Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Redemption (Part 7 - Finale)

The King of Froyale of that era longed for a crown prince. 

All his first six children were princesses, who were, according to the Froyalean laws, deemed unworthy to inherit his throne.

He secretly sent a messenger to Jub to summon a Red Priestess to hold an intercession.

This was the time The Council Man’s wife took revenge against the woman, whom she believed had seduced her husband. 

She recommended Fruimuah to her father.

Deep down in her heart, she knew the selected red priestess would be a one-night concubine for the King, and would have to die after performing the rituals to protect the royal family's dignity.

Officials arrived at the Red Temple. The Council Man and his father-in-law were present at the selection ceremony. Five council members sat in a row behind the red priestesses. Sawart and a few of high priestesses from the main temple were there to witness the process.  

At the end, the council has decided to choose Fruimuah to take over the task. Fruimuah turned around and looked at the Council Man for help. 

All she saw was a man burying his head in his hands and did nothing to rescue her. Her tears were dried. She had forgotten what crying was like.

I will remember you.

Fruimuah was taken into the palace, and was made to stand before the King and Queen. 

The ceremonial ritual began with the Queen casting a handful of tiny stones at the priestess as a symbolic gesture to ‘punish’ her for seducing the King.

The queen bowed before the king and retreated. Fruimuah was then taken into a room to perform her duties.

If she defied the king’s decree, she would be beheaded immediately. She would still have to end her life after performing the rituals. There was no way for her to walk out alive.

It does not matter anymore. The man I loved has betrayed me. There is absolutely nothing on this world that I can look forward to.

After the rituals, Fruimuah appealed to the King to end the discriminatory laws and taxes against the Khebites in Froyale. The King gave his assurance that he would look into her requests if her rituals worked.

Fruimuah was given a goblet filled with venom extracted from a poisonous snake. She picked it up from the table and whispered a prayer to the soil god Tellash. She hoped that he could accept her to his world. She also prayed to Yathagrum, god of the underworld.

Please do not send your guards to pull me into your realm, please.

She took a deep breath and drank till the bottom of the goblet. The clinking sound of a fallen metal resonated. The air in the room was dead, mourning over the death of the King’s unnamed concubine.

A thunderstorm suddenly swept across Jub on the same night Fruimuah died.

Khrumakwe was struck dead by a sudden lightning. The Carpenter’s curse has finally realised. Though he has redeemed both his sisters, he failed to set Fruimuah free.


It was chaotic in the Merchant’s mansion.

The Merchant’s Wife, clad in torn dress and guhaty (head piece wore by rich Froyalean women), ran scrambling into the house, screaming and shouting insanely.

“He’s dead! My son is dead!” she ran up to The Merchant, trying to get hold of him.

“What son,” asked The Merchant, who was stunned by his wife’s reaction.

The Merchant’s Wife blurted out the secret she has kept for 25 years.

After learning that her husband wanted to kill their firstborn, who the foreteller foresaw was a jinx to his business, she sneaked out the baby and handed him over to a poor Khebite family.

The Merchant was infuriated.

“So the child was the reason why I had made so many business enemies for the last 20 years!” he slammed his chair, stood up and gave her a tight slap on the face.

“Are you out of your mind? Are you trying to ruin me?” he tried to strangle her but was pulled away by the servants.  

“He’s your son, you heartless creature!”

“Throw her out. I never want to see this mad woman again,” The Merchant regained his composure and left. 

Walking behind him were two concubines, who cast a nonchalant smirk at the Merchant’s Wife.

The Merchant’s Wife was thrown out from the mansion. She was seen lying on the ground, crying out the name of his dead son repeatedly, grabbing piles of sand and rubbed them against her face.

Gurgini and Bashut, who learned about her flight, decided to take her in. The Merchant’s Wife, who lost her mind after the incident, spent her last days chanting the name of her son.

A year after the death of Fruimuah, the Queen gave birth to another princess - the seventh princess. The Queen, who failed to deliver a prince, was stripped off her title. Out of anger, the King banned the worship of Fush-urah.

It was learned that Sawart made a trip to the Palace to plea the King to lift the ban, and has vowed to pray to Fush-urah on behalf of the newly appointed queen, Queen Yamagut.

Queen Yamagut, who used to be a dancer in the Palace, was famous for her dance dedicated to Fush-urah.  Every day, she would visit the temple and dance before the goddess. In less than a year, Queen Yamagut’s prayers were answered. She gave birth to a prince – Chotuazet, one of the great kings in the Froyalean history.

