The Lord Genet’s grandson’s birth is a miracle and he is named Gnarl. Foster parents Cuanzo and Sheidel give the boy an idyllic childhood before he does four years military training with a friend called Kyler. Gnarl and Kyler sail to the Khalif’s City where they learn things that could save their own City State. Gnarl and Kyler risk death, but Gnarl gains some sense of justice for his dead father.
The selection process took place three days before the start of spring. The young men, who were in their sixteenth year and had done four years of training and service in the Lord Genet’s army, prepared themselves for the day. They bathed and dressed in their meticulously cleaned uniforms, donned their helmets, buckled on their swords, took up their spears and assembled in the barracks. This year there were twenty-one young men who faced selection.
The unusual interest by the people of the City State in this year’s selection process was because the Lord Genet’s only son, Generis, would take part. Many cynical members of the population thought that the selection might be compromised in some way. Surely the Lord Genet would not allow his only son to be selected? The people were alert and prepared to watch each stage of the process, with renewed interest, to see if one rule would apply for their sons and another for the son of the Lord Genet.
For Generis, as he prepared for the day, there were no thoughts of being favoured or being somehow removed from the ballot. He would take his place with his young brothers in arms, who had been through so much together in the past four years. They had endured harsh discipline and strenuous training and one of them would be selected this day. If it was to be him, thought Generis, then so be it. He would accept his fate and be stoic and brave as he played out his part in the legend and the lore of the City State.
None of the young men spoke as they stood in their ranks. They were resplendent in their uniforms and the entire contingent of first, second, and third year recruits had formed a guard of honour to farewell them. When the gates to the barracks opened they knew they must march proudly and well into the square. Many families would be waiting to see them, secretly hoping that their son would not be the one selected, but steeling themselves against that possibility.
The gates swung open and the order was given for the twenty-one to move out and march into the square. The people of the City State had turned out in large numbers and almost every vantage point was taken. The Lord Genet and his entourage had already taken their places on the landing in front of the temple above the square. From their position a flight of stairs led down to the area in the square, which had been designated for the candidates. This was a rectangle defined by armed soldiers, who also guarded against any encroachment by the crowd.
The young men marched into the square and proceeded to the rectangle. The soldiers, who guarded the rectangle, parted and allowed the twenty-one to march in. In a well-practiced drill they formed up into five ranks of four with the fifth rank accommodating a fifth young man who made up the number. They faced the Lord Genet and stood to attention. The Lord Genet stood and acknowledged the group. His eyes scanned the twenty-one faces and found his own son, Generis, among their ranks. The Lord Genet knew this was going to be the most difficult selection process over which he had presided. He sat down with a heavy heart. Of course there may be no need for his melancholy anticipation, but like all families that face this day, he must be prepared. The cynics, who were not directly involved this year, were waiting to see what stratagem, trick, or deception, would be used to prevent the Lord Genet’s son from being selected.
The Priest of the City State came to the front of the platform and held up his arms in a signal that the crowd should fall silent and they did. He spoke in a strong voice that was audible all around the square:
“We bless the twenty-one young men who present themselves for selection today. As you know one will be chosen and he will give up his life in honour of our Gods on the first day of spring in three days time. We thank the one who is chosen for this sacrifice and admire him for his bravery in facing this trial.”
Applause broke out around the crowd and was sustained. The twenty-one each felt their heart swell with the pride the City State people had expressed in them. Tempering this was the lingering doubt and fear that they would be the one selected and they would have to give up their life in three days time. Generis focussed on his father, the Lord Genet. He loved that man and he knew what today must mean to him. If it was to be his lot then Generis determined he would not disgrace his father in front of the people.
The Priest’s Acolytes then joined him at the front of the platform. One held a black velvet bag; the other two had woven baskets containing white and black stones. The Priest went firstly to the Acolyte with the black stones and selected just one. The Acolyte retired and the Priest held the black stone up to show the people. There was an anticipatory gasp. Then the Priest placed the black stone into the velvet bag. Turning to the basket of white stones the Priest selected twenty, one by one and placed them in the velvet bag. The cynics had watched all this carefully. Had some sleight of hand, conjuring trick, or piece of prestidigitation been set up in front of their eyes to prevent the Lord Genet’s son from choosing the black stone? They would soon know.
