Drawn by crackling flames soaring upward, a band of the strongest had come in stealth to feast on charred carrion but were chased away by brown-frocked elders wielding clubs and rocks. They sat hunched in the distance, soothing their wounds, quivering under the needled branches of a tamafrash tree, afraid even to turn their faces upward toward the twin moons glistening in the licorice sky.
They were the scourge, the outcasts. Their names were to have been forever erased from memory. Long considered misfits and untouchables, they were known as the Faceless Ones.
Their survival was in constant dispute. A stubborn minority of elders wanted them done away with for good. The majority wanted them kept alive simply to have others to hate. A pious few thought it was a miracle that they were allowed to survive this long.
The elders had long ago discovered that it was essential to hate, for hatred energized the tribe, fostered unity, provided an ultimate purpose. It was vital that the young learn to hate early on, and many grueling lessons were inflicted on them. They wanted the young to be toughened, ready and eager when they came of age.
Mina was one of the Faceless Ones, and one of only several fledglings who were just past childhood. Under her coarse black veil and full-length robe, her face burned with half-healed blisters, her scalp crawled with parasites and her stomach ached from emptiness and craving. Before, she could see only outlines and vague shapes through the rough fabric, but she had scraped away the nap with a sharpstone so she could see more clearly. She knew she would be punished if the others knew. She kept watch. And waited.
At highmoons one night, Mina started to slink away. "Where do you think you are going?" spat the matriarch Bogram, who had snuck up and startled Mina. Bogram never seemed to sleep, was constantly eavesdropping and was always so meddlesome and irritating.
"I'm off to ..."
"You're off to nowhere. You will stay right here. With us always. Together, we remain strong."
"Strong? Ha. Are you not as hungry as I?"
"There will be sustenance. There always is. To repent for your insolence and transgression you must bow down and pray."
"Prayer does not fill my stomach," Mina answered.
"The elders will hear our pleading. They will bring us nourishment."
"Waste products, spoiled and rotten. Even carrion they will not allow us."
"Hush now, child. You're talking blasphemy."
"I'm going, Bogram. And you're not to stop me."
Mina padded off. She crept down towards the encampment, clambering over boulders, tearing her hands and feet on the jagged roots of the tamafrash and the cruel vines of the hederamose. When she found the tent, she crouched beside it, sniffing, listening, waiting, deciding. Only the soft sounds of snoring could be heard.
After loosening two stakes with her sharpstone, she was able to slide under the damp fabric wall. In the tent, as she knew he would be, was one of the young ones she had watched from afar. One whom the others gathered around. One who was feared but loved. One who commanded respect. The One who would lead.
She slipped beside him, listening to his breathing. She reached under his night cloak and placed her hand on him, felt him growing in her grasp. As he turned on his side, she pulled up her robe and maneuvered backwards against him. He entered her, draped his arm around her, pulled her closer. And after several thrusts, he climaxed inside of her.
She lay against him, her hand between her legs, keeping him inside, keeping herself aroused until her own need was met. When she was done he was stiff again and she moved against him until he was finished. Once he was flaccid, she drew away. She pulled down her robe and left as quietly as she had when she had come for him.
Whenever she could, Mina would slip away from the gullies, caves or outcroppings where the Faceless Ones hid to put their heads down for the night. Before dawn, she would return out of the darkness, hurrying so she would not be discovered, or worse, caught. All the Faceless Ones seemed to know. But they said nothing.
The One was fitful one night. He woke up fully and lay on his back, watching her kneeling in the shadows watching him. He did not draw his sword nor did he embrace her that night. There would be other times for tenderness. The night winds shifted and the tent flaps fluttered. Through a slit, lit by the glow of the two golden moons, Mina gasped when she saw the raw crescent scars etched into his thighs. She bent to kiss the wounds, to make them heal, but he would not allow it.
Some darkmoon cycles after, Mina fell into a deep sleep and woke just after dawn. It was too dangerous to leave. She lay quietly until waketime, when all would gather in the center of the encampment. She pulled on her robe, swept open the tent flap and strode directly to where they had assembled. Immediately, she was set upon and surrounded. A Faceless One ... How dare she be here among us? they whispered. Some screamed, others cried.
Mina lifted her robe over her head and threw it at their feet. Naked, she stood before them. She gazed upon each one, who stared in horror at her swollen belly. After she turned full circle, she raised her arm and pointed at The One. And said simply, "Twin crescents. On his thighs."
The One stepped forward and lifted his hand for silence. He reached for Mina. When he motioned down at the robe, a young one picked it up, brushed it off and handed it to him. The One draped it around Mina and enveloped her in his arms. Then he said, "She. Mina. Is mine."
The dark mass of silent bodies, their faces filled with fury and dread, confusion and longing, once again encircled Mina and The One. Then, as if on some primordial cue, they began to draw the circle in.
Rev 5 / September 27, 2009
September, 2009 Copyright © 2009, Lloyd B. Abrams