The Fush-urah worship was restored. Following the death of Sawart, Jeyah led the rest of the priestesses to rebuild the main temple. 

The Red Temple and its priestesses were never heard of again.

Fruimuah’s bid to make Khebites’ lives better failed when her rituals failed. Khebites in Froyale were still struggling to eke out a living, as the King’s government continued to impose high taxes on the so-called “foreigners” in the country.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Redemption (Part 6)

While his sisters were serving at Fush-urah’s temple, Khrumakwe were also working relentlessly to polish his carpentry skills.

The Merchant’s Wife, who was a loyal customer of The Carpenter when he was still alive, continued to support Khrumakwe by giving him projects to work on.

She would also bring food for him, as she noticed that the young man was living alone.  It was an unusual practice for a dignified woman to offer food to a filthy Khebite.  Many Froyaleans were irked by the scene.

“A dirty creature like you does not deserve to eat,” a gang of hooligans flipped a basket of bread and spat on him.

Khrumakwe kept quiet and pretended nothing happened. Though he was thankful to the Merchant ‘s Wife, sometimes he wished she could stay away, so that he could be spared from all the unnecessary trouble.

“You don’t have to do this,” Khrumakwe said gently to the Merchant’s Wife during her next visit.

She put down another basket of freshly baked loaves on the floor.
“You need food,” she said with a grin while patting one hand on his shoulder.

Khrumakwe remained static but he shied away from her eyes.

“We should go,” said the woman, who stood next to the Merchant’s Wife.

“Watch your behaviour, sister,” the woman warned. “You don’t want to arouse any suspicion here.”


The Merchant’s Wife was a faithful worshipper of Fush-urah and also a good friend of Sawart.

“He is at Ammog for business for six months, will be back before the Khuy festival,” she said.

“It is dangerous to enter Ammog through Mount Moyra, which is a hideout for the rebels,” said Sawart.

“Oh no, he did not take the route. They decided to travel along the Senio River. It is much safer. He was hoping to make a stop at Khanef to drop off some goods there too.”

“I am glad to hear that,” said Sawart as she drank from a cup. She let out a sigh and continued.

“The king is so obsessed on enlarging the Froyalean Empire, so obsessed that they have neglected the rebels hiding in the deep mountains along the borders. 

The Merchant’s Wife nodded and said: “We hear news of rebels killing traders and stealing their goods. The Merchant had sleepless nights before embarking on his journey.

“We are running low on incense and spices. Our suppliers from neighbouring towns have also refused to trade in Jub these days.

“The king does not understand our woes,” said Sawart.

“Feeding his troops is more important than feeding us,” said the Merchant’s Wife, who has unknowingly raised her voice. Sawart immediately stopped her and diverted the conversation when noticed someone walked by.

“We have a table with two broken stands. Do you know anyone who can fix it?” Sawart asked.

The Merchant’s Wife frown for a second but was swift enough to read the signal from her eyes.

It was the Council Man. 

Sawart and the Merchant’s Wife greeted him from afar by nodding their heads gently.

“Oh yes. I can introduce you a carpenter from a village nearby,” she said and pointed to a table.

Sawart went up to the Merchant’s Wife and spoke softly to her right ear.

“That was not acting. We need a carpenter to get the table fixed.”
The two elderly women broke out in laughter.   


Khrumakwe received a message from a slave from the Merchant’s mansion. His service was required at the Fush-urah temple.

Ah. The temple where my sisters Gurgini and Fruimuah were sold to.

Never had he imagine that he would have a chance to step into the temple. The thought of meeting his sisters has given him sleepless nights. He was thrilled. However, he knew he was not allowed to speak to any of the priestesses.

Standing in front of the temple’s entrance with carpentry tools dangling on his shoulder, Khrumakwe was in awe of the magnificent building.

He was led to a hall scattered with broken tables and benches by a priestess, who had not spoken a word to or made eye contact with him.

Khrumakwe studied every single person, who hustled in and out the hall, hoping that

he could spot his sisters somewhere in the crowd.
He could only identify them based on the memory he had of them three years ago.

There were priestesses who would take turns to bring him water once in a while, but none were Gurgini and Fruimuah.

At noon, a priestess came to serve him lunch. Her presence has caught Khrumakwe’s attention. Just when he was about to turn around, he let out a shout out of a sudden.

“Ah!” shouted Khrumakwe. He dropped down the saw and started to press on one of his fingers that were covered in blood.

Jeyah put down the food tray and ran out to fetch medicine without saying anything.

“Where are you rushing to?” Gurgini asked when she bumped into Jeyah.

“The carpenter cut his finger,” she replied and hurried off to the medicine room.


