"Well then, let's get started." Priestess Melinda motioned for Daniel and me to follow. She led us down a long corridor from the newer part of the Temple towards an older section.
She spoke as we walked. "I really must say that the two of you have nearly changed my opinion of little young puppies over the last couple of months. I never expected even one hard working critter, let alone two."
Daniel and I looked at each other and smiled. 'Critters', I guess that word described us as well as any.
"You know, Carlos, when you first came into my kitchen I thought you would just be in the way. I didn't give you much of a chance. I hope you didn't get into too much trouble that night I sent you away."
"It was nothing I couldn't live with... or didn't deserve."
"You didn't deserve anything at all. You did nothing wrong. I was just finding excuses to get rid of you."
"Maybe, but I still got a bad attitude with my mistress. I was punished as much for that as anything you said."
We came to the end of the long corridor and rounded the corner, heading down a second.
"A young pup with a bad attitude; now there's something I've never heard of before." She giggled. Daniel and I giggled as well.
We came to the end of the corridor. There was a large double door and a stairwell leading to the basement. She paused a moment.
"When you bring the stuff up from the basement, you'll take it out through these doors. The truck will be parked right outside."
She resumed walking down the stairs and we followed. She flipped a light switch and we saw a large, dank room filled with junk. It was dusty and there were cobwebs everywhere.
"If I were you, I'd start by clearing out the cobwebs. That way you don't have to keep dealing with them."
"Yes, Priestess. That sounds like a good idea." Daniel looked at me, then glanced back at Priestess Melinda. "Priestess, may we get out of these clothes? They make it hard to move and that way we won't get them dirty."
I giggled as he asked. I already knew the answer. But I was also hoping she'd change her mind. Puppies just weren't meant to wear pants with long legs and shirts long enough to tuck into them. They were uncomfortable.
"Well, there's something else I never would have expected from a puppy; asking to run around naked." She shook her head. "Don't you know by now that it's just not permissible? You must show the Goddess proper respect. She doesn't want to have to look at those ugly little things hanging between your legs."
"We could leave our thongs on. That way our puppy parts would remain covered." Daniel was almost pleading.
She simply ignored him. "In the corner," she pointed to our left, "I've already brought down your cleaning supplies." There were a couple of brooms, dust pans, mops, a bucket and several rags. "Now get started. We don't have all day."
Actually we did have all day. In fact we had all weekend and every weekend for the next month. Even so, that might not be long enough.
I looked at Daniel as I handed him the broom. "What did you get us into?"
"I didn't know it would be like this. Besides, it was supposed to be to help our mistresses."
"Some help that was." I said as I started knocking cobwebs from the ceiling.
"I was just tryin' to be nice. How was I supposed to know we'd get stuck working every weekend?"
"Because THEY were going to have to work every weekend. WE could have been at home making love instead of THIS." I was glaring at him and trying to keep a straight face. "Besides, they still have to do their community service AND we still have to do this."
"Alright, I'm an idiot. So sue me."
We both burst into laughter. 'So sue me' had become one of our favorite phrases when one of us got the other into trouble. We'd heard the girls say it once and thought it was funny. Neither of us knew what it meant.
Daniel's heart was in the right place when he volunteered us to do the girls' community service. If his plan had worked they'd certainly have been grateful. Unfortunately, they were still required to do the service themselves AND we still got stuck working for the Temple. That meant this was a bit of a role reversal. It was usually my harebrained ideas that got us into trouble. Daniel's ideas usually worked out.
The service was a Temple requirement in order to receive the spring equinox blessing from the Goddess. It was one of the highest honors a girl could receive each year. It showed a dedication to the community and was supposed to purify the spirit.
Puppies, of course, didn't count. We never counted. We didn't need to count, so it didn't really bother us. If we could somehow make things better, we were happy to do it; even if we complained a bit along the way.
"Remember when we caught that lizard?" Daniel was grinning really big.
"Which one, we caught a bunch?"
