She nodded, hiding her contempt, but pursed her lips and relaxed her face. She would exit with dignity and strength. Sophie began her walk to her sacrificial bed. She began her final walk to her death. She slowly strode to the door, raising a hand in front of her face to block the light, and she stepped out on to the platform.
The coolness of the stone floor shocked Sophie, causing her to shiver and making her step back slightly. Suddenly, the crowd roared with her appearance, cheering and clapping. Sophie tripped backwards into Davin’s open palm, and she turned quickly to look up at him. He gazed back stern with his face like the stone sculptures lining the offering platform; chiseled and emotionless. She shrank down slightly, folding her arms protectively against her chest, shuffling and nervously looking back and forth between the cheering crowd and Davin’s cold face. Sophie caught sight of his eyes, catching the pain, the strength, the reality of her situation; she could almost hear him.
Be strong. Don’t let them think you are a dog.
She stood up with the thought, and faced the crowd. Aristocrats, rich merchants, and curious strangers crowded the stage. They jumped and cheered in their carnival colors of purples, blues, reds and greens. Mouths opened and closed, spewing forth endless jeers. They applauded her with arms over their heads. She was their amusement. Contempt filled her eyes, and disgust caused her stomach to turn over, while she watched the hordes of fat balding men bound up in their silks, exploding at the seems like her mother’s sausages with wine trickling down their cheeks as thick bags of coins jangled their privileges. Overdressed women with headdresses decorated with brightly colored feathers, whispering their fun, and taunting her with the pride of not being in her shoes. Skinny little men waved banners with fork tongues and greedy eyes greasing her upon for the priest’s knife, while children scrambled under the crowd’s feet stuffing their mouths with candy and chased each other, ignoring the grisly scene. Sophie had become a circus sideshow, and she looked down, slumping slightly. Rage and sadness overcame her, and she felt defeated and humiliated in her small dress of muslin.
All I need is the king’s horses and mules, and I can balance on their backs right before the priest stabbed her.
She felt guilty. She had been selfish in her thoughts, focusing only of her youth and lost future, and not thinking of the greater cause. Sophie would be the future of her village. Her blood would nourish, the goddess, Atna, and through her sacrifice provide a prosperous five years for the village. Her life would provide life to her family and friends, but she felt cheated.
Sophie didn’t bother or attempt to look for the king, a staunch man with a frown and disapproving glare, or the queen with her long black hair and apathetic glare. She didn’t look for their daughter, a pale and frail girl the same age as Sophie, and with her failing health; it had been the rumor of the peasant township; she was supposed to be the actual sacrifice. The princess was the king’s only child and royalty, and the king’s tyranny was more infamous than his compassion and his honesty. No one knew how they picked the sacrifice or how the king even knew Sophie’s family, but it was rumor amongst the peasant witches, healers, and even their clergy, Sophie presented a threat. She had been strong with the community, leading and aiding in every event, catastrophe, and relief since she could walk. Sophie represented a cornerstone among the peasants, and her parents often thought her too bold with her remarks and ideas on how the kingdom should had run with a kinder hand and a lesser harsh tongue. The old witch, Heldrig, told Sophie before she passed away last fall that Sophie bore a mark of change, and her life would give new meaning and direction for the village.
Looking up at the crowd, she faced the horde’s oily and greasy faces howling and waving in celebration, jumping up and down and barking at her heels like jackals, squawking like vultures.
I have to die for THEM! They provide profit and prosperity from MY blood and MY flesh and
MY death, while my family and friends starve. They will watch me die while stuffing their faces full on cheap wine and bread, feeding off my pain, and taking pleasure from my family’s suffering. What good is a goddess, when only ones profiting are the ones deaf to her message?
Fighting tears, she cupped her face in her hands. The heat beat down upon her shoulders, and Davin’s hand couldn’t provide anymore strength. The crowded grew louder in applause and mirth. She could hear a band play louder to her tears and hear as the crowd began to dance. She looked up and through tears could see women and men twirling around, laughing, while performers began to entertain with juggling and disappearing tricks. They didn’t care about her tears, and to her realization, they didn’t care for her life. Broken and humiliated, she stood there crying with no one but Davin to support her or care. She knew her family hadn’t come nor did the village, because most didn’t support the king’s choice, but most were too scared to say anything or revolt against his choice. She knew her family couldn’t watch her be slaughtered and were crying now for her.
Don’t let them think you are a dog.
Sophie straightened her back and wiped the tears away with the back of her hand. She grew strong with anger and hoped that maybe this wouldn’t be in vain. Maybe she could provide something to her family after death. She could help her family and friends in the end. Suddenly, the priest wrapped in his many layers of robes trotted out to the stage with tall green headdress and caring the long sacrificial knife like a rod of power. The crowd applauded and watched him in awe and fascination, waiting for a miracle or one of his speeches that made Sophie sick to her stomach. She shuddered, appalled and sickened with entrance of grandeur, then glared at the newly polished blade of the knife, and how he waved it around with no concern as if it were only a toy.
“Pray to Atna!” he shouted to the crowd, thrusting the knife in the air.
“Pray to Atna!” the crowd replied, lifting their hands in response. He laughed loudly and thrust the knife once more in the air and they applauded and cheered louder. Sophie couldn’t watch them anymore, closing her eyes and tilting her head back. She wanted them out of her mind. She needed to focus on something else, trying to avoid them. Suddenly, she felt a tugging at her heart, and turned her head away from the crowd a little to her right, and opened her eyes.