Khrumakwe’s face immediately appeared on her mind. There was a possibility that the carpenter is his brother as there were not many people willing to take up this kind of lowly job in Jub.

She peeped from the side of the door and saw the carpenter, who was trying to stop his finger from bleeding.

Khrumakwe. It’s him. It’s my brother.

Jeyah arrived with the medicine. Just when she was about to enter the hall, Gurgini halted her.

“Allow me to do, please,” said Gurgini, whose eyes were already filled with tears.

Khrumakwe kept his head down when Gurgini approached him.

She knelt down and took his wrist by his hand but remained silent. Her warm tears fell onto the back of his palm.

He lifted his head and saw Gurgini, who was staring at the floor.


No, I am not supposed to touch her. She is not allowed to look at me. But I miss my sister. I miss her.

All sorts of memory of Gurgini came flushing back to him.

Gurgini wept silently while she cleaned her wounds.

Life must have been hard for you, brother. I wish I could look at you in the eyes and tell you how I have missed you, how I devotedly pray that gods and goddesses will protect you from all harm.

Gurgini wished she speak to him through the firm grab on his wrist. It was however time for her to let go when the wound has been cleaned.

She tapped her finger on his wrist to bid him goodbye before releasing her hands from it and walked away.

Khrumakwe wished he could just bring her home. But he knew he could not. The Carpenter’s curse on him was specific: Redeem his sisters.

Sisters. But where is she?


Gurgini had to confine herself in a room to conduct a self-cleansing ritual before the altar of Fush-urah for she has touched men.

She had to abstain from food for three days and knelt before the status for five hours a day to chant the prayer of sanctification.


The scroll recorded that Khrumakwe took another five years to redeem Gurgini and Fruimuah, but did not record on how the sisters have lived in the temple during the years.

Soon after being redeemed, Gurgini married Bashut the Fishmonger but still performed birth chanting for women in labour.

Her kind act has earned her respect from villagers. Thanks to her, many have stopped viewing Khebites as pests.

Gurgini was not the loud-spoken wild child she was eight years ago anymore.   

Fruimuah, on the other hand, was so used to being treated like a princess by the Council Man that she could no longer adapt to the life she once led in the village.

She despised the lifestyle of her fellow villagers.

There have been incidents of drunkards mocked her for being a Red Priestess - the identity she was proud of.

“Men in the city no longer need your service in the temple? Maybe you can practise your rituals on me,” said a group of men who jeered at her while trying to undress her when she was doing laundry.

Khrumakwe might not be a brave man but he would not allow people to treat his sister with disrespect. He would always be there to protect Fruimuah, and shoved the mockers away.  But he, who has never fought with people in his life, was always beaten to a pulp.

Fruimuah was grateful for what her brother had done but that was not enough. She wanted to flee from the village and start afresh in the big city.

If I were given a choice, I will definitely not come back to this filthy place and be insulted by these evil people.

Being separated from The Council Man, who had been her patron back in those days, has also caused Fruimuah to live in misery.

She never thought she would meet the Council Man again.

But she did. Eventually, the Council Man showed up in the village.

“Leave with me,” the Council Man pulled Fruimuah to an alley. He pressed her to the wall and kissed her deeply.

Fruimuah struggled and pushed him away, and gave him a tight slap on the face. Just right after she spat on him, she threw her arms around his neck and started kissing him again.

“What took you so long?” she cried.

“I am here to take you with me. Come with me,” he said, with his hands grabbing her waist.

Fruimuah’s teary eyes sparkled when she looked into his gaze. The hopeful expression disappeared just seconds later.

“Not if you still have your wife.”

“Come back to the temple then. I promise you freedom.”

On the night itself, Fruimuah decided to leave the village for a greater world to pursue a life she wanted.

She left - without informing his brother and sister, and was never seen in the village again.

The Council Man reinstated her position in the Red Temple and she would no longer need to perform rituals on other men, except him.
But Fruimuah wanted more. She desired freedom. She even wanted to set up a family with the Council Man.

“Give me time, and I will set you free,” This was the promise she fervently held on to, though the rational side of her realised that those were just sweet words made conveniently by the Council Man.

A simple peaceful life with the man she loves was the only vision she had in her mind.

She could care less even if it means she would be cursed by the only goddess whom she sworn to serve.

She was blinded from reality by her willful attachment to a romantic ideal. So blinded that she was unable to see what a coward the Council Man is – especially when he stood before his wife.

To be exact, it was his influential father-in-law, whom he was afraid of.  