"The one we put in Matron Kairn's desk drawer." He was laughing now.
I started laughing too. "Yeah, we really got it when they figured out it was us."
"I don't think you'd ever gotten me into so much trouble." By now we were laughing so hard neither of us could continue working.
"But it wasn't because of the lizard."
"I know, it was because of Shane." I couldn't even hold the broom now; I had dropped to my knees from laughter.
"I'll never forget the look on his face when the matrons accused him."
"That was so funny. He'd never been spanked before."
"Yeah, he was cryin' way before they even got the paddle."
"And he ran, too." We were still bustin' up, laughing, and giggling.
"Oh, but when they found out it was us..."
"Ouch!" Suddenly we both got really quite.
"I wonder whatever happened to Shane."
"I miss the farm." Daniel wiped a tear from his cheek with the back of his hand.
"Me too. It's nice here. But sometimes I wish we could go back." We put our arms around each other and just stood there for a moment.
"Do you ever think about Eddie?" Daniel sniffled a little and another tear went rolling down his cheek.
"A lot, I really miss him." I wiped his tear with my finger.
Daniel nodded in agreement. "But if I could only see one of you, I'm glad it was you."
"Me too." I wiped away a tear of my own. "I love you Daniel."
"I love you too."
We were back at it the next morning. We'd hauled up two truckloads of junk the day before and were on our third for today. There wasn't a whole lot left, maybe one more load. We'd been taking it all to a warehouse behind the thrift store that was operated by the Temple. That was where Linda and Shelly were doing their community service.
"Don't you guys ever quit?" Linda whined.
"Or at least you could take a break." Shelly complained too.
Daniel and I looked at each other and started laughing. Shelly threw a dirty rag at us, but we ducked out of the way and laughed even harder. It was their job to clean up everything we brought in so it could be taken into the store and sold. The harder we worked, the harder they had to work.
"What's the matter, our two mistresses can't keep up with their two little puppies?" Daniel taunted them and stuck out his tongue.
"Yeah, we expect everything here to be spit shined by the time we get back." I was laughing so hard I tripped over a bench and fell to the ground.
"You come back here today and you'll be two dead little puppies." This time Shelly tossed a pail of water at me and I wasn't quick enough to get out of the way.
I scrambled to my feet and started shaking the water off; laughing my way through it all.
"I can't turn my back for even a minute without you two starting some sort of trouble." Priestess Melinda was stomping towards us. She slapped me on the butt. "Now get in the truck. Time's a wastin'." I had to duck away from another playful slap as the Priestess feigned her anger. It was the girls' turn to laugh as the two of us scurried into the vehicle. The Priestess could be a bit of fun once you got to know her.
The week went by quickly and it was Saturday morning again before we knew it. There was one last truckload of junk to move, maybe part of a second, and then we could do a thorough cleaning before painting the walls and ceiling.
"Hey wait. What's that?"
"What?" I looked around unable to figure out what Daniel was talking about.
"That." He motioned with his head to his right, my left.
I looked around the bookcase we were moving to see a very dusty, but sparkly globe on the floor where the bookcase had been. I set my end of the bookcase on the floor and Daniel did the same. I stepped to the trinket and picked it up. I blew on it and dust scattered everywhere.
It was a clear, crystal globe encased in four bands of a silver colored metal that held it in place. It was mounted on a broken wooden rod, with several ornate carvings.
"Wow, this is cool." I held it out to Daniel.
"Yeah, what is it?" He took it from my hand and began to examine it.
I looked around for the missing piece. It was behind a second bookcase. I reached behind and pulled it out.
"Here's the rest." I held up another broken rod with a smaller crystal on the opposite end.
Daniel put his half next to mine. They fit together perfectly. My mouth dropped open.
"I know what it is!" I smiled.
"Well, what is it?" Daniel was anxious. "C'mon, tell me."
"No, I'll show you." I just had to keep him in suspense. "As soon as we get this bookcase in the truck we can break for lunch."
