Elegy of the Gidat
By Eme’ Savage
Etcitvi, The City of Life, was the heart of Sadat. People filled the Sacellum, the place gidats returned to each unter to hear the Gidat. The holy sanctuary was rivaled only by the Palace which stood on Hilltop looking down on the residents.
Inside the Sacellum, carefully curated trees, 50 tally high, formed an intertwining dome. A small stream wound its way from one end of the sanctuary to the other on its way to the Great River. In the center a Gidat Tree stood with its curling leafless branches, symbolizing life, resilience, and faith.
Katriel and her friend, Thredora wound their way through the crowd. “Well, hurry up! We will be late!” the round blonde-haired woman urged.
Katriel tucked her sterling gray hair into a bun at the base of her neck, and hastily arraigned her lavender robes, “I’m coming, Thredora. You are always so bossy.”
They laughed heartily.
“Shh! Shh!” Thredora placed a finger to her lips as they neared the auditorium.
The Gidat had started speaking as they slipped in. Katriel’s former mentor, Areg’lua, missed nothing with his sharp eyes. She was sure to hear a lecture on the virtue of promptness.
She schooled her features into a serene expression. The droning of the Gidat gave her the irresistible urge to yawn. She didn’t dare look at Thredora or she would have started laughing.
“We have been the shining light for Sadat and beyond. Several gidats have traveled into Rokor and with the Creator’s Blessing we will bring the Light to them as well,” he paused for applause which spontaneously erupted in small groups scattered throughout the auditorium. Engineered to create excitement for the Gidat’s speech. “With such success, we cannot fail,” the Gidat droned emphasizing the last consonant of each word. He was bent with age and his white hair was haphazardly brushed to one side in an obvious comb-over.
“Now, are there any recommendations for changing the Word? Speak now, or hold your peace for the next three unters,” The Gidat stood steadying himself on the arm of his chair.
Two scholars stepped forward and held the up Gidat’s arms for the required number of minos. Normally, this would have been done without help but his advanced age made even the smallest gesture taxing. Katriel was surprised he didn’t fall over, then chastised herself for such unseemly thoughts. She looked over at Thredora who was mouthing the secos. She stifled a laugh. She had nearly gotten to the last secos when Areg’lua stood. An audible gasp echoed through the chamber garnering far more excitement from the assembled crowd than the speech itself.
Stunned, she watched as Areg’lua walked up to the dais and knelt. Secos turned into minos as the Gidat looked down at him with obvious confusion. Then he muttered something to one of the scholars, and she ran out of the chamber.
“What is he doing?” Thredora hissed.
“I don’t know,” Katriel craned her neck. She didn’t want to take her eyes off of Areg’lua. Shame burned her cheeks as the other gidats whispered and looked her way. They knew he was her former mentor.
Finally, the scholar returned with one of the Holy Books. She bowed and offered the book to the Gidat. He impatiently motioned for her to open it. Several more minos passed until he found his place.
Another scholar stepped up to help him raise his left hand. “No, not there!” The Gidat grumbled instructing the young man on hand placement. “There!” He read from the Holy Book. “Areg’lua, are you citing the Right of Challenge?”
Areg’lua rose smoothly, “Yes, Gidat. I am citing the Right of Challenge.”
Another rumble of incredulous voices moved through the crowd. The Gidat glared at them from beneath bushy brows. Then turned back to Areg’lua, “The Voice hears your proclamation, and grants you the Right. Proceed, my son.” He shuffled back to his seat.
Areg’lua ascended the dais. His eyes scanned the entire chamber and came to rest on her. He gave her a crooked smile before beginning.
“Brethren! Hear me!” his voice boomed. “Hear my words! Hear my voice!”
As the last of his words echoed away, an oppressive silence settled over the gathering.