As much as he loved spending moments of intimacy with Fruimuah, the Council Man would never risk his position for an unknown future with a priestess from the Red Temple.

Undeniably, he loved her more than his wife. But his love for her was not deep enough to make him give up all the fame, glory and his precious life.

His father-in-law, who is well known for torturing slaves with the harshest punishments any person in his or her right mind could possibly imagine, is certainly not someone to mess with.

The Council Man’s rise and fall all depends on the old man, who also holds great authority in the temple’s council.

Rumours about the relationship between her husband and Fruimuah have reached the ears of the Council Man’s wife. It did not take long for the shrewd woman to confirm the hearsay, when Fruimuah’s mentor, Senti, fed her with the details.

I have warned you not to fall into temptation the day the Red Temple welcomed you. Yet you defy the commands of Fush-urah.
Punishment will be on your way, Fruimuah. Be prepared.

(to be continued…)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Redemption (Part 5)

 Women offered themselves to become Fush-urah’s priestesses for various reasons.

Some saw Her temple as a way out from poverty, while some just wanted to escape from their cruel husbands.

But the real chosen ones are those handpicked by Fush-urah Herself when they were still in their mothers’ womb.

She would grant them wisdom and knowledge, give them the eyes to see the world from Her perspective, and the ability to reach out to the Froyalean women.

Jeyah has sensed that Gurgini and Fruimuah were among the chosen ones, as they learned fast under her guidance.

“Your affinity with Fush-urah can neither be created nor destroyed. It does not matter if you are a Froyalean or a Khebite.”

“Sawart once told me that it is possible for the goddess to make a priestess the Prophesier of the nation,” said Jeyah.

Gurgini has heard of stories how the Prophesier’s word could affect a king’s decision, how her words could calm the crocodiles in the Senio River, set a tree on fire to keep the homeless warm and even bringing the dead to life.

“No one knows if the miracles truly happened. It has been almost five centuries since the goddess appointed the last Prophesier,” explained Jeyah when Gurgini sought verification. “But one thing for sure, is that the Prophesier is meant to do great things.”

“Could the Prophesier be one of the Red Priestesses too?” Fruimuah asked, out of a sudden.

“The Red Priestesses…” Jeyah paused.

“Theirs was a system born out of a reformation. A reformation undertaken by the councilmen, who were the King's men.

“In the past, it was only the women who prayed to Fush-urah on matters related to fertility.

“The worship system was restructured when the previous kings felt the need to sustain the supremacy of the nation by strengthening its military.

“The men felt the need to be involved because they thought priestesses’ prayers were not powerful enough.

“But they could not challenge the ancient worship system established by the goddess. The scriptures have stipulated that the religion was only meant for women.

 “And then they introduced the Red Temple, which consists of priestesses who act as intercessors to seek blessings from the goddess to boost male fertility.”  

“Priestesses from the main temple can also intercede on their behalf. Why establish a separate system?” Gurgini asked.

Jeyah inhaled deeply, looked around the room and asked them to take a sit.

“Many priestesses claimed that they have heard Fush-urah calling them to enter the Red Temple,” Jeyah explained in a suppressed voice.

“But from what we know, some had secret affairs with the councilmen.”

Fruimuah and Gurgini were taken aback by the revelation.

“In the traditional Fush-urah discipline, a priestess found to have committed the sin with men would be impaled to death. The Red Temple has become the only way out for these priestesses.”

Jeyah grabbed their hands and looked into their eyes. “You do not have the freedom to choose where you will.

“But you can influence their decision.”

The sisters were puzzled but eager to find out what she was about to say.

“As long as you have a smooth face like a porcelain jar, you will most likely be taken to the Red Temple.”

Gurgini and Fruimuah’s eyes were immediately drawn to Jeyah’s face. That explained the scratch marks and scars on it.

“You want to avoid the councilmen from noticing your beauty if you have no wish of entering the Red Temple.”

“Give it a thought. One of the councilmen will be here anytime in the next few days.

“Just bear in mind that priestesses will help you,” said Jeyah, and left the girls.
The scroll recorded that Gurgini eventually heeded Jeyah’s advice and had her face disfigured while Fruimuah was not willing to sacrifice her beauty.

The mutilation process on Gurgini face was not recorded in the scroll. The written document has only recorded to the day when the girls were brought to meet the council.

Gurgini, with scars on her face

The Council Man walked into the inner court of the main temple. 

His throat-clearing sound echoed so loudly in the spacious hall that caused the girls to shiver for a second.

Gurgini and Fruimuah were too afraid to turn around to see the man but they could hear his footstep coming at them from behind.