The Priest followed by the Acolyte with the velvet bag, now descended the stairs and the rectangle of armed guards parted to allow them into the protected space. The moment had arrived. The Priest did not delay. He moved to the first young man standing in the front rank, spoke briefly an inaudible message of thanks and blessing, and invited him to draw a stone from the velvet bag. The Acolyte held the bag above eye level and the young soldier placed his hand into the bag clutched the first stone he felt and withdrew it. The stone in his hand was white. A cry of relief and joy came from a small group in the crowd who realised their son had not been selected and would be alive to enjoy the spring and many more springs in the future. The young man kept the stone and the guards parted to allow him to join his family and watch the rest of the selection process from beyond the rectangle.
The process continued in this way until twelve young men had left the rectangle clutching their white stones. When the Priest stood before Generis and the Acolyte held the bag above his eye line the cynics and the entire crowd waited in heightened anticipation. Generis reached into the velvet bag clutched the first stone he fingered and withdrew it. His heart sank as he saw he had drawn the black stone. When he showed it to the crowd there was an audible sigh of disbelief. The cynics were surprised. The Lord Genet’s heart hardened. Generis stood completely still and stared straight ahead without focussing. Immediately the remaining eight young men turned and marched out of the rectangle to join their family and friends. Generis stood alone.
The Priest’s two other Acolytes came down the stairs one carrying a plain white cotton loincloth. When the three Acolytes had joined the Priest they stood in front of Generis. The Priest asked him to hand over his spear and unbuckle his sword. An Acolyte carefully held these weapons. Next Generis removed his helmet. His hair was dark brown and cut formally in a soldier’s style. An Acolyte then removed his breastplate and armour. The other Acolyte knelt and untied his marching sandals. The armour that girded his loins was unbuckled and taken away. Now Generis stood in just his grey soldier’s tunic. The Priest asked him to remove this himself. All that Generis was now clad in was the tight fitting white undergarment that hid his manhood. The people were transfixed and stood in silence staring at a Lord’s son being stripped of his worldly station. Generis was of average height and his build was solid. After four years of military training his muscularity was well defined. His skin was smooth and hairless and slightly pale. What most struck the crowd was the way he stared straight ahead without flinching.
The Acolyte holding the cotton loincloth now moved in front of Generis. He prepared the cloth in his hands for tying. When the Acolyte signalled to him Generis removed his undergarment and for a brief moment was naked in front of the assembled people of the City State. The Acolyte fitted the loincloth with dexterity and tied and presented the front flap with practiced skill. He then stood back.
Generis, the Lord Genet’s son, stood alone in the middle of the square. Selected as the spring sacrifice he had been ceremonially reduced from young soldier to a sacrificial youth in a white loincloth. He knew what lay ahead of him in the next three days and he was already mentally preparing himself for those trials. The Priest produced a golden cord from inside his own garments and asked Generis to present his hands in front of him. The Priest tied his hands in a knot that symbolised he was now attached to a fate from which he could not be released. The journey that would lead to his ceremonial sacrifice had begun.
The Priest turned and began to walk from the rectangle. Generis fell in behind him and an Acolyte took up a position either side of him. The final Acolyte fell in behind Generis. They walked up the stairs passing the Lord Genet who stared straight ahead as did Generis. The crowd was reverently silent until the small procession moved inside the temple pillars and disappeared into the darkness inside. From there the Acolytes took charge of Generis and escorted him down the several flights of stairs that led to the temple dungeon where he was placed in an isolation cell. During all of this time Generis had not spoken, cried out, or struggled in anyway. He was wedded to his fate and he had three more days of life to contemplate.
On the last day of winter the isolation cell was very cold. Generis felt the chill intensely. He wondered if this was all part of the process leading to the sacrifice. Stripped of worldly clothes and naked against the elements, the selected one must contemplate his own mortality with none of the normal human comforts to distract him. He thought about prayer and appealing to the Gods to give him the strength to endure his trial and the grace to be allowed to join them, but he was constantly drawn away from this meditation. Instead he reviewed his life.
Generis tried to recall his very first memory and it came to him as running barefoot through the marble halls of the palace. He conjured up the faces of his parents, nurses and the harsh governess who had been so strict with him during his lessons. He could still feel the pain of her physical reprimands. Then happy days of walking and running in the palace gardens and then he realised that in all these thoughts he was recreating he was alone. There was no one with him to enjoy these moments. Now he was alone again.
