He stood on the outskirts of the crowd in the shadows of an alley. His expression grave and he was slightly hunched forward, sulking. He looked like the night she had told him, the night she explained how she had been chosen. She had snuck out the very night she had learned, and ran across the village to his house. She woke him with an urgency that startled him as much as her as though at any moment the king’s men would gather her up or sacrifice her right in the middle of the street. They ran from the village to the nearby lake, and she explained to him. She told him she was to be the sacrifice. He sulked and pushed her away, separating himself from her and moving to the other side of the boulder. He didn’t look at her, and she could see the rage dancing in his eyes, frustration echoing out every time he clenched his jaw. His hands were balled up at his sides, and he hunched over, snarling and trembling. She began to feel ashamed and started to cry, curling up and trying to hide. She mumbled and cried it was her fault, and he quickly pulled her closer to him, and held her, rocking them back and forth and whispering it wasn’t her fault and several jumbled compliments. Virginity wasn’t a requirement; just lineage, and that night he had decided to make love to her.
It shouldn’t be you, and I will always love you. Since we only have moments and a few nights, I am going to provide and give you all the love you deserve for a lifetime.
He did. Terrin kissed and loved her, and spent days and nights holding her and sharing the days. They got married, secretly; exchanging vows between each other, and he gave her his ring that he received from his father after his first major hunt. The ring clung to her finger, and she twirled it around her finger for security and memories. She had protected it from the maids and servants, whom greedily tried to pry it from her hand as they bathed her. Sophie refused to part with it. She accused them of defiling the goddess’ gift, which caused most to back away, but when the head maid scoffed and lunged forward to grab it from her finger, Sophie hit her, sending her skidding back. She kept her stance with balled fists, and the servants left her alone to clean and take care of herself, and brought her great relief to free from their selfish prattle and conceited opinions.
A cold hand grabbed Sophie’s upper arm, shaking her from her thoughts, and she instinctively looked and found the priest glaring down at her with his beady black eyes. The crowd shouted their approval, and the priest smiled, tilting his head back, causing the long green feathers to tremble and headdress to rock. He lifted the knife up in the air, and Sophie became mesmerized by the glinting of the blade, focusing upon the strings of beads dangling from the hilt. He tugged her toward him, and she tried to shake free, sneering, but he tightened his grip, sending a sharp pain along her arm, then pulled her into him. She tripped falling into his pristine white robes. The audience applauded and roared, clapping and waving their banners of approval.
“We have a feisty one.”
Sophie wanted to spit on the priest, but she bit her lip, looking away from his smug grin and the people’s enthusiasm. She looked at Davin, whom had turned away, but she could see the shame and the hopelessness in his drooping shoulders and troubled look. The priest yanked at her again, and she pulled back.
It isn’t fair!!!
“Come here, girl!! Don’t disrespect Atna with your insolence,” the priest snarled, dragging across the stage. He twirled her like a rag doll, causing her to trip and fall, but he continued to drag, and the stone grated against her knees and legs. Sophie yelped, and the spectators grew fervent in their shouting and waving of arms. Jackals they had become, frothing at the mouth with eyes glazed over with bloodlust and greed oozed out with the sweat on their brows. The king smiled approvingly and nodded, leaning forward as if she had become the stuffed pig at the main feast table. He licked his lips and his eyes glinted, smiling revealing pearly white teeth underneath his fat pink lips.
“Give Atna her gift, so we all can prosper,” the king bellowed waving his hands, and the aristocracy roared with approval.
“So be it!” the priest replied, dragging Sophie across the platform, then dropping her upon the spot she would kneel. “Kneel, girl! Prepare to make something of your lowly existence.”
“What did you say, girl?”
“My name is Sophie.”
“Who cares. The only importance is what your blood will do for our king. Kneel, now!”
She slowly situated herself upon the altar, and the priest moved behind her. Grabbing her hands, he tugged her back, causing her to arch upwards slightly, and with a piece of rope he bound her. The rope cut into her wrists and she felt her hands go numb from the circulation being cut off. The priest seized Sophie’s hair and tugged her head back to make her arch more and to look back at the statue of Atna; to look into Atna’s face as she died, so she could be purified. Sophie released a snarl and a sharp yelp, and priest sneered and back-handed Sophie’s cheek. Her head snapped to the right and her cheek burned from his hand, and a few tears trickled down her cheek. He jerked her head back into place, and a few strands of hair covered her face.
“Now let us celebrate,” the priest shouted, causing his spittle to cover her face. Sophie felt the tears come and she began to sob. Her body shook, convulsing, and choked out cries. The crowd began to dance and the band played, while the priest spouted out a speech on the future prosperity. The sound of the crowd’s laughter, the stench of roast meat, and the sun beating down upon her face, and she could only kneel there helplessly waiting, and she cried to an unsympathetic crowd. Sophie had only the stone-face of Atna to appeal to, and the shrine provided no confidence. Atna’s face was cold and stern, and Sophie looked into Atna’s pupil-less eyes, discouraged and frightened. She wanted to scream no, wanted her family to stop them, or she wanted Atna to stop everything to prove her life was more than mindless entertainment for the aristocrat masses. There was no movement; only tears and the cold and forlorn face of Atna.
The goddess had been depicted more benevolent and kind with a youthful smile and soft expressions in her village. Atna had deep green eyes cheerful and wise, and she was always dressed in long flowing gowns surrounded by monarch butterflies, her patron animal that aided her in the exodus of her ancestry. They had formed a bridge with their wings and with a wave of Atna’s hand and simple command; they sliced down the disbeliveers with their wings, or so Sophie had been told. She expected to see monarchs fly from the goddess’ empty eyes and slice her to pieces for her sudden loss of faith, but left with the priest’s blade. Sophie squeezed her eyes tighter, and tears still found a route down her cheek. She opened her eyes once again and looked at Atna. She wasn’t the mother figure or lovely maiden from Sophie’s education, but hard and stern with desolate expression leaving her mouth with no smile and face chiseled with aggression and anger. She looked more masculine holding the appearance of the king’s guard. She appeared menacing with a frown and strength in her towering appearance. The only thing that made her look feminine or delicate were the butterflies lacing her hair, but even they appeared to be lifeless corpses dangling loosely in Atna’s hair. Sophie saw the glint of the knife in the bottom of her eye, and knew the priest had taken his position. She could see him raising the knife up, up over his head. She started to cry harder and whimpering, wiggling and struggling to try to move, but couldn’t move or budge the restraints, and the priest had blocked her onto the alter.