“Bless you, high priestess of Fush-urah,” the Council Man greeted Sawart who was already seated in the court. She paid no attention to his greeting.

“Sisters. Gurgini left, Fruimuah right,” said Sawart.

Gurgini and Fruimuah raised their heads and saw the Council Man. 

They were surprised that the man was not stern-looking at all.

The Council Man’s body was in a good shape despite being in his late forties. To their surprise, the man did not have a terrifying face, which they had pictured over and again on their mind.

The Council Man inspected the girls. First, he had a good look at Gurgini and realised she had scars on the face. The Council Man automatically turned around to look at Sawart and smiled.

“Bless you, Gurgini,” he said.

He walked up to Fruimuah and studied her deeply.

‘Fruimuah, an unusual name,” he said.

“I supposed she has been very careful in keeping her face scar-free,” he said sarcastically.

He then announced: “Gurgini shall offer her service in the Main Temple while Fruimuah be brought to serve in the Red Temple.”

“What a surprise,” Sawart responded emotionlessly, stood up and left. She did not even bother to look at the girls.

Hence, the sisters were separated. Gurgini wished the best for her sister, though she was unhappy with the choice she made.

To Fruimuah, she felt her stay in the temple was just temporary and did not see the need to disfigure her face just to escape from Red Temple.

It will be over soon. I will be out of here in no time.

A senior Red Priestess named Senti was arranged to guide Fruimuah.

Like Sawart, Senti was a woman of discipline.

She knew what went on between priestesses and some of the councilmen in the Red Temple but tried hard to stop them.

“Do not be blinded by greed for what men could offer you in exchange of your service for the wrong purpose,” Senti warned Fruimuah from time to time.

Just when Senti thought Fruimuah might one day succeed her place in the Red Temple, she found out Fruimuah had already started an affair with the Council Man - the man who sent her to the Red Temple some two years ago.

And he was, at that time, already a married man.

“The curse of the Red Temple will never cease.”

But Senti did not step in to stop their relationship, as she believed the goddess would have Her way of dealing with Fruimuah.

Gurgini has no idea on what Fruimuah had gotten herself into. 

Though they met in the Court of Ceremony for prayers every morning, they hardly spoke to each other because of their identity.

The sisters have begun to drift apart from each other.

(to be continued…)

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Redemption (Part 4)

Dressed in their usual dirt-stained clothes, Gurgini and Fruimuah waited for their mentor in the middle court of the temple.

 Jeyah arrived with a priestess, who carried two sets of robes on her hands.

“This is what you will be wearing,” said Jeyah. Gurgini grinned and walked up to reach out for it but was stopped by Jeyah.

“…if only you choose to stay,” she said in a serious tone.

“You need to know that the temple is managed by a council,” Jeyah walked unhurriedly towards the window. The sisters followed.

“One of their men will be here next month to meet you, and will decide whether you can stay here,” Jeyah then turned around to look at them. “…or there,” she pointed towards the temple which was painted red and has a nude Fush-urah statue outside the building.

“What is the difference?” asked Gurgini.

“We serve Fush-urah by helping women. But they help men.”

“What duties do priestesses there perform?” she asked again.

“I shall tell you some other day,” Jeyah said.


Jeyah was appointed the chief to lead a team of teachers to guide newly recruited priestesses, or in Sawart’s words, “weary wanderers who have returned to serve the Mother of Fertility”.

The responsibility of teaching Gurgini and Gruimuah Fush-urah’s way of life - from daily chores in the temple to the obligations of the priestess - all fell on Jeyah’s shoulders.

 “Daily prayers will be carried out in the main temple. The red priestesses will come over to join us,” Jeyah explained.

“Priestesses need to cleanse themselves with sprinkles of a perfumed olive oil before entering the goddess’ presence.”

Jeyah took out two boxes of the size equivalent to a palm. The image of Fush-urah was sculpted on the covers.

“The black box is for priestesses of the main court, red for the You-Know-Who,” said Jeyah. She put down the two opened boxes on a table beside and lifted her palms upwards.

“Choose one.”

Fruimuah looked at the two boxes - one black, one red. Fruimuah pondered a while and picked the red box. Jeyah looked at her and inhaled deeply.

“Once you step into the court of the ceremony, stare only at the joint where your palms converged.”

“Do not look into the box that is filled with Kont [1], for it will enrage the goddess. She would send a wind to make your eyes blind.”

“Hold the box close to your chests as you walked along the gap beside where priestesses kneeled.

“Each time you stopped by a priestess, you halt for her to dip her finger into the box of powder. Then you wait for her to smear the powder over her forehead before you move on.”

