Friday, September 9, 2016

Small Changes

Small Changes is a Tyme setting story by Terri Pray.

Artwork by Samuel Pray, created using Daz3D, Photoshop and Filter Forge.

“It is time.”

Helena frowned and turned toward the door, searching for the owner of the voice. The doorway remained empty, the heavy wooden doors pushed open to welcome the first rays of the sun. Uncertain she took a step toward the door, her gaze flickering from one side of the room to the other. Had she imagined the voice or

“They will be watching you, even if you can’t see them,” male, calm and focused, the voice held no hint of threat.

“So I’ve been told.” She paused, folding her hands in front of her pale green gown.

“Yet you still don’t believe it, do you?” The man pressed, though remained out of line of sight.

Helena turned her head slightly, focusing on the open door. Was that a shadow? She didn’t move toward it, but watched, letting her eyes relax until she could make out the shape of the shadow. “I believe, but I’m not afraid.”

“Why?” The shadow moved, the man shifting his weight. The soft sound of feet on gravel, a low crunch, just enough to confirm his presence as something more than a ghost.

Ghost indeed, I should have gone to Thanatos with all this talk about ghosts.

No, that wasn’t her talent. Not fully at least. She could sense their presence, sometimes hear them, little more than a whisper most of the time, but occasionally there was something more. Words she needed to hear, to carry to someone else, but that wasn’t her main calling. “I have no reason to be afraid, I am here to serve not to dictate to them.” She kept her voice calm as she addressed the stranger, her hands still folded in front of her, her head held high, back straight. “I am here to tend the people, the land, to answer to the goddess on behalf of those who call this place home, just as I will come to call this place home.”

It wasn’t home though, not yet at least. She was new here, would be new for some time to come, yet she didn’t regret the posting.

“Come into the light,” the man instructed, though his tone remained calm, almost friendly.

Helena hesitated, her gaze narrowing on the entrance. “Do you have a name?”

“We all have names,” he chuckled, “Justin Morning.”

Morning? She knew that name from somewhere. Helena closed her eyes for a moment, trying to recall all of the names she’d been given before she opened her eyes once more. “The resistance leader.”

“That would have been my older brother.” Justin admitted.

Resistance leaders, there had been hundreds of them around the planet during the invasion and occupation. Some real, some who had claimed to be resistance after the fact, others had died during the time that the raiders had laid claim to their world. “And what of you during that time?” Helena stepped out into the light, leaving the cooler air of the temple behind her. “Did you fight along side your brother?”

“Officially… no.”

Honesty, an unusual and rare thing. Most were quick to state that yes, of course, they had fought with the resistance. The truth was many hadn’t been able to, fearful for what might happen to their family and friends if they spoke out. Some were able to fight, others had bowed their heads and worked along side their new masters. That was the nature of the beast. It was one thing to want to be a hero, it was another to have the luxury to stand up and be counted.

“Unofficially?” She pressed as she turned to look at him, enjoying the feel of sunlight on her face. Dawn, warmth, the pleasure of a new day, these were small things she enjoyed even if she didn’t like being awake this early. It was a part of the life she had sworn herself to during the occupation. She’d been a child the day the raiders had come, the day the skies had been filled with alien craft, warriors who claimed their home, their lands and their people.

He shrugged, turned toward her and met her gaze.

Brilliant blue eyes caught and held hers. Sharp nose, high cheekbones, a full bottom lip with a slash of an upper lip. Stubble marked his strong jaw, two, perhaps three days growth of dirty blond hair, hair that also curled in messy waves down to his shoulders. Strong shoulders, muscles without being over built, lean body that hinted at running, speed as well as strength. Tall, a head taller than herself, perhaps 6ft? He didn’t loom, but could have done all too easily, yet he didn’t attempt to with her. She let her gaze move slowly down the length of the man. Simple garb, plain clothing, dark brown pants and a lighter, cream colored, tunic top and with a braided belt. Brown boots, low heeled, that disappeared beneath the legs of his pants.

Working garb, but well made. Not a farmer himself then, but one who preferred their mode of dress.

“So you won’t say?”

“I don’t see a reason to do so,” he explained, a slight smile tugging on his bottom lip.

“But you see a reason to be here, to speak with me now?” She took a single step toward him. Her body warmed as they drew closer, an itch claiming her hands that she knew would be soothed if she reached out and touched his chest. Helena inhaled deeply, tasting his scent on the air. Strong, musk, natural, nothing like the men and women of the cities who so often preferred to douse themselves with scents, body sprays and soaps that left her head spinning and her chest tight.