“The King has ascended the throne only five unters ago. In that time, he drove the Rokorians out of Sadat and we were glad. He rounded up the ne’er do goods, thieves, murderers, and had them executed. We did not like the killings, but we were glad that our People are safe. Then, he came after the Hunters. We said they must have done something wrong and let it go by. Then, he came after the Mages, and we said it wasn’t us, and again we let it go by. Now he is at our door. We are next, my friends.” The gidats grumbled in disbelief.
“We talk about bringing the Word to Rokor when there is a serpent at our door. We are losing Sadat to a King who has been gathering power. The day of the Third Prophecy has arrived and we are not ready.”
“The Third Prophecy?” The Gidat looked incredulous, “You are mistaken, my son.”
“With respect, Gidat, I am not.”
The gathering got louder.
“Kat… what is he talking about?”
Katriel had heard Areg’lua talk about the Third Prophecy many times, “It is the prophecy where the last Gidat will bring the Light back to Sadat.”
“Things aren’t as bad as that!” Thredora shook her head. “Look at all we have! How strong we are. How large our numbers are. He must be mistaken, and if the Gidat thinks so, well…”
“You are right. We have nothing to fear,” even though she felt the seed of doubt growing within her. Had her grandson, King of Sadat, really strayed so far?
The Gidat raised his hand and silence descended, “The Third Prophecy has long said that Etevun, the evil one, will take possession of the King. I do not see that. I see a man who has ensured the safety of Sadat. He has done nothing to indicate otherwise.”
“Areg’lua is a crazy old fool,” a mentor muttered behind her.
“I don’t believe it!” another shook her head two rows over.
“Who does he think he is?!” said another as he threw his arms up.
“I ask that the Counsel take this into consideration,” Areg’lua bowed.
“So be it.”
Everyone filed out of the chamber and spilled into the sanctuary. She wanted to find Areg’lua but lost him in the crowd. He had brought his concerns to her before, but she had dismissed him. Her first instinct was to fiercely defend her grandson, but a growing unease churned her stomach.
“That was insane! What was he thinking?” Thredora took three steps to her one.
Areg’lua had talked about the Third Prophecy for a long time. She thought it was just that, talk. She never thought he would go in front of the assembly like that. Perhaps he had gone insane. She quickly turned toward their chambers.
“Where are we going?” Thredora breathlessly asked falling further and further behind.
“I have something I need to do,” she said over her shoulder.
Katriel strode up to the Palace gates. The guards knew her by sight and did not stop her. Her eldest grandson ascended the throne at age 15 after his father’s tragic death. She made sure he had the best advisors, all the help a young monarch could ask for. While his methods seemed harsh, she chalked this up to inexperience and believed he would soften with time. However, Areg’lua’s actions today gave her pause.
She found her grandson sitting in the ornate bath. Steam rose from the water causing her to immediately perspire under her robes. His arms were outstretched, his clean-shaven face was lolled back against the edge, and his eyes were closed. He was bare from the waist up and wrapped with a linen pareu.
“Hello, Grandmother,” he greeted her with eyes closed. “How was the gathering?”
She walked cautiously to a stone bench and sat. ‘He knew,’ she thought.
“It was interesting,” she hedged.
He finally opened his eyes and revealed glittering green irises, “How so?”
“It seems we will be meeting for a while longer.”
“Now, that is interesting. The first time in hundreds of unters, I believe,” he arched one red brow and spoke with a slightly mocking tone.
“Did you know?” she dove right in.
“Know what?” he smiled slightly like a predatory creature playing with its food.
She had no patience for whatever game he was playing, “Let’s stop this dance, shall we? You know what I am asking, young man. So, answer my question,” she backed her words with steel.
“Grandmother! I’m shocked that you would think that of me. And that you would speak to your King that manner,” his eyes narrowed.
She leaned forward to meet his gaze, “Believe it.”
“Is there anything I can do to help, Your Majesty?”
Katriel glared at the intruder who appeared just behind her shoulder. He had slipped in without a sound. He was average in build, totally nondescript, except for his eyes. They were unlike anything she had seen before, red at the center blending into gold with green at the edges. His pupils were pinpoints even in the dim light. He did not seem uncomfortable with the heat even though he was wrapped in several layers of clothing.