Jeyah put down the boxes onto the table.

“You will be taking over Jiriya’s and Hae-mip’s duty, and you will do this until we have newcomers to replace you," she said.

The ceremony began soon after the lesson ended.

Red Priestesses sashayed into the Court of Ceremony with fast yet gentle pace and arranged themselves in rows. 

Priestesses of the main court then entered from the side entrances in their usual black robes.

It was a stark contrast between priestesses with simple black robe and those wearing bright red costume complete with pearl-dangling headgear over their forehead.

Sawart scanned through the crowd from corner to corner before she flourishes her hands. Priestesses fell onto their knees all at once.

“Blessings bestowed onto your servants this morning, I asked of You, Mother of Fertility. Blow Your blessings into Mont, let us inherit the mighty power to bless the people of Froyale.” 

“Go,” Jeyah instructed Gurgini and Fruimuah who stood still beside a pillar.

The girls walked cautiously into the Court of Ceremony. They positioned the box of Mont in front of the chest and looked only at the only direction they were told to look at.

None of the priestess took notice of them as they kept their eyes at a specific point in front. Gurgini served the box to priestesses of the main temple while Fruimuah the Red Priestesses. 

Priestesses took turn to touch the Mont and rubbed it across their foreheads. It glows in bright yellow. 

While observing the girls performing their first duty aside, Jeyah noticed Sawart kept her attention on the girls as if she was finding the slightest mistakes in their gestures.

Gurgini remained steady throughout her walk but Fruimuah’s lost focus half way through. A priestess was unable to reach for Mont in the box as Fruimuah was standing too far away.  

Fortunately, Fruimuah was alert enough and moved closer to her. Jeyah noticed that Sawart’s eyes were on her throughout the session.

Gurgini and Fruimuah returned to stand by the pillar after completing their duty.

“Go with the blessings of Fush-urah, pass on the blessing to the people,” said Sawart at the end of the ceremony.

Priestesses stood up and randomly walked out of the court.

Sawart turned her attention to Jeyah and gave her an approving nod. Jeyah then looked at the girls and let out a smile of relief.
Suddenly a red priestess walked up to the sisters.

Portrait of a red priestess

They immediately hid their smiles away and looked at the intimidating lady coming at them.

“Are you new?” she asked Fruimuah.

Fruimuah nodded her head repeatedly but kept her head down without uttering a word. Suddenly, she felt a gentle pat on her shoulder.

“Don't worry, I am sure you will do better next time,” said the red priestess.

Gurgini held her hands tightly while Fruimuah looked at her from the back of the red priestess as she exited the main temple.   

(to be continued...)

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Redemption (Part 3)


Realising Jeyah had left, Fruimuah held Gurgini’s hands and said:

“Did you see scars on their faces?”

‘Yes, as if they have had cuts on their faces before,” said Gurgini.

Standing by the door and overhearing their curiosity, Jeyah could only sigh quietly.


Being a carpenter, who did not possess matured skills like that of his late father, Khrumakwe experienced a decline in his business.

Also with the curse troubling the heart, he could not pull himself together out from divided attention.

“Broken again,” said a woman who brought the stool over to his workshop while he was working outside the cottage.

Khrumakwe tilted his head to look at the woman. The lady was in her late forties but age did not leave a mark on her face.

He shied away from her eyes and studied the stool.

“Forgive me, I will fix this,” Khrumakwe said.

“You have seemed troubled since the day your father passed away, Khrumakwe. How can I help you?” the kind Froyalean woman who sympathised with him bent down slightly and asked.

Khrumakwe shook his head and kept his mouth mummed.

She then left a basket of homemade buns beside him and stood up again.

“I will be back. For the stool,” she tapped on his shoulder and walked away.

Though a little tap on the shoulder was insufficient to lift his spirit, Khrumakwe was still grateful to the woman, one of the only few nice persons who did not despise his family and the Khebite heritage.

“Basket again! Look what we have here,” a voice coming from the other end.

It was Khrumakwe's friend. His only friend, perhaps. Unlike Krumakwe, Bashut was a cheerful lad welcomed by the villagers.

People wondered how these two individuals entirely opposite of each other’s characters could become friends.

Or rather, why would he befriend a Khebite.

Whenever someone asked him that question, he would grin at them and ask “why not” instead.

As usual, Bashut made fun of them by nudging his elbow gently on Khrumakwe's shoulder and let out a mischievous laugh, of which Khrumakwe ignored as he continued fixing the stool.

