Lofty Legend

The punishment for questioning traditions may be to enact them.

125-10-october-11th-2015© Al Forbes



From the mountain ledge, Vierlia watched clouds kissing the horizon, enjoying one last view of Ayna’s realm.

Shifting position, metal scraped against her bloody ankle.  Vierlia gasped.  She kept forgetting.  Well, no need to remember much longer.

Her sister was the romantic, reciting fire-stories of Mareilai giving herself to Ayna.  For honor.  For her people.  “Take my heart, winged god, that I be one with you!”

But Vierlia read the old texts.  She criticized clerics, debated interpretations.  Not “virgin” but “childless woman.”

Always blowing into the wind.

When they needed another sacred feather, naturally they chose her.

If Ayna didn’t arrive soon, something else might eat her.  Spoil the sacrifice.

The azure condor landed, throwing up dust with wings like sails.

Vierlia begged Ayna, prayed for mercy, bargained.

The bird stared, uncomprehending.

It looked the part, but that was no god.  Vierlia hurled rocks, shouted.  It retreated.

Vierlia would warn them.  Milking her own blood, she wrote.  “No more sacrifices.  Not Ayna.  Hungry beast.”

There would be new fire-stories, new traditions.  That was worth dying for.

“Take my heart, beast.”

First, it took her arm.

Blood splattered across her message.  The clerics, returning for the feather, read: “More sacrifices.  Ayna hungry.”



Written for Alistair Forbes’ wonderful Sunday Photo Fiction challenge.  Click here to see the other entries!



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15 thoughts on “Lofty Legend

    • Thank you so much! If these challenges allowed more like 300 words, wow, there would be even more details… Like the meat-flag they fly to let the god/bird know a sacrifice is ready. Or the whole debate about whether she’s right that it’s supposed to be a “childless woman,” given that she now claims she lied about being a virgin.. 😉

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  1. My god, this is intense. She was writing with her own blood? And the vulture that seemed to be a beast. I guess it was Ayna in the end, and more sacrifices were necessary. This is a powerful story about the last moments of a scholar. Loved it! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Eric, glad it had that effect!

      Yeah, it did come out pretty intense, which is amusing to me because it actually started out a bit funny, with her being very sarcastic about the whole situation. Ended up different, though… As far as your guess: well, the bird is the same one the locals have been treating as Ayna, yes. But only people who are about to end up dead learn that it’s just a huge wild bird, coming to eat the nice fresh food someone put out for it.

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    • Thanks! And good question, hm. Vierlia was skeptical to begin with, and If they had been sacrificing only virgins before, the earlier sacrifices were younger and more naive. So probably a lot of them were too busy praying and/or screaming to realize the truth — at least until it was too late for them to try anything. Still, she may not have been the first to try leaving a message, only to have it ruined by the subsequent attack. Or maybe the elders did see previous messages, but didn’t believe them!

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      • Well, I don’t think the priests would really be so evil as to kill the daughters of their friends and neighbors if they knew that the sacrifices were meaningless. It seems more likely that they would be so committed to believing a certain creed that they don’t recognize or admit any evidence against it.

        Now, there *are* priests in this world who are truly evil to the bone, and would certainly sacrifice anyone and go on living happily, but they worship other, evil gods….

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  2. Great story, and vividly told. I like the way you cleverly feed in the background information – the culture and the reason for the sacrifices. “It looked the part, but that was no god.” This is an excellent sentence, summing up Vierlia’s realisation and the people’s misconceptions about Ayna: the one they call their god. It seems that a hungry big bird is still just a hungry big bird…

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    • Thank you so much, Millie! I’ll confess that some of this background information gets made up on the spot, as I try to picture how these general customs I have in my notes might actually be experienced by real people living in those societies. I can sit here and try to work out the culture logically, but it feels “dry” — it’s not until I try writing a story that it comes alive.

      And yes, sometimes the bird you think is a god is just a bird. That doesn’t necessarily mean Ayna isn’t out there somewhere, though…

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      • No, I got that, too – that if the bird isn’t Ayna, then just what is he/she! The mind boggles at the possibilities. You’re so right about ideas flowing as we write. The words just seem to come into your head and develop into the language you want to use.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, you mean because the bird is gigantic and blue? Right, that’s not normal, is it… I spend so much time living in my magical world with my weird monstrous creatures that I forget you don’t have giant blue condors flying around in your world. 😉

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