short story – The Sect (part 1)


As promised, and because I’m offline this week, a short story in two parts. I’ll be back next week to answer your comments and visit your blogs! This is the first of the Tales of the Southern Kingdoms, and it happens 25 years before the start of Books of the Immortals – Air, in the kingdom of Arquon mentioned yesterday by Shafali(sorry about the weird formatting, sometimes word.doc don’t convert well on WordPress, sigh!)

The Sect

by Barbara G.Tarn

Manjeet closed his eyes, blinded by the torches that lit the Temple as if it were daylight. The guard behind him pushed him forward and he moved again, adjusting to the light after days in the darkness.

A hostile whisper accompanied his walk, and the stone eyes of the Goddess seemed to pierce him. He wished he could free himself from the ropes tying his wrists behind his back – they were too tight and his hands were numbing.

“Sinner!” an old woman hissed as he passed. Manjeet wanted to scream. I haven’t done anything! I’m innocent!

Still more insults flew towards him. The alter was a few paces away now, with the statue of the Goddess looming over all of them. Manjeet stopped and the guard forced him to kneel in front of Puddra, the Supreme Judge and leader of the Sect. The High Priestess Chandra stood at Puddra’s right and stared at Manjeet through half closed eyes. Still, he could feel her lust, and he shivered, his head hung in front of the two most powerful persons of the underground city that had given him birth.

“The trial begins,” the herald announced, and the crowd of white clothes fell silent. Puddra stood up like the king he wasn’t and stepped towards Manjeet. His black hair was hidden under his white turban, but he caressed his well trimmed black beard, thoughtful, before speaking. Manjeet dared to look at him, silently pleading for mercy.

Puddra crossed his arms on his chest, still staring at the young man kneeling in front of him.

“The accusation is not light,” the Judge said. “Manjeet has done dirty deeds outside our community. He had already been admonished for trying to corrupt Neha, the Virgin Seeress…”

Manjeet lowered his eyes. Ah, Neha. He saw her again with his mind’s eyes, beautiful and  pure. She was younger than him, but her visions had consecrated her to the Goddess since childhood. For months he had loved her without telling her, realizing she was no longer a child. And one day he had dared to speak, to tell her what he felt, brushing his lips against hers… then the Goddess had punished him: lightning had struck him, leaving him half-dead and scarred for life on his left shoulder. But the Goddess had kept him alive and by simply looking at him, everybody was reminded of his sin.

Manjeet was called back to reality by the words of the High Priestess who was now chanting a spell. And the Goddess got him again, sneaking inside him and breaking him with pain. He writhed on the floor in front of Chandra, too breathless to scream, but groaning and moaning as the fire of the Goddess burned him.

Through the flames he saw Ashlee’s sweet face. She whispered his name, worried, and vanished. He shook his head, trying to free himself from the powerful spell, but he wasn’t strong enough to defeat the Goddess.

Chandra took his face in her hands and forced him to look at her. The crowd, who had been screaming with joy to punish him harder, fell silent again. They couldn’t see the dark eyes of the High Priestess burning with lust like him, though.

The silence and Chandra’s eyes hurt even more. Manjeet wondered what else awaited him. He was numb from pain, but managed to catch some breath and slow his panting during those few moments of respite.

The High Priestess let him go and the guard banged his head on the ground. Dazed, he was forced to stay down, nose bleeding, while the High Priestess put one foot on his head.

“Like a woman kills a snake, the Goddess can kill a man,” she said. “Today, the Goddess is good. We shall be the judges and Puddra shall give the verdict. Lock up this sinner while we discuss his fate.”

She took her foot off of him, and the guard pulled him to his feet, dragging him back to his cell, untying him before locking his door.

Manjeet sat in the darkness again, exhausted and hurt. Why were they after him? What was wrong with loving a woman? Why did the Goddess punish him?

Like everybody else in the community, he had been coupled with someone since childhood. He was supposed to marry that girl chosen for him at birth now that they had both grown up. But he had always been restless and unsatisfied with his betrothal. He had always avoided the chosen girl to play with the other children, and when they were all beyond childhood games, he had fallen in love with Neha.

But Neha was off limits, untouchable, consecrated to the Goddess… so he had looked elsewhere for love. And he had met Ashlee. The monsoon was barely gone and the nature outside the underground city had called him. He had walked and walked, unaware of the distance, enchanted by colorful birds and attracted by strange smells. He probably got lost in the jungle and by sunset he had reached a small village.

Hospitality was sacred even for pagans, so he had been welcomed for the night. People wore clothes of different colors, not the usual white he was accustomed to.

When morning came, he followed them in their fields and meadows, and helped them harvest, listening to their songs and their jokes and their laughter.

He had been told all his life that outside of the underground city there was only an ugly, evil world, but he was witnessing something completely different. Outside the safety of his  community, people were just… people. They only adored different gods and wore slightly different clothes.

He had gone back to the underground city too puzzled and amazed to discuss his discovery with anyone. He didn’t even know how he had found his way back through the jungle, but as soon as he had been back, the village outside had started calling him.