“Buns!” he picked up one from the baskets and started chewing on it. After a while, he stopped.

“Isn’t that woman the merchant’s wife?” Bashut asked seriously and started laughing after a pause. Khrumakwe chose to ignore him again.

“It’s delicious though,” he had another bite. “Want some?”

Khrumakwe cleaned his hands, took out a piece of cloth and wrapped few buns on it. He then bundled up, tied a knot and threw it at Bashut.

Bashut caught the package thrown towards him.

“For your mother and sister. I cannot finish them myself,” Khrumakwe said.

Bashut was reminded that his sisters Gurgini and Fruimuah had left to seek shelter under the Fush-urah temple.

To Bashut, Gurgini was a very special girl. He loved to recall how she often got into fights with the Froyaleans.

One of the incidents the cheerful and bubbly young man remembered clearly was how Gurgini defended herself from being discriminated by others at the market.

At the beginning of the incident, Gurgini came to his stall to buy some fishes.

“Not fresh, Bashut,” Gurgini expressed dismay.

“There was a storm in the sea,” said Bashut. He knew what Gurgini’s plot was but just played along with her.

“My father can only return a few days later. So lady, could you spare me some mercy?”

“Another Bashut’s story?” Gurgini mumbled while looking for the freshest fish at his stall.

“No,” he said. “It’s my mother’s,” his mother came right up and walloped his head from the back.

“Don’t listen to this boy,” she shouted. Gurgini looked at both mother and son and shook her head while Bashut shuddered his shoulders with an innocent smile.

“Bye, Bashut. I am going to the next stall,” it did not take long for Gurgini to walk to the next stall, which was just two steps away.

Just few seconds later, she turned around and made Bashut another proposal.

“Unless… you can give me a cheaper price?”

“Ha! Same old tactic, Gurgini. I am not impressed,” Bashut mocked.

“I can’t give you fish anymore,” he spoke softly.

“Or else I am going to get it from her again!” he pointed at his mother, who was busy brushing off fish scales at the other corner of the stall.

“Bye, Bashut,” Gurgini gave up and walked away with disappointment. Bashut looked at her from the back.

He knew he had feelings for her but he thought it was not the right time to confess his love to her.

Minutes later, Bashut heard yelling coming from the fishmonger stall next to theirs. He ran out and saw Gurgini was in the midst of arguing with the fishmonger.

Gurgini was obviously not a weak lamb that could be easily intimidated by the big tough man.

“You are a dishonest businessman, give me back my money!” Gurgini confronted him.

“I have given you the changes!” the fishmonger defended.

“Liar! I want my money!”

“This girl is crazy! Crazy Khebite!” fishmonger shouted at her, trying to draw attention and support from the crowd.

Gurgini threw fishes on the display desk and reached out her hands.

“I don’t want your fish anymore. I want my money!”

In the Froyalean trading system, consumers were at the upper hand whereby goods sold were returnable. Sellers would be at fault if they refused the abide by the law.

“You are not my only customer!” the man threw the money onto the ground. Gurgini picked up to money quickly and counted them one by one. It was the correct amount.

“May the god of Ruk-keh bless your rotting business!” Gurgini said loudly and walked off.

The way she cursed had raised brows of people watching the dispute. Of course, it gave them another opportunity to condemn her action by generalising her upbringing as a Khebite and her uncivilised culture.

But in the eyes of Bashut, that was the special part of her he admired the most.

Later in the evening, Gurgini found a basket of few small fishes left at the backdoor of their kitchen.

It must be him, again.

She wiped off her tears, looked into a sky and gave thank to Bhima, the god of Providence for Bashut’s kindness.

(to be continued...)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Redemption (Part 2)

Fruimuah turned around again and studied the Fush-urah status in the temple. It is apparent that the Fush-urah status closest to her is for the women while the bare-breasted one for the men.
“Sisters from southern Jub?” asked Sawart, Priestess of the Highest in Fush-urah’s temple.

Her powerful voice echoed the court as she crept in like a shadow.
Two priestesses accompanied her by sides. All had visible scars on their faces.

Gurgini and Fruimuah nodded and kept their heads down.

Sawart scanned them through and through as if they were thieves caught stealing in the temple.

“You enter the temple to offer your contribution to Fush-urah, Gurgini and Fruimuah,” she spoke clearly with an air similar to a proclamation.

Sawart approached the girls.

“It is The Council who paid for you to come here, not us. Remember this and do not utter unnecessary words to others,” warned the high priestess with a suppressed voice.

She whispered to their ears. “Even the price of your redemption is not within our control. It is The Council’s.”