We picked the case up and carried it up the stairs, out the door, and onto the truck.
I led him down the corridors and into then main auditorium. I had spent several hours looking at the paintings and statues while 'working' for Priestess Melinda during those first few weeks when she wouldn't let me do anything.
"Look." I pointed to the statue of the Goddess standing next to the altar.
Daniel looked puzzled. Then suddenly, "Oh! It's like that wand she's holding.
"Now look at this one." I pointed to a painting on the wall next to some of the pews.
"That's it. That IS the wand she's holding"
"So how come they're different?" Daniel could be so dense sometimes.
"Obviously, this one broke." I pointed to the one in the painting. "They replaced it with that one." I pointed to the one being held by the statue.
Daniel smacked himself in the head. "Duh."
I had to giggle.
"But this one isn't anywhere near as nice as the broken one. I wonder why they didn't fix it?"
"Are you thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?"
"You wanna fix it, don't you?"
We both smiled.
Those long clothes finally came in handy. I rolled up my pant leg, tied one piece of the wand to my leg with a strip of cloth and pulled the pant leg back over it. Daniel did the same with the other piece and we smuggled it out of the Temple.
When we got home, we headed straight for the basement and hid it.
"Monday, I'll take it apart. Then all we gotta do is figure out how to get another rod and we can put it back together."
We thought all weekend, but neither of us had a solution. There was just no way a puppy could get a rod like that.
"Mommy?" I hesitantly got her attention.
She looked up without saying a word.
"Umm, promise me you won't get mad." I was really nervous. This could get me into a lot of trouble.
"What have you done this time?" She had one of those serious mother looks on her face.
"Please?" I swallowed hard and was a bit fidgety. "At least let me explain before you yell at me."
She chuckled a little. "Ok, Carlos, I'll play along."
I suppose she thought she was lightening the mood, but having her mock me made me even more nervous.
"Is there, umm... any, umm... any way to, umm... any way to... get another one of these." I took the two halves of the rod from behind my back and held them out to her. I had already removed them from the globes.
"Well, what is it?"
"A umm... wooden stick. We found it at the Temple. It was already broke."
She took it from me and looked at it. "And the Priestess gave it to you?"
"Umm... Not exactly." I tried to swallow but my mouth had gone dry.
"We... we wanted to fix it... and give it back."
"Umm... me... umm... I... I did." I didn't mean to bring Daniel into this.
She just looked at me; thinking, wondering what to say.
I couldn't take it. I cracked. Five seconds of silence and I was a wreck. "I'm sorry mom. We wanted it to be a surprise. We wanted to fix it ourselves. But we... we just... we just didn't know where to get another rod like this one. So we could fix it... and give it back."
"And just exactly what is it that you want to fix.?"
"The wand in the painting."
She still looked puzzled.
"I'll... I'll... I'll go get it." I ran downstairs, got the globes and ran back upstairs with them. I handed them to my mother.
The next morning found Daniel, Dr. Wills, my mother, and I in the office of the Goddess Mother, that's what they call the head priestess at the Temple, and Priestess Melinda.
"I see." The Goddess Mother seemed disappointed. "You just wanted to fix it before giving it back?"
"Yes ma'am." Daniel and I answer in unison.
"It's so much prettier than the other one." Daniel continued, "We thought that using this one would make the ceremony even more special."
"And you believe them?" She looked at Priestess Melinda.
"Despite my better judgment. These two have worked hard. They've been very well behaved, very respectful, and above all, they've been truthful. I've no reason to believe they're lying." She paused. "If they have a fault, it's that they try a little too hard."
"That's about as high praise as I've ever heard from you, Priestess, about anyone. Let alone a couple of very stupid little puppies. I'll accept it. But next time you think you've found something valuable, you bring it to Melinda or myself."
"Thank you ma'am."
We were dismissed, but my mother and Dr.Wills remained in the Goddess Mother's office. Priestess Melinda walked us out to the car.
