous within the nomes of Ta-Shemau. Feared by the population, its members commanded respect, an aspect in life that had previously eluded Herneith.
In time, well placed officials within local governments and members of wealthy society delivered cult hierarchy to the cusp of dethroning a reigning king, Selk. Until that is, Selk realized a threat existed and action must be taken against it. Overwhelming action. In response to the population's outcries and threats to his throne, Selk turned to his military in hopes they'd end the cult’s reign of terror.
Concerned with his own safety and mortality, Chisisi fled the confines of Ta-Khentit's walls and sought refuge in the mountains. Some congregants followed and joined him in hiding.
Herneith believed Apep to be above kings and all other deities. Led by the spirit, she sought out and killed the man who had rescued her from a destitute life. One fateful night, she watched blood flow from his neck, held his eyelids open with her thumbs, locked her eyes to his, and whispered, “You are weak and have failed our God.”
She then assumed her place as High Priestess. In rallying her followers, she'd preached, “All those within this land must fear Apep and know he rules over all!” Her first command encouraged followers to commence a series of child abductions, sacrifices, and other criminal activities. Chaos ensued when parents and children cowered behind closed doors while homes burned, merchants were robbed, and high ranking officials met untimely deaths.
In response, Selk ordered assaults, arrest, and immediate executions of any suspected cult members. Those fortunate enough to have escaped, disbursed and went into hiding. Others were captured, beheaded, and burned on the spot.
One daring raid, led by then Captain Osorkan, ended with Herneith's abduction. She, however, was allowed to live. Selk feared punishment from Apep himself, so he imprisoned her. There, she remained until the malevolent god Inlil, in the guise of Apep, rescued her.
Inlil. My Lord.
Fifteen lifetimes, one half a sar, had now passed since she last set eyes upon Inlil.
After his Versipellis army delivered a Ta-Shemau victory at Ta-Khentit, Inlil commanded Herneith, Genubath, and five Versipellis to travel north, then east, to a land called Indus. It was there she was to spread the word and gather followers. She, in turn, ordered all remaining Versipellis to seek refuge in the mountains north of a place called Gubla. There, they were to abide until summoned.
Upon arrival in the Indus Valley, Herneith's band traveled from village to village along a river until discovering the means needed to manipulate potential acolytes. The local villagers spoke fearfully, and in whispers, of an evil and malevolent force pervading the Indus Valley. The malicious god’s name was Ahriman.
Knowing this Ahriman’s persona to be a myth related to Inlil, Herneith successfully used the legend surrounding Ahriman to entice new acolytes. She found the most susceptible potential disciples among the oppressed, poor, and insane inhabitants of the land. Cast out from society, she discovered a following already indoctrinated into malicious and wicked convictions. They were more than willing to join, and, needed her guidance. Within two full moons, devoted cults of Ahriman had sprung up within the communities along the Indus River.
Now, she waited to indoctrinate her latest addition to the Versipellis army.
“Those days are no more.” Herneith shook her head. She blinked and breathed deep to escape her ruminations and return to the present.
Her whispered words went unheard by those gathered as she again gazed upon the beautiful infant's face before her. The back of her fingers brushed the boy's cheek. Its purity and innocence enthralled her. Behind her, sandaled feet and beasts' paws rustled within a field of verdancy outside the city of Harappa. They joined together on this eve to serve, honor, and worship Inlil's latest cognomen, Ahriman.
The time of Ahriman is upon us.
She closed her eyes and listened to the congregants' voices combine with the sounds of nature. Nearby, swift currents swirled around boulders and flowed over rocks in the Ravi River. Constant plunging of the twisting torrent provided a peaceful and soothing resonance. A light breeze drifted through trees and crinkled leaves. The winds continued and whispered across tall grass and reached where she knelt.
Anticipation of the approaching worship service sent shudders of excitement through her body. Though she knew Inlil wasn't near, she was aware of his constant presence. Together, they shared a sense of the other’s existence, which permeated every part of her being. Those sensations caressed her mind and soul as Inlil's aura washed over her. Impressions and memories of her Lord stimulated her mind toward a higher consciousness, and stirred her feminine desires.
“Ahriman,” she softly said. It was a name usually whispered, if spoken at all within the populations of the Indus Valley. One by one, acolytes heard her words and repeated the evil god’s name.
“Ahriman,” drifted with the wind in varying gender tones.
Herneith sensed the congregation was prepared to begin as they gathered closer. She shifted to face the twenty acolytes gathered in a semi-circle around a roaring fire. They joined voices and whispered softly, calling to Ahriman. Each hoped and prayed they might be the one chosen to become Versipellis.