“No, no, Serfilal. Everything is under control,” the King answered as his predatory smile returned.
“Very well,” Serfilal examined her with unblinking eyes before slipping back into the dark recesses of the bath chamber. She could still feel his unnerving gaze. The hair on the back of her neck stood up and a slight chill permeated the air in his wake. He certainly was not one of the advisors she had so carefully chosen for Kadarel.
“Who was that?” she continued to stare at the shadowed doorway.
“Serfilal. He’s been advising me on… things,” he nonchalantly waved a hand in Serfilal’s direction.
“What kind of things?” she looked at her grandson with new eyes.
He heaved a sigh, “Grandmother, I came in here to have some peace.”
The irony of that statement was not lost to her. After seeing his new advisor and knowing all the things he’s done so far, she had a growing certainty that Areg’lua’s prediction was coming true.
“This is not over, Kadarel. What you choose to do next will shape the fate of Sadat for many unters. I hope you choose well,” she rose from the bench.
Kadarel leaned his head back against the bath and closed his eyes, “Oh, I know I am making the right choice.”
She cast another furtive glance to the shadows then left.
It took three days for the Counsel to come to a decision. The gidats were called back to the Sacellum filling the auditorium to crushing levels. Several citizens of Sadat waited outside the walls. Word of the Challenge had spread throughout Etcitvi and the surrounding countryside. None had been alive when the last Challenge had been made and the people were eager to say they were there this time.
Katriel still had not seen Areg’lua and she needed to tell him about her encounter with Kadarel. She pushed her way to the front of the auditorium with Thredora behind her. Her height was an advantage as she could see over most of the crowd. The scent of unwashed bodies and the uncomfortable warmth of touching others made her feel like screaming. She had to get to Areg’lua before the conclusion of The Challenge.
“Can you see anything?”
She glanced down at her companion, “I see plenty, but I don’t see Areg’lua.”
Poor Thredora. Katriel was so glad she was not short like her friend. She doubted that she would able to maintain her sanity if she had to have her nose in other people’s armpits.
She looked back to survey the crowd and finally saw her old mentor. Areg’lua was two rows in front and several people to the right. Gidats protested as she unrepentantly shoved her way through the crowd.
“Sorry! Sorry! So sorry!” Thredora apologized in her wake.
“Areg’lua!” Katriel willed him to turn toward her. “Areg’lua!”
He searched and waved when he saw her, “Move aside! Move aside! Make room for Katriel.” His voice boomed. When Katriel reached him, she placed a hand on his forearm. Thredora popped up beside her breathless. “You found me,” his bushy brows arched.
“I did. There is something I need to tell you. Is there someplace we can go?” she searched the edges of the chamber.
“In this crowd?” he sighed. “Perhaps. Follow me.”
They pushed to the front walkway and then to an alcove next to the dais. It was the most privacy they would get. He turned to her expectantly.
“I saw Kadarel.” He nodded as if he expected the revelation.
“You what?!” Thredora gasped.
Katriel looked at her apologetically, “Later.” Thredora nodded and covered her mouth with her hand to prevent further outbursts.
“I believe you,” she leaned forward earnestly.
His brows knitted together, “What made you change your mind?”
“He has an advisor, Serfilal, who was not part of the advisors I had set up for him. There was something… off about him,” she shook her head clearly disturbed.
“I have seen him as well. Serfilal likes to stay hidden. I believe he is Etevun,” he crossed his arms as he returned her gaze.
“No way!” Thredora squeaked.
“Thredora!” Katriel growled.
“Sorry,” she whispered timidly and then placed both hands over her mouth.
Katriel turned back to Areg’lua, “Etevun? How is that possible?”