On the way down the corridor I leaned towards Daniel, "The next time I get a really stupid idea, slap me."
He giggled and I saw the Priestess smile.
"We were telling the truth, Priestess. You gotta believe us. Please." I hated the thought of having her or anyone think I was a thief and a liar. I'd worked hard to gain her trust. "I get a lot of really stupid ideas. I mean... they don't seem stupid when I get them. But they end up that way."
"Yeah, Priestess, he makes them sound really good. But I always end up in trouble for going along with him." Daniel was trying to sound serious, but giggled anyway.
"I believe you Carlos. You too Daniel. The Goddess Mother does as well. But she wanted to impress upon you how serious your actions were."
Daniel and I had worked hard to finish cleaning and painting the rooms downstairs. We even finished a day early. The Goddess Mother called us into her office.
"Please have a seat." Puppies usually had to stand in her presence. She motioned us to a couple of chairs.
She looked us over. She had a rather serious look on her face and I wasn't sure whether to be afraid or not. I wanted to look to Daniel for reassurance, but didn't dare look away from the Priestess in front of me.
"I know I was rather hard on you boys the other day. I wanted you to think about what you'd done. Well, maybe not quite so much what, but how it looked."
She paused and I wasn't sure whether we were supposed to speak, so I remained silent.
"I know you boys, and a whole lot better than you think. So I know what was in your hearts. You were well intended. But taking the scepter from the Temple wasn't very smart."
I was too ashamed to look at her so I shifted my gaze to the floor.
"But we do wish to thank you," she continued, "for finding and returning the scepter. It's an ancient relic. It predates the Temple itself and has been passed down for hundreds of years. It was made in the days when worshipping the Goddess was done in secret. No one has seen it for nearly half a century. It disappeared after a fire in the auditorium. We thought it had been stolen. But it was apparently just misplaced."
She reached into a drawer and brought it out and set it on the desk. "As you can see, we've had it repaired."
I looked over at Daniel. He was smiling. It was beautiful.
"The globes are the finest crystal. The jewels are diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. The metalwork is sterling silver. It's priceless."
She held it out to us. "Go ahead. Take a close look. You'll never see anything more magnificent."
Daniel took it and began looking at it in awe. Then he handed it to me. I nervously accepted it. I was afraid of dropping it. I quickly looked and returned it to the Goddess Mother's desk. I breathed a sigh of relief.
"I decided that the two of you should be recognized for your work and your discovery. To honor you, you will be permitted to present the scepter to the Goddess during the ceremony of the Equinox Blessing."
I looked at Daniel. He looked as nervous as I felt. I swallowed hard.
"It might shock a few people to see a couple of puppies participating in the ceremony. I consulted with the hierarchy and it is unprecedented, but permissible."
We thanked the Goddess Mother and left the office. On the way down the corridor Daniel asked, "Do you think it's strange that everybody seems to know us?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, there was your mother, that one's understandable. But my matron helped create both of us and she lives right across the street. Now the Goddess Mother."
"Yeah, that is kinda odd. But its gotta be coincidence, doesn't it?"
Daniel just shrugged.
I felt ridiculous. I was nearly covered with clothing for the ceremony. I was wearing long black pants, wool mom had said. Then there was the blouse; pink, with buttons down the front and ruffles trimmed in black. Not to mention the collar, mom called it a bow tie; it was nearly choking me to death. If that wasn't bad enough, I was wearing a crown of blue and yellow orchids.
Daniel hadn't faired any better. He was wearing a yellow blouse and had pink orchids in his hair. We just looked at each other, shaking our heads, wishing the whole ordeal was over.
We were standing with our mistress and about a dozen other teenage girls in the Temple lobby. The ceremony had begun and the Goddess Mother was delivering a benediction.