“So I went back, and tried to observe from the safety of the jungle,” he told the Council, the Judge, the High Priestess, anyone willing to listen to his story as he pleaded “not guilty”. “Then one day a girl saw me and greeted me. And I answered.”

“Our law forbids any contact with the outside world,” Chandra said sharply.

Manjeet bowed his head. He could still see Ashlee and her beauty. His hands were free now, so he hid his face in them. Why couldn’t they understand him? Why couldn’t they let him go?

“Repent, Manjeet,” Puddra warned with a frown.

Repent of what? Falling in love? Wanting to live in the open instead of caves, hiding from the world and eating mostly meat as there was no way to grow anything in town in spite of the opening up there in the giant cave ceiling?

Neha spoke with her eyes lost in her vision.

“Your sin is not talking to a stranger, Manjeet.”

“Continue, then,” Chandra said. “What happened after the greeting?”

“My accuser knows very well what I was doing when he found me,” he said through clenched teeth. “No, I didn’t ran away after she greeted me. Her name is Ashlee. She told me she had heard of us as a bunch of fanatics hiding from the king’s wrath.”

She also said he couldn’t be too happy with his upbringing, which was totally true. He wasn’t happy in the underground city, he had never felt the Goddess’s motherly love he had been told to worship since childhood. He had actually felt her wrath and wished he  could leave that temple and that community to live with Ashlee under the sun.

“How dare you?” Puddra’s face became red with anger. “This is blasphemy! Your pride shall be punished!”

“The Goddess knows all her children,” Chandra said. “I’m sure she knows everything about Manjeet. Let him continue, Puddra. Let’s hear what this perverted being has to say.”

“I’m not a perverted being!” Manjeet exploded. “I didn’t do anything evil!” He could name people who were perverts in his own community, though. He could accuse too. But he was accused now, and throwing venom on somebody else wasn’t a good strategy.

“Shut up!” Puddra replied. “Finish your dirty story, we shall be the judges!”

Upset, Manjeet looked at Neha, but she was lost in her visions. And Ashlee had no idea where the underground city actually was.

He lowered his eyes, gulping down the lump in his throat. He was alone against his own people.

“Speak, blasphemous being!” Puddra said.

“I kept seeing her.” He kept his voice monotone, hiding his pain and anguish as he spoke. “We talked, we laughed, we cuddled and enjoyed each other’s company. Her village had welcomed me and I enjoyed working with them. I was alive, happy and free for the first time in my life and the Goddess wasn’t mad at me, or she’d have struck me again.”

His body enjoyed the caress of the sun, and of Ashlee’s hands. His eyes had never enough of her, and his lips found their way to her mouth. He got to know her in the deepest way, and she loved him back with all her passion. He moaned for pleasure in her arms, and was inside her.

Puddra slapped him back to reality before he went more into details.

“Fool! You broke a divine law!”

Manjeet stared back at him, undaunted now that the memory of his love filled him.

“I am not repenting, Supreme Judge,” he said. “Because I had something you shall never have. You have sex without love. But combined…”

“Shut up!” Puddra slapped him again as the crowd grumbled and insulted the sinner. The Judge raised his hands to quiet the crowd. “I know, he hurt our pride,” he told them. “And we shall punish him.”

Manjeet had nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. He tried to defend himself, but was abused by both men and women because he had dared looking for love outside of the Sect. Ashlee was right, his people were fanatics that could become obsessed with sex for the wrong reason.

He could feel the energy sucked out of him, and hoped they would kill him on the spot. But Chandra stopped them.

“Enough! The Goddess doesn’t want him dead yet!”

They left him alone, naked and bruised on the temple floor.

“Get up,” Puddra ordered.

But he was too weak to obey. Two guards pulled him to his feet and he managed to look the leader in the eyes.

“Let me go,” he begged.

“And where would you go?” Puddra looked sad and tired now.

“Let me go, let me live with Ashlee, let me…”

“Enough!” Chandra interrupted him. “You belong to us! Your life belongs to us and to the Goddess and you have no rights of living elsewhere!”

“I’m sorry, Manjeet,” Puddra added. “This is our way.”

Manjeet bowed his head, defeated.

 ***

It was true love. Ashlee was sweet and loving and Manjeet was head over hills. Ramesh watched them making love to each other with anger and envy burning in his heart.

He wished Manjeet looked at him like he looked at Ashlee. He wished Manjeet allowed him to undress and touch him like he did with Ashlee. But Manjeet didn’t care about boys or men, and Ramesh’s love and attraction were  slowly turning to hatred.

Ramesh was Puddra’s beloved son and had the charisma of a natural born leader. He had married the girl his father had chosen for him, but his sexuality didn’t have enough with only one woman. He loved men also, and orgies that made him feel powerful. He could feel the energy flooding him when he had sex, which made him more hungry.

He didn’t like Manjeet’s secret happiness and his more and more frequent absences, hence he had told his father and the whole community about Manjeet’s “sin”. He was the prosecutor that had brought the trial on Manjeet’s head, and was ready to watch him fall with glee.

“It was an obscene sight, my friends!” he told the court. “Both were naked and looked like mating animals!”

