The Stone by the Stream (Part 23)

The sun god’s rays kissed the blanketing grass and unhearing stones, glistening on the serpent stream on the drier side of the dam. From atop the hill Cynthia surveyed the cottages, fences, and fields where even now farmers plowed the wide earth and brought sustaining wheat from the ground. Stretched cotton balls of cloud streaked the welkin above, while with ragged breath the Priestess reached the hilltop behind her.

She gestured toward a valley about a quarter-mile from the river, conspicuously empty aside from the faint gleam of mossy marble. They descended the hill, leaning back to prevent themselves falling headfirst down the treacherous slope.

“So this is where the oracle told the Temple to build the dam,” Cynthia said, turning timid eyes on the maternal mounding hills around.

“That’s right, Cynthia. Close to a hundred years ago now.”

Through the eyes of disappointment Cynthia spied the half-circled stone bench, cracked and pocked from years of neglect and here and there marked with carved love-hearts in which trysting teens had etched their initials. Before the bench, a raised platform or disappointed dais emerged crescent-like, fringed with a rain-smoothed relief depicting the Huntress consecrating the site through the sacrifice of three cattle, twelve chickens, and a young doe. Columns four marked the corners of the sacred ground, crumbling under the weight of years as they had never borne the weight of a roof.

Cynthia scratched her ear, which seemed to itch as if from some far-off sound.

“Is this it?” she finally asked.

“Well, what did you expect? You won’t find any stones around here — or at least none of the kind you’re thinking of. I told you it was harder for the oracles to contact the Goddess in those days.”

“I know… it’s just that there’s nothing here but a lot of rocks falling apart.”

“Were you looking for something else?”

“Sand in the glass is all…” Cynthia muttered, scratching her ear again. She told the Priestess, “I guess I was hoping for a sign to tell me what I should do.”

“Even oracles encounter times when the future is mute,” the Priestess observed.

Cynthia nodded, the ringing in her ears growing louder. She said, “It’s hard for me to believe… that the Goddess would want this world to end. At least on a day like this, with the grass rippling in the wind and the light shining everywhere, even on the mossy stones.”

“It’s a beautiful world, Cynthia.”

“But then… it isn’t always beautiful, now is it? Sometimes it becomes a nightmare — Sofia was right about that. And I guess that’s the duality of the Goddess. She’s the Mistress of the Moon, but she’s also the Huntress. Maybe we’re all her prey, in the end.”

“You’re seriously considering helping her tear this world apart.”

A flock of birds darted from the trees with the sound of a dull spring. The whine in Cynthia’s ears grew louder… louder… louder, until she couldn’t pretend it was just an itch in her ear anymore. An unearthly sound, seeming to rise up from within her body, even though the source came from the outside.

By the time Cynthia recognized the sound, the Naiad had emerged from the tree line, facing the Priestess with pure black eyes.

“Return to your dwelling place,” it said — or rather, transmitted. “And leave the Vessel with Us.”



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