"We are truly blessed today on this day of true blessing. As part of today's ceremony, we are honored to have had the ancient Scepter of the Goddess returned to its rightful place in the Temple. The ancient relic hasn't been seen in nearly fifty years and today for the first time in all those years, it will be presented to the Goddess and used to give Her blessing. As a gesture of gratitude to the two young puppy boys who returned it to our Temple, we are honored to allow them to make the presentation in the company of their mistresses, Linda Wills and Shelly Miller. I now present to you Puppy Daniel and Puppy Carlos."
I was trembling as I walked slowly down the isle behind my mistress carrying the scepter along side Daniel. I'd never been so nervous. I wanted to close my eyes and make it all disappear, but thought I might stumble if I did. I just stared at the back of Shelly's head and tried to walk slowly. I was sure that breakfast was going to come up at any time. There was a whisper going through the crowd. I heard some giggles. I wanted to look, to see what was happening, but I was too scared. I was so nervous I couldn't even look to Daniel for support. I was afraid that if I saw that he was just as scared as me that I might just feint or turn and run.
After what seemed like hours, we finally reached the altar where the Goddess Mother stood. Just as we practiced, we bowed and held out the scepter with both hands. She waved and we stood, turning towards Priestess Melinda standing at the side of the altar. We presented the scepter and she took it from our hands. We stepped to the side and stood with the statue of the Goddess between the Priestess and ourselves.
The Priestess spoke. I think it was some kind of prayer, but I didn't hear her. Everything was just sort of buzzing. I looked into the crowd, it was a blur. I began to return to consciousness as Shelly and Linda were receiving their blessing. The Priestess tapped each of them on both shoulders with the scepter then dipped her fingers into a bowl of water and sprinkled them with it. She uttered some words about being pure of spirit and being blessed by the tears of the Goddess. There was also something about being crushed by the weight of their sins should they not be pure of spirit.
Our mistresses stepped to the side, standing next to us. We were between them and the statue. The next girl stepped forward and Priestess Melinda began reciting the blessing.
Suddenly the whole building shook. There were some screams. There was movement beside me.
"NO!" I yelled out, elbowing Daniel and pulling him around. "LOOK OUT!"
The statue had been rocked forward, then back, and was again falling forward. This time it was going to topple and it was going to fall onto the girl awaiting her blessing. I stepped under the statue, trying to hold it up while Daniel pushed the girl out of the way. It was way too heavy. It fell onto both of us.
The next thing I remember is being splashed in the face with water and being roused back to consciousness. I was pinned under the statue. I heard Daniel scream in pain. Someone said something about an earthquake.
"Are you alright?" I couldn't see who was asking.
"She's fine. Help them." Someone else yelled, I think it was Priestess Melinda.
It took six women to roll the statue off the two of us. It was too heavy to lift.
"Are you ok?" Priestess Melinda was bending over me.
"My leg hurts." I groaned.
"How about you?" She turned towards Daniel.
"I think I hit my head."
I scooted towards him and gave his forehead a quick kiss." Better now?"
"It's a miracle." I heard someone behind me say.
"More like the wrath of the Goddess." I looked around to see a middle-aged woman shaking her head. "They never should have allowed boys in the purification ceremony. It's the prophecy come true. The Goddess crushed the impure."
"Crushed?" It was Priestess Melinda. "Do these boys look crushed? They've got a couple bumps and bruises. They weren't crushed. And look at them. They're soaking wet with the tears of the Goddess. She didn't crush them with their sins. She blessed them with her tears."
Suddenly the crowd fell silent. Then a slight murmur began to spread as the congregation realized the implication to the Priestess' words.
"No." It was the Goddess Mother. "This was no miracle. It was coincidence, nothing more."
"Look around you, Goddess Mother, you can't deny what's happened here today." It was Priestess Melinda.
"Yes Goddess Mother, Melinda's right." It was another Priestess named Ann. She was the junior Priestess of the Temple.
There were shouts of support from the crowd.
"Very well. I'll make a report to the hierarchy. We'll let them to decide."
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