His boyhood was filled with the training activities that befitted the son of a Lord. He was taught to fence with a light foil and when he could handle the weight of a short sword he graduated to lessons in the art of swordsmanship. He was taught to ride a horse and he loved the feeling of freedom and power that being astride a noble beast brought. He learnt archery and spear throwing and then was permitted to accompany his father, the Lord Genet, on his hunting adventures that brought the thrill of the chase and for the first time the experience of bloodletting at the kill.
In the palace the gentle arts of music and dance were introduced to him and his lessons increased in intensity and length of time. His overbearing governess was replaced by a series of tutors each with their particular areas of expertise. He loved music and he loved to dance. Then he was allowed to join the Lord Genet and Lady Siliqua at their table and he revelled in the rituals and rites of feast days. It was a wonderful life. Only the pleasures of the flesh were denied him. He admired girls and young women but they were fruit forbidden to him. Any opportunities to be alone with females at court were strictly denied. His tutors and physical instructors made enough remarks for him to glean the role a young man must eventually play with a woman and a daring young steward once showed him the functions of the flesh and paid dearly for his ribald display.
At twelve Generis was inducted into the City State army as a young soldier facing four years of military training. The discipline was unrelenting and the punishments severe for misconduct, insolence, or disobedience. Generis soon learned that as a son of a Lord he was being treated differently to the other boys who had been inducted. He watched in silence as many of his fellows were beaten, held in solitary confinement and in one case removed from the barracks never to be seen again. In four years of military training he was beaten only twice, for what was described as dumb insolence. On both occasions he was simply rendered speechless by the intimidation of an instructor and could not answer his questions satisfactorily. The other young soldiers were satisfied, when Generis suffered his punishment, that he was not being given special privileges over them.
Then his thoughts turned to the selection process two days ago. How proudly he had marched into the square with his fellows, none of whom expected to be selected as a sacrifice. Vividly he recalled complete disbelief when he drew the black stone from the velvet bag. He remembered steeling himself as he was stripped of his worldly clothes and stood in a loincloth before the assembly of the people of the City State. He thought about having his hands bound and being led away into this isolation cell in the temple.
Flooding into his mind came the memories of his marriage to Liesele. Her delicate beauty, her touch and scent were strong sensual stimuli for him. He could feel her in his arms and remembered the ecstatic pleasure their union had brought them both. The recollection of that feeling filled him once again and warmed him against the chill. Then came the crashing realisation that all of these things were now gone. He would see Liesele fleetingly tomorrow, but he would never touch, smell, taste or be united as one with her again.
Generis thought how wasteful people are with the time given to them in their lives. They are always anticipating the next stage of their journey and wishing that it would come sooner. Boys wishing they could be young men. Young men wishing that their military service would end so that they could choose a bride, marry and begin the next phase of their life with children of their own. Wasting all that precious time wishing for something to come next. It was only when you had so little time that you lived in each precious moment and regretted the passing of a single hour that had not been usefully filled. How wasteful people were with their lives.
Food was brought and taken away untouched. The hours passed uncounted and unknown. Eventually Generis slept, but only fitfully. He dreamed of an unlikely escape, overwhelming the Acolytes and sprinting out of the temple and through the streets of the City to the walls, out through the City gate and running down to the coastline to swim forever in the crystal clear blue green waters of the bay. He awoke shivering and realised there could be no escape. He slept briefly again and dreamed he once again lay with Liesele and she warmed him with her body and they talked of the possibility of celebrating their union with a child. When he woke again he was bitterly cold, but he drifted once more into sleep.
On the first day of spring Generis was woken early by the Acolytes and taken to bathe, and receive his final loincloth. Back in the isolation cell he ate a small amount of fruit and nuts. Mid-morning the Priest attended him and offered him a distilling draft, which he explained would dull his anxiety and soften his senses during the trial he faced. Generis politely refused the potion. He did not want to be a drowsy and sometimes stumbling figure heading towards his mortality. He had seen such sights when he had been a witness to the spring sacrifice. Generis wished to be alert and aware most especially so he could find his Liesele in the crowd and focus on her face at the moment of his death.
The crowd began to build in the square in the hour before midday. There was heightened interest in this sacrifice as it was the son of the Lord Genet who would give up his life so the people of the City State might prosper and flourish in the coming year. Gentle rain had fallen throughout the morning on this first day of spring, but none seemed deterred from their responsibility of witness.