Areg’lua’s bombastic voice had lowered to an earnest whisper, “You have read the ancient tomes. It describes how Etevun takes different forms. The Beasts are the most common, but there is no reason why he can’t take the form of a person.”
She remembered how Serfilal made her feel and of his unblinking eyes. She shook her head, “I…I don’t know.”
“You do know,” he grasped her elbow. “You also know the Council will turn down my Challenge. That is a given. What comes next will be crucial. I want you to head to the outflow of the stream where you will find a gap in the grate. Inside the wall there will be a pack with provisions.”
“Wait. What are you saying?” Katriel pulled her elbow away from his grasp.
“I’m not saying anything. I’m giving you the instructions you will need,” he nodded firmly.
“What do I need it for?” anxiety pooled in Katriel’s stomach.
“It’s time, sir,” one of the scholars interrupted.
“You will know,” Areg’lua said cryptically. He bowed and gave her a crooked smile. “You have been an excellent student and colleague, Katriel.” Then he walked up the dais into the glaring eyes of the thousands in attendance.
“What did that all mean?” Thredora squeaked.
Katriel jumped as she was pulled from her thoughts, “I don’t know. Areg’lua doesn’t say things like that unless there is a reason.”
“What are you going to do?” Thredora’s hands were clasped tightly at her waist.
“Exactly what he says. He is never wrong,” Katriel watched as Areg’lua stood stoically on the dais. The scholars were beginning to enter signaling the Gidat was not far behind.
“Maybe he could be this time, a little bit?” Thredora was hopeful.
Katriel shook her head, “No. He is not. Come.”
“Where are we going?” Thredora cringed.
“To the outflow grate,” Katriel said pulling her shoulders back.
“I was afraid you would say that,” Thredora’s shoulders dropped.
Katriel moved out of the alcove and pushed her way through the crowd with Thredora in tow. Outside, the Sanctuary was full of more people than usual.
They entered the center of The Sacellum. Beneath the Gidat Tree, they paused.
Katriel held up a hand and Thredora fell silent. She approached the tree and placed her right palm flat against the trunk. Katriel closed her eyes and allowed herself to feel the lifeforce flowing through it. She prayed all that Areg’lua had said about the Third Prophecy would not come to pass. But if it did, Katriel prayed she would be strong enough to endure the task that would be given to her.
The sound of thousands of voices cheering washed over them. Katriel opened her eyes and looked back at the auditorium. The decision had been made.
Another sound reached them, this one a stark contrast to the celebration within. It was the sound of people screaming outside the walls and the pounding of many hands hitting the Sacellum door. It became louder, more frantic until it suddenly stopped.
She looked at Thredora’s fear filled eyes and said, “Come. We need to get to the outflow.”
Thredora nodded in agreement knowing that they needed to get away from whatever was at the other side of the door. They wound around the people who were casually making their way to the auditorium. Fear made their steps swifter.
A loud trumpet of sound shook the ground. They fell as the vibrations increased in power. Katriel and Thredora covered their ears. They looked back in time to see the door splinter as it succumbed into a large cloud of debris.
“Thredora…” Katriel called to her friend while coughing on the dust.
“I see it,” her voice was strained.
Thousands of warriors and soldiers poured in through the wreckage and began cutting down unarmed men and women. Blood sprayed the air as one by one the helpless citizens of Etcitvi fell. In their midst was an unarmed solitary figure gliding through the chaos. Katriel wasn’t sure if it was a trick of her mind; the spilt blood seemed to gravitate towards the lone figure, wicking up his pants, covering his torso, until only the his face was exposed. He lifted his arms above his shoulders and then dropped them. A wave of energy split the trunk of the nearest tree lighting it on fire.
“We have to go.”
Thredora didn’t argue.
Katriel picked up her robes and ran down the hillside into the stream. One by one the ancient trees split and were set on fire. She watched in horror as the flames licked up the trunks and reached the canopy at a frightening pace. The screaming became louder and more frenzied as debris from the ceiling rained onto the people below.