Manjeet glared at him, but he ignored him.

“It was disgusting,” he continued, not mentioning he had done much worse in the privacy of some unused tunnel with members of the community who kept their mouths well shut. “Manjeet betrayed our law and our customs, dishonoring all of us with his dreadful behavior!”

“Look who’s talking!” Manjeet exploded. “Everybody knows what you do!”

“I do my duty,” he snapped. “I married the girl my father chose for me and didn’t go out looking for adventures in the world outside!”

“Enough, both of you,” Chandra said. “Manjeet, you admitted your fault, don’t plead innocence now.”

“How can you consider guilty the love for a woman?” Manjeet protested. “How can you live without love, spending life together out of duty, because some inhuman, divine being decides who is our match? I did wrong, I admit it, but I’m ready to leave, to disappear forever from this blessed community! You can’t keep me here!”

“Shut up!” Chandra slapped both his cheeks and Ramesh scoffed. Stupid, stupid Manjeet. The High Priestess was another person hot for the young rebel. Maybe they could join forces to tame Manjeet. “This is blasphemy! The Goddess will punish you!”

Manjeet glared at her.

“You can’t keep me prisoner,” he whispered, so Ramesh guessed his words more than hearing them. Boy, he was desperate! They really should tame him once and for all! Obviously the public rape hadn’t been enough, but in a more private situation him and Chandra could break the little bastard who dared to shun them.

“Shut up,” she hissed back.

Manjeet backed away from her and turned to the audience.

“Listen to me!” he said loud and clear. “The High Priestess is lying to you! I don’t think the Goddess cares if I stay or if I go, but Chandra does! She’s been after me since I was fifteen!”

“He’s lying!” Chandra screamed as Ronan looked at her, admired. He had been drooling over Manjeet for only a couple of years. The High Priestess had good tastes.

“She seduced me,” Manjeet continued, undaunted. “And because of her behavior, I thought I could do the same with Neha, the Virgin Seeress, because I was protected by the High Priestess!”

“He’s lying!” Chandra repeated, furious. “He’s crazy! He’s trying to drag us to hell with him!”

“Silence!” Puddra got up and raised his arms, quieting the growing murmur of the crowd. Manjeet knelt in frond of him of his own free will.

“Help me, please,” he pleaded. No way, we’re not letting you go, Ramesh thought, ready to jump in if his father proved too weak. He knew Manjeet was much loved in spite of his rebel behavior.

Puddra pulled him up.

“I like you, Manjeet, but if they condemn you, there is nothing I can do,” he said. “What are you talking about, though? What’s the story with Chandra?”

“The truth, Supreme Judge,” Manjeet answered. “I was fifteen when the High Priestess summoned me to her rooms. She told me I was a handsome boy and let me sit near her. I was naive and childish, but my blood was on fire. She kissed me and gave me a taste of what Ashlee gave me. A taste that ruined my life, because it awakened the man in me and since that day I’ve been restless. I wanted a woman, but none was really available, and then I noticed Neha was not a child anymore. Chandra caught me and denounced me because she was jealous of her younger rival.”

“Neha was off limits,” Puddra said. “And Chandra is too old for you.”

“Still she messed with my growth, Supreme Judge.”

“There isn’t one word of truth in his story,” Chandra interrupted, venom spilling from her voice. Always deny the truth, Ramesh knew it was the main rule. Manjeet had condemned himself by admitting his fault.

“You will believe her,” Manjeet told Puddra, serious and sad. “Everybody will believe her. You will all keep following that lying witch and none of you will ever know what’s beyond this underground city. You’ll keep thinking you’re perfection, but you’re nothing. Nothing.”

A minority that had hidden from the world to follow their own traditions. Ramesh thought Manjeet was too stupid to live. Maybe both of them had been born in the underground city, but their parents came from the outside world. They knew exactly what they had left behind.

The temple was silent as the people tried to catch every word from the accused’s mouth. But the young man was talking to their leader in a low voice, so only Puddra, Chandra, Ramesh and Neha could actually hear him.

“You’re being stupid,” Ramesh said, scornful. “My father knows very well what’s out there. And so do our elders. And why should I listen to you? Who are you? Nothing. You are nothing, Manjeet!”

Manjeet was still staring at his father, who looked spellbound.

“Go,” Puddra said at last, averting his eyes. “You’re exiled. Don’t come back. Ever.”

“Puddra!” Chandra protested, shocked, while Manjeet fell on his knees again to kiss the Supreme Judge’s hands.

“Go now!” Puddra ordered. Manjeet got up on his feet, bowed deeply and left, untouched.

No! Ramesh swore he’d bring the beautiful rebel back. He’d tame him and break him and make him his bed slave for the rest of his life! If only he had his father’s power…

Something dark started calling him, whispering promises in his ears.

to be continued tomorrow…

2 Comments

  1. ooh! what a dropping off point! Evil! :p

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    • makes you hope for a happy ending… but there are (almost) no happy endings in the Southern Kingdoms, as long as the Sect lives (and sometimes afterwards as well… maybe they are doomed from the start…)! 😀

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