Her sight wandered beyond the acolytes, to the very edge of the fire's glow, where darkness overcame the light. The outlines of five wolves resting on hindquarters were visible. Straining to see the beasts' almost invisible form, their illuminated red eyes gave away their presence.
“Praise be to Ahriman.” She lifted her head, hands, and then started her prayer. “It is he, the great gods created first; they gave him power and authority to rule all the earth; for all eternity he provides wisdom. He protects the faithful as a canid and fills their heart's desire.”
Herneith bowed her head. Reflections of flames danced within the child's eyes. Her gaze wandered to a cylindrical stone standing three hands high. It was incorporated from ancient Ahriman ceremonies. Let them have their superstitious customs.
She looked to Genubath standing at her side. He gazed skyward, pretending just like her, that the foolish religious ritual served some purpose. The only thing this accomplishes is to continue misleading these imbeciles to believe their god listens.
“With ruthlessness, he subdues his enemies. His blessings bestowed upon those, who seek the true knowledge of their inner selves.” Herneith gazed at a wood box held by Genubath. It contained a stone tablet, The Chronicles of Apep, and a velum scroll, The Hymns of Ahriman. She wrote the Chronicles herself while imprisoned in the dungeon of Kings Selk and Narmer. The Hymns were obtained, brutally and viciously, from a wealthy member of Harappa society. She used the writings to enlighten and educate. Combined with her testimony, the documents reassured acolytes they served a most powerful god. And they will soon witness his power.
She lowered her hands. A jeweled dagger lay upon a pure white linen cloth next to the infant. She lifted the blade from its resting place and clasped its hilt with both hands. Her eyes met Genubath’s and she gave a single nod.
Genubath approached a wooden reservoir which sat next to Ahriman's stone symbol. A massive wolf accompanied him to the hollowed out tree trunk that measured twelve palms long by two palms wide. He placed a staff over the reservoir and started a hymn, “Praise be to the all knowing and all powerful Ahriman.”
The congregation repeated the prayer.+
“It is he the great gods created first; they gave him power and authority to rule all the earth; for all eternity, he provides wisdom.”
The congregation paused as windblown flames fluttered and crackled. When the gusts passed, quiet returned.
Genubath continued, “He protects the faithful as a canid, and fills their heart's desire. He is feared by those who oppose him; and favors those who believe.”
The acolytes repeated the words, their heads bowed and eyes closed.
Herneith exchanged glances with Genubath.
“Even the wise and unfaithful fear Ahriman. With ruthlessness, he subdues his enemies. His blessings bestowed upon those, who seek the true knowledge of themselves. May his presence burn in your heart, and bless you with the power of Ahriman.” Genubath returned the scrolls to the wooden box.
Herneith nodded to an acolyte who removed a cauldron from over the fire. Mist rose from inside as soma within continued to boil. Steam billowed when the contents were poured into a vessel hanging over the reservoir. When the vessel was filled, soma overflowed and cascaded to a second vessel. There, it filtered through tiny holes that removed particles which remained after the concoction's creation. It then cooled, cleared, and the filtered drink flowed into the large reservoir for consumption.
Her outstretched arm motioned for the acolytes to begin their ritual. “This, do in remembrance of Ahriman. Let this soma represent his life's blood that will now flow through you.”
In single file, the congregants dipped goblets and consumed the contents. Once finished, they returned to their previous place and reformed the semi-circle.
With her eyes narrowed, Herneith watched as the soma's effects took hold. Acolytes held arms to their chest as extremities shivered though cold didn't exist. Their hearts beat faster and their muscles relaxed from the elixir's influence. Before their eyes, imagined colors formed and swirled in a fantasized mist rising from the Ravi. Some envisioned halos and auras that swirled all around. One acolyte stood and stared at the river's surface. He alone watched it ripple and shimmer from perceived flickering lights.
“Who will follow Ahriman this night?” Herneith shouted.
An uproar rose from the acolytes, as each answered the call, begging to be the chosen one. Wolves howled and their beast voices melded with those of the acolytes. Shouts, songs, and praises for Ahriman resounded. They danced and leapt into the air while praising their god.
Herneith searched the crowd and stopped at a face she'd already decided on. An older man, about fifty years of age, he stopped his worship and met her gaze. She pointed toward him and beckoned him forward with a curled finger.
The man’s gait was hesitant and unsure. His eyes glazed over and he faltered from the soma's influence before he righted himself and continued his journey toward Herneith.
She gestured for him to kneel.
With her eyes fixed to his, the pandemonium increased. Voices grew louder and wolves' howls reverberated. She handed him the dagger and his eyes grew wide. He gently caressed the blade's hilt in his palm. Her insincere smile fell upon the man as he drifted toward the child.