In the centre of the square the sacrificial dais had been built. It was constructed like a funeral pyre with large logs crisscrossing as each level was stacked upon the previous one. The internal space created by the logs was stuffed with finer branches and twigs and overlayed with straw that had been soaked with many gallons of pigs’ fat. The top deck of the pyre was constructed with pine wood floorboards that were overlayed with a thick blanket of straw. A set of especially constructed steps gave access to the top deck of the pyre. The crowd were held back a good distance from the pyre by a tightly linked rectangle of soldiers. The light rain ceased and the sun appeared fleetingly through broken clouds.
At five minutes to midday the Lord Genet and Lady Siliqua took their places on the landing at the top of the stairs in front of the temple. Liesele and many other dignitaries of the City State appeared and stood behind them looking out onto the square and the sacrificial pyre that dominated the centre of it. All was in readiness.
At Midday the priest appeared and a single loud gong was heard from the inside of the temple. The Priest walked to the front of the landing at the top of the stairs held up his arms until there was silence and then gave an impassioned homily about the legend and the lore and the importance of this day of sacrifice to the Gods. He stressed that a young man still full of the potential of life would give it up to honour the Gods and seek their blessing for a good year of peace and plenty. The Priest stressed that the young man would lose his life, but gain a place in paradise with the Gods as all those who had gone before him had done.
At the first mention of the young man Generis appeared from the door of the temple flanked by Acolytes and began his walk to the sacrificial pyre. He was exactly as the crowd had seen him on selection day. His hands were not bound and he was walking with a confident stride. Those in the crowd who had seen many of these sacrifices, with selected candidates in all states of distress or induced drowsiness, were impressed by the son of the Lord Genet and his demeanour.
At the foot of the stairs the swordsman who would perform the rite stood and waited for Generis. He was in the uniform of a military commander and looked to have seen thirty or more springs. He wore a helmet, but there was no melodramatic mask of the executioner. No sword or sabre was to be seen. The swordsman greeted Generis:
“I have been selected to perform the rite upon you. I hope you understand it is my duty, but I also consider it an honour to help you begin your journey to the Gods.”
Generis was moved by the swordsman’s honesty and compassion.
“I thank you for your greeting and your duty and trust your task will not cause you any distress. I am honoured that it is you who was chosen.”
It was such a generosity of spirit, but if anyone could have heard the exchange they would not have been surprised that it came from a young man who bore the name he did. The swordsman now got down to business.
“I must bind your hands now. When we climb the stairs and reach
the platform you should stand in the centre facing the temple and your Lord and Lady. I will be behind you. I will ask you to kneel. If you bow your head I will assume you are having a final moment of prayer and reflection. When you are ready, straighten your back and hold your head erect. That will help me to
help you and avoid any botches in the work.”
Generis nodded his understanding and the swordsman produced a cord from his belt and tied Generis’ hands behind his back and then gave the instruction.
“Let’s be about it then.”
Generis led the way up the stairs and the swordsman followed. As
instructed, Generis took his position in the centre of the platform facing the temple. He scanned the dignitaries on the landing and fixed his eyes on his Liesele. She was resplendent in a crimson gown with gold embroidery. She looked simply lovely.
“It is time for you to kneel now.”
Generis did so and bowed his head striving to hold the image of Liesele in his mind. He offered up no prayer. Then he straightened his back held his head erect and focussed on his one-day wife. As soon as the swordsman saw Generis begin to straighten, he felt for the sabre concealed in the straw behind him. It flashed in the light as he held it horizontally. The sabre swept. The swordsman had displayed all his skills and the cut was clean. Generis’ headless torso remained erect momentarily and then slumped forward. The swordsman swiftly left the platform and was down the stairs in an instant. A group of soldiers slid the stairs away from the pyre as the Acolytes applied burning torches to the straw within the pyre logs. The pyre exploded into burning fury and engulfed the platform instantly. The pigs’ fat ensured a ferocious burn and soon the flames consumed Generis’ decapitated body. The crowd, who had remained silent since the Priest called for that state at the
start of his homily, now began to talk among themselves.
The Lord Genet and Lady Siliqua and the City State dignitaries took their leave followed by the Priest and his Acolytes. Liesele remained on the landing until the first of the large logs began to crumble into ash and then she too left passing from her state of one-day wife to young widow.