Thredora pulled at Katriel’s sleeve.
Their robes were weighing them down as they reached the grate. Shivering from both fear and the damp, they took off everything until they were clothed only in their shifts. The opening was narrow but she was able to pass.
“Thredora, come on!” Katriel called to her friend.
Thredora cried out, “I’m stuck. The grate is digging into my stomach.”
“No, you… you can do it,” she pushed on the grate to get more room, but it wouldn’t budge.
“It’s no use,” the ground shook as another tree blazed behind her.
“There has to be a way,” Katriel frantically looked for a piece of wood to lever against the grate. It broke as she applied it; too weak from rot.
“There must be something we can do.”
She stopped and looked at her friend. “It’s ok.”
“No, it’s not! It’s not ok!” Katriel’s voice rose in panic.
Then Katriel noticed the blood soaking the shift down to the Theodora’s hem, “Katriel, it is important that you keep going.”
“I can’t leave you!”
Thredora shrugged as a tear trailed down her cheek, “I guess I shouldn’t have had those extra servings of pie.” She both laughed and sobbed.
The ground shook again this time causing the stones to crumble above her. More trees went up in flame. Thredora looked over her shoulder, her blonde hair had loosened from their binds and cascaded down her back, “You need to go. Now!” Katriel grabbed for her friend’s hands and squeezed them tightly, “May the Creator be with you.” Thredora smiled tremulously and blinked back tears. She pulled her hands out of Katriel’s grasp and ran up the embankment.
Katriel held onto the grate with white knuckles until Thredora was out of sight. She sobbed pushing away from the stubborn grate and sloshed through the knee-high water until she found the pack that Areg’lua mentioned.
Another tremor and more stones fell on her. She drew the pack onto her bruised shoulders and then came to the end of the tunnel where the water fell several tally into the river below. “Dear Creator, that’s a long way down,” she murmured. Her heart leapt into her throat as the waters around her turned red. It took her a moment to realize it was blood, lots of blood. Then the blood seemed to run upstream. She looked over her shoulder just in time to see the strange figure through the grate his eyes glowing red. He soaked up the blood from the stream as he walked closer.
“No…” she whispered. She recognized the face as it came into the light. “Kadarel.”
He lifted his arms.
She drew in a deep breath as she fell and plunged into the water. She pushed her arms downward and kicked with her legs. The grate and stones from the tunnel plunged into the water next to her. To escape the tumult, Katriel pushed her way downstream. Finally, as she pierced the surface, she drew in a deep breath and looked back at the Sacellum in flames. The ceiling had collapsed and she knew that no one could have survived. Katriel looked downstream; the walls of the Palace quickly moved into view. What her grandson did was not natural magic she thought. How could she not have known?
Katriel braced herself as she rode down one rapid after another struggling to keep her head above water. She knew she had to get to shore, but there was nowhere to go. Going over the falls she could feel the water pounding on her as the current carried her. She pulled her head above the surface and gasped for air. When the current finally slowed she swam ashore. Katriel coughed and struggled to get the water out of her lungs. Shivering she pulled herself further in from the shore and rested.
Her chest ached with pain. They were gone. All of them. Thredora’s face filled Katriel’s mind as she sobbed. Then she thought of Areg’lua. She should have listened to him. Maybe she could have done something about Kadarel if she had? How could she have been so blind?
She curled into a fetal position and wailed. The sobbing became a keening. “They are all gone. Everything is gone. What do we do, Creator? How do we go on?” Her wails became louder.
Katriel laid on her side spent as she thought of the hole in her soul she was certain would never heal. Her eyes fell on the pack. Inside was a fresh set of robes along with food, a pouch of water and a curious bundle. She unwrapped it carefully and found it to be an ancient book, the Tetarul, “they that rule”.
She meticulously rewrapped the book and placed it into the pouch. She settled the pack on her shoulders and looked upriver towards home. No. Not home. Not now. She turned her back on Etcitvi and walked into the barren north country.