Five wolves gathered in a semi-circle around the sacrifice, as the man towered over the infant. He kneeled before the child and lifted the knife heavenward. His eyes traced the distance between the skyline and where he held the blade. Both hands trembled, as acolytes chanted behind him in unison.
They swayed as low moans accompanied their chanting.
“Ahriman,” was whispered and echoed across the open field.
Herneith, with Genubath by her side, embraced the moment.
The wolves howled and the resonance increased in intensity and volume. Acolytes screamed for Ahriman as they danced and writhed with unheard music.
Herneith glared at the man and grasped his cheeks with open palms, imposing her will upon him. Her bearing projected rage, hatred, and malevolence. Sweat beaded on his forehead and he trembled, enraptured by her stare. She cupped his chin in her hand and pulled his face closer to hers. “Do you, of your own accord, proclaim your devotion to Ahriman?”
“What is your name?”
“Salim.” He bowed his head.
“No, Salim!” The scream came from beyond the gathered congregation.
Herneith turned toward the voice. Her narrowed eyes searched the chaotic and undulating mass of revelers. Unintelligible voices, chants, barks, and howls reverberated. Screams of pain echoed and congregants ran from the field. Torchlight emerged from the darkness as leather-clad men brandishing weapons approached. Their swift movement was followed by the sickening sound of metal separating flesh and bones cracking from violent impacts. On the periphery of her vision, acolytes ran and scattered.
The armed men continued to attack and chase after the fleeing worshipers. Several followers panicked and ran toward the river. They unwittingly waded into the chilled water and a rapid flowing current swept them away.
More congregants stood near the bank. Though it was a short distance across the river, they knew it ran deep and flowed fast, as some already discovered. They looked to the water and back at the intruders, unable to decide if they should risk crossing or face their attackers.
For the acolytes of Ahriman, there was nowhere to escape from the invaders. Moreover, they possessed no weapons to fight back.
“Follow me!” Herneith shouted above the bedlam just before she transformed to Versipellis and ran toward the forest.
Genubath and three massive greys followed.
Having no concern for her remaining acolytes, she rushed toward safety in the woods while her devoted following occupied the attackers. Once inside the dense foliage, she stopped, crouched within, and evaluated the chaos. We were not seen.
The same woman's scream caught Herneith's attention. A crying panicked woman ran toward Salim with her arms flailing. Two men with torches and swords followed her.
Herneith's muscular torso and hindquarters tensed in frustration. A growl escaped from her muzzle and her eyes burned red.
Salim hesitated. The trembling dagger hovered above his head.
“Merikh! Merikh!” The woman's screams continued as she drew closer.
Do it! You must complete this sacrifice for Ahriman! Herneith willed Salim to carry through with his task.
Herneith emitted a yelp. Salim’s back arched. She glanced to his chest and discovered a protruding spear head.
A soldier rushed forward and with a second blade, he cut across Salim's upper torso. The force of the weapon’s impact sent Salim writhing to the ground. He was unable to follow through with the sacrifice.
“Merikh!” The woman arrived, fell on her knees beside the child, lifted the infant into her arms, and pulled him close to her breast.
“Burn everything!” a man shouted.
“Salim!” the woman’s voice cried.
Herneith scanned the field. Twenty-five well-armed men had squelched her plans to terrorize the populations and cities of the Indus Valley. The image of her now dead acolytes filled her being with rage. The intrusion and interruption of her plans caused her anger to swell. Her first thought was to attack.
That would not be wise. They outnumber us. Though we would defeat them, some of us might fall.
Herneith distinguished Genubath’s thoughts. She hesitated for only a moment, and then realized he was right. She lifted her muzzle and tested the air. Breathing deep, she calmed herself and laid down, hidden within the thick foliage. Who are these intruders?
“No, No, No!” the woman cried out.
“Is the child harmed?” a man asked.
Herneith recognized the voice. It was the same one who ordered everything to be burned. He approached from darkness and shadows with another man and stood behind the woman.
The woman didn't speak.
Herneith discerned the woman's pain and suffering. It strengthened her being and gave her a moment of pleasure.
The woman nodded confirmation that the child was unharmed.
“Did you know this man?” the man asked.
“He ... was … my husband.”
“It appears he was not away on business as he told you.”
The woman rocked and caressed her child as tears flowed from her glassy eyes.
“Imagine.” The man stared at Salim's lifeless body. “A father sacrificing his son to a god.” He looked toward the tree line where Herneith was hidden.
Her muscles tightened as her massive onyx form rose slow and deliberate.
He gave no indication he saw her and turned to the one who accompanied him. “This god demands too much.”