“I was chosen.”

Her gaze narrowed on him. Chosen. A powerful word, especially when discussed with a priestess. “For what?”

He arched one eyebrow.

Her heart skipped a beat and she looked away, giving herself a moment to steady herself. Her body wanted to feel his, to know the touch of his skin beneath her fingers, the way his hair might feel when she tangled her fingers in it and gave herself to the pleasures of the flesh. She was of Gaea, her child, her chosen, a part of that path allowed for sensual pleasures. For generations there had been men and women sworn to the pleasures of the body, sacred consorts who passed on their secrets to those sworn to the temples of joy and knowledge.

“I see,” Helena let her gaze move away from the temple, down across the expanse of cleared land at the base of the steps, toward the forest. Somewhere, within an hours walk at most, within that forest would be a grove. A sacred place, a circle of stone and trees, created over time by loving hands. Flowers, brush, plants, trees, stones - some marked with carvings, others not, would form a circle with a single white stone in the center.

In times past that stone might have seen offerings of blood and life, small things, a new calf, a lamb, young goat, something pure and simple, offered to the goddess, but such rites were rare now, almost unheard of. Yet the grove remained, a place where she would venture at least once a month, to dance her joy to the goddess. Sometimes she would be alone, other times local women might join her. She would never know until the moment she stepped into the grove itself.

“Is it not the custom for a priestess to have a consort?” His rich voice broke through her thoughts.

“Yes, it is.” A custom that dated back before recorded time.

“Yet this seems to displease you.”

Her gut tightened even as she turned to look at him. “Who chose you?”

His brow furrowed, eyes darkening. “My family.”

“And you have no problem with this? Being chosen for a woman you had never met?”

“Well…” he shifted his weight, lowering his gaze as he did so.

“Then you must understand why this is not welcome.” Helena sighed and rubbed the back of her neck. Yes, this was custom, but it had been changed, warped from the original. “I am Helena, sworn to serve the Goddess Gaea. I have been assigned as priestess here, in the knowledge that the last two priestesses were pawns under the control of the Raiders and their consorts chosen for them by the Raiders and the men acting on their behalf.”

“I wasn’t chosen by the Raiders, they’re gone. We all know that.”

“Yes, but some of their ways have lingered.” She took a step toward him, resting her left hand lightly on his shoulder. “The choosing of a consort, that was never the prerogative of others until the coming of the Raiders. Before that time a priestess chose her own mate, her own consort, if she wanted one at all. There was no force, no pushing. If the priestess didn’t want one, she didn’t have to have one. It is custom that there is normally a consort, but the old ways show that such was done out of love. The love of land and people, the bringing of new life to the world.”

Justin lifted his gaze, his brow deeply marred. “And you would not choose me?”

She dropped her hand away from his shoulder. “I do not know you.”

Hurt flickered across his features. “Do I displease you?”

Helena sighed. “I said I don’t know you and I don’t. Are you displeasing to the eye? No, not to me, but that doesn’t change anything. I don’t know you, beyond your appearance and your name.” Or at least a part of his name. “If I take a consort it will be based on more than those two things. A consort is for life, in most cases. A companion within and out of the bedchamber. The life I will share with a consort will be a varied one, of partners sharing their lives.” She watched the play of emotions across his face. “And you still don’t understand.”

Had so much changed out here? Beyond the cities? Had the Raiders done that much damage to the people she would serve?

“I understand, but I also don’t. There’s been… this is how things are now.”

Her stomach knotted. “Are marriages now arranged?” Goddess, no.

“Of course, that was one of the old ways that the Raiders brought back. The priestesses before you shared with us the passages from the scrolls that showed that this was the way of things. That the Goddess would…”

“No!” The word came out sharper than she had intended. She took a deep breath, knowing the passages that had been used. “That was a corrupted message, Justin. My apologies, I didn’t mean to snap, but this is a common issue we have come across since the Raiders were removed from our world.”

“There were questions, from some of the older members of the community, but who would question a priestess?” Justin rolled out his shoulders, doubt tainting his words.