Intimidated by her stern look and an unfriendly welcome, Gurgini and Fruimuah felt a sarcastic tone as she emphasised on words “The Council” as if a displeasing stench passed by her mouth.
Sawart stepped back and called out one of the priestesses beside her.

“Jeyah will be your mentor,” Sawart ordered.

Jeyah, who was standing on her right, moved forward and gently greeted the girls with a simple grin.

“Learn well the discipline of the temple and you will not be deprived of blessings from Fush-urah,” said Sawart. “I will see both of you tomorrow morning.”

Sawart went into the inner hall with the other priestess, leaving the girls with Jeyah.

“I am Jeyah. I will teach you what you must and must not do in the temple beginning today,” she said.

The girls seem tensed. Jeyah went up, smiled at them and said “It takes time to learn. Other priestesses will help you too.”

That diffused the tension on the sisters' faces.

From her appearance, one could tell Jeyah was a girl on the verge of entering adulthood.

It was a contrast between Jeyah and the other emotionless priestesses they have seen so far. She was slightly more lively and approachable in nature and only two years older than Gurgini.

“I was brought up in the temple since birth. Fush-urah is my mother, the temple is my home,” she said.

“…this is the way you should think if you have gone through whatever suffering before seeking refuge here, and you will feel better.”

“Thank you,” Gurgini spewed the first word since she stepped into the temple.

“I will show you to your room,” Jeyah said.

The sisters picked up their bags wrapped in a piece of an almost torn cloth and followed her.

To Gurgini and Fruimuah who were used to live in the congested southern suburban vicinity known for poverty in Jub, the temple was only too enormous to fit in their frame of imagination.

Priestesses walked a slow petty pace entering and exiting from one court to another, a vast difference from the world where the sisters came from.

“They will not get fresh fishes in the market with that speed,” Gurgini whispered silently to Fruimuah’s ears.

They were imitating conversations between priestesses, who suppressed their voices down in conversations, as if volume greater than that would murder the peace in the temple.

Fruimuah giggled and nudged her sister gently.

“This way,” Jeyah turned around and pointed their accommodation area in front.

Recovering from the giggles, Gurgini and Fruimuah cleared their throats and acted formal just before she looks back.

Along the corridor, they saw many little girls dressed in the priestess costume mentored by few seniors seemed to be of Jeyah’s age.

Seeing the tiny figures stretching their hands to the sky and postulate to the ground in slow motion, the girls found it interesting.
“Orphans taken in by the temple, trained to be future priestesses,” explained Jeyah after seeing their interest on scene.

That must be how Jeyah spent her childhood.

This was the first thought that came into their minds.

“You will stay here,” Jeyah pointed at the room facing an inscribed obelisk hoisted in the center of an open air cross junction with many other rooms built around it.

The girls were amazed by the obelisk, which they had never seen such tall upright statue their lives.

“A gift from Queen Shebeth - during the reign of King Heira. It is already more than two hundred years old,” Jeyah explained.

Astonished by the sculpture, Fruimuah went nearer to the obelisk.
“What does it say?” she turned around and asked Jeyah on the pictographs sculptured on the obelisk.

Jeyah stretched out her hand to Gurgini. Gurgini, surprised by her action for a second, reached for the hand. Jeyah led her to Fruimuah and the Obelisk.

“It says ‘Goddess whose abundant kindness flows from Mount Moyra and Mount Forri to the ends of Froyale, raising the people of great strength to conquer lands and waters’.”

“Fush-urah is the life-giver to us Froyaleans,” Jeyah continued.
As Khebites, Gurgini and Fruimuah had no knowledge of this life-giving goddess. In the past, Gurgini never allowed a chance for her neighbours to brag on the mighty power of the kingdom whose human capital grew like grapes in the vineyards.

But at this time, Gurgini and Fruimuah, stood in awe of the obelisk, somehow felt the truth in those words despite they did not understand what it actually meant.

“We have lots to do,” Jeyah reminded the girls. Gurgini and Fruimuah whose minds already strayed far, were alerted by her voice. Jeyah gave them another smile.

They settled down in the tiny yet comfortable room and sat down on the wooden bed.

“Get some rest and meet me at the middle court in the evening,” said Jeyah.

Gurgini and Fruimuah nodded their heads. Jeyah left them and closed the door.

Realising Jeyah had left, Fruimuah held Gurgini’s hands and said:
“Did you see scars on their faces?”

‘Yes,as if they have had cuts on their faces before,” said Gurgini.
Standing by the door and overhearing their curiosity, Jeyah could only sigh quietly.

(to be continued...)