“They weren’t priestesses, they were women of the Raiders who had been brought here to pretend, or those who failed the training who were then corrupted by the Raiders.” Helena moved with a deliberate slowness, making sure to add all the grace she laid claim to, as she walked to the low wall and perched on the edge of the stone. “Your people aren’t the only ones who were fooled in this way, mainly those beyond the cities, the smaller settlements and towns that were cut off from the high temples, making it harder for people to try and find help, or gaining information from those who were able to access the original scrolls.” Not that it would have been that simple. So many of the temple had been forced into hiding, herself included though she’d been but a child.

Arranged marriages. Forced consorts. All from one small change in how information had been presented. She closed her eyes and turned her face toward the sun. Did she have enough strength to deal with this? Did she have the information she would need?

I’m not alone, the Goddess will help me, the others in the temples will help me.

“I will not bless any arranged marriage unless both husband and wife have agreed to the marriage of their own free will,” she turned to look at Justin. “Take that information back to the village, to all you meet. The old ways have returned. Neither man nor woman will be forced into wedlock, nor into the position of consort or bed companion. No man or woman will be deeded into service without their consent. No child given up to the temple without the child agreeing to it, for service is a calling and not all are called.” She straightened her shoulders, fixing Justin with a stern gaze. “This temple follows the teachings of Gaea, and we will restore the path. If any have questions they may come to me. I will turn none away and these doors will always be open, but know this - I am a priestess of Gaea, her servant, not the servant of man nor village. I cannot be bribed, pressured, or corrupted for I have given my life and soul unto the Lady Gaea.” She lifted her hands out from her sides, spreading her fingers as she opened the gate between herself and the Goddess.

“The village council will need to discuss this…” he shifted his weight, gaze lifted and lowered again in a heartbeat.

Power answered her call, flickering at first but then it hit, surging through her until she felt the glow radiating from her spread fingers. She let her eyes close for a moment, seeking control, snatching it, holding it close before she opened her eyes once more well aware that with the power came a change of color, from pale grey to vivid forest green. “This is not a matter open for discussion. I am a priestess, I answer to the Goddess and to the temples, not to the council.”

He took a step back, shaking his head. “I didn’t mean to offend. Goddess,” he gasped, falling to his knees, his head bowed. “Is that… did she answer your call?” His voice a hushed whisper.

“I am her servant, if she blesses me with the gift then it is still hers to give and take away.” She kept her voice calm. How many of her brothers and sisters had faced something similar? The changes made in the scrolls, the information that had been tweaked, touched with a small change, enough to twist the meanings without raising too many questions. “The Raiders corrupted the teachings, damaged our young and old alike, killed many of our people and those sworn to our temples. We need to change that, heal the land and people alike, and that begins here, with me.” With all of them, each priest and priestess had to find a means of working with their people, healing the damage done and strengthening their home. It would not be easy, each of the five worlds continued to fight against the damage done, faced their own challenges and it would not be a quick fix.

There had been so many small changes, dress code, hair, behavior, all small, tiny even at first, until the next change and the next. They’d come in with force on Mars and Thanatos, Fate and Gaea, the changes had been more subtle at first, but on Chronos - the horror stories continued to filter through to the other worlds - all because of small changes forced upon land and people alike.

“They never showed the gift, never touched the land or the people,” Justin’s voice was still pitched low but anger tightened his shoulders. “They were seeds of poison placed within our hearts.”

Helena sighed and pulled the power back in, controlling it until the glow faded and she felt the micro tension around her eyes ease, letting her know that they had returned to their normal color. “They were pawns, controlled by the Raiders. Some came to it willingly, others were forced, but not one who gave voice to the false teachings, to the damage to our way, were able to touch the gifts of the Goddess, even if they had once been able to do so.” That had been the punishment of the Goddess, one that had, thankfully, made it easier to persuade people that a blessed priestess or priest was able to touch the gift, the land, or the heart.

Helena turned her attention away from Justin, letting her gaze move out to the cleared land and the trees beyond. The first touch of color, the hint of a change from summer to autumn had begun. A hint of yellow or red in the distance, the first rustle of drying leaves that spoke of cooler weather to come.

“It will be hard,” Justin’s voice broke through her thoughts.

“Change always is,” she didn’t look back at him, didn’t need to, “but it is needed. Change, growth, healing - difficult but needed.” She could do this, she didn’t face it alone, she had friends within the temples, men and women who would be facing the same challenges and they would pull through. Their world, their people would return to full strength in the months and years to come.

All she had to do was believe and trust in the Goddess and her people.

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