Earlier Kiro and his friends Kimi and Nilo had taken AtthYs between them and hurried through the falling night to Temple Town. The streets were empty except for some other small groups escorting other chosen ones to their destiny. No one was talking; everyone was taut as a bowstring. At the gate to the Holy Ward the escorts were held back by guards. Only the young men in possession of a feather were allowed to pass the gate.
Kiro cursed under his breath because wanted to witness the ceremony. Rumours circulated among the teens about the ceremony, rumours about introduction into holy secrets, rumours about intimidating tasks, rumours about cruel initiation rites, but also rumours about orgies, about merry feasting sprees and about rampant sex adventures. Kiro and his friends were not keen to be introduced into matters of faith nor anything to do with cruel initiation rites, but they were hot for feasting and sex adventures.
Once inside Temple Town AtthYs and the other chosen ones had to strip to the bone. When the young fishermen tried to protest against the stern command of the haggard priest, silent guards used whips to enforce the strict order. Like a flock of sheep AtthYs and the other nude young men were driven into a dark room below ground shivering with cold and fear.
Down in the crypt the flickering light of a few torches was reflected in the calm water of a narrow basin. The priest beckoned the young man on the top of the chain to enter the basin. When he stepped into the cold water the ripples broke the reflection while the young man slipped on the sludgy bottom of the basin emitting a dreadful scream. AtthYs' blood run cold when the young man went underwater, believing he will drown. But the young man emerged snorting and struggled to get back on firm ground. Only now the young fisherman noticed men in dark clothes along the edge of the basin. With long poles they pushed the young man back into the dark water and held him down for some time. They immersed the young man three times. Then a priest dressed in white appeared on the other side of the basin. He waved the shocked youngster nearer and helped him out of the water, "Now you are purified, purified by the holy water gushing out the centre of the earth." he said with clear voice echoing in the crypt, "Now come closer, son of the Great Mother! I will ordain you with the anointing oil from the mountains surrounding the earth of the living."
These words relieved AtthYs' mind slightly but his body stayed stiff from cold and fear. He was the third in the row to enter the icy water and managed not to slip. He submerged by his own choice to avoid being hit by the guards on the edge on the basin. When the priest drenched his hair with the holy oil his heartbeat rose and his hopes revived again. Wrapped up in a blanket he waited with the others till the last of the chosen ones was purged and anointed. Then they were required to walk outside where they were ordered to wait under the star-studded sky for the next exciting experience.
The big hall of the main temple was dark when the chosen ones walked into it in single file. They had to sit down cross-legged at the far end of the hall opposite a life-size statue of the Great Mother on a high altar. The light of several torches on the left and right of the altar illuminated the statue of stone painted in vivid colours. The big black eyes in the white face of the effigy seemed to study the young men without mercy. The voluptuous lips were radiating red and when AtthYs looked at her with eyes half closed for fear, the statue seemed to breathe and her chest seemed to be heaving in the flickering light. When the chosen ones entered the statue of the Great Mother seemed to hover over the altar but when they sat down the effigy seemed to float through the air. AtthYs closed his eyes for fear and involuntarily emitted cries of anguish.
His cries were drowned out by the pulsating beat of drums and the jingle of tambourines. The torches around the statues died and the Great Mother arrived in the hall carried by sedan-chair bearers followed by her deeply veiled Daughters. The sedan chair was put down in front of the statue and her Daughters took their places on the steps of the altar. The torches flared up again and shed their light on the veiled women. When the drums stopped the high voices of the young women filled the hall with a ceremonial hymn. The soft sound of the young voices calmed the fears of the young men, but not for long; just for a moment.
Suddenly men naked except for loincloths materialized out of the dark. Their upper bodies were oiled and glistened in the light of the torches like the skin of newly skinned snakes. They were masked, some with goat-masks others with fox-masks. Two of them approached and took hold of each one of the chosen ones and flung him to the ground. AtthYs lost his senses when he hit the stone-hard ground. When he opened his eyes again and tried to struggle free the fox-headed men pressed him down to the cold ground, while a goat-headed man jumped on his body. In his fingers was a sharp flint blade and with skilled hands he cut deep lines into AtthYs' skin just left and right of the breastbone. When AtthYs screamed a third man crammed a gag in his mouth. Whimpering he watched the cutter to rub some dark stuff into the raw flesh. He was about to piss himself when the men set him free. With quivering knees he looked to see the fate of the other chosen ones. Some were already on their legs, while others were still being tattooed by the masked men.
The lovely song of the daughters of the Great Mother had never stopped during the torture. Rising his head AtthYs looked out for the veiled maiden with tear-dimmed eyes. Behind their veils they looked like statues, unmoved by the gruel spectacle. AtthYs was neither able to detect pity nor scorn in their attitude.
The High Priest had been standing close to the altar. Now he descended the stairs and displayed himself in front of the chosen ones. AtthYs didn't notice the grey man until the singing ended and the priest announced in a solemn tone. "Sons of the Great Mother now you have passed the first two tests. The first test, the ablution, cleaned your body and your soul. The second, the initiation, made you the property of the Great Mother! Now your breast is adorned by the tree of life. And it is your duty to make this tree fruitful! The first fruit of your loins will be the property of the Great Mother, he will become a priest."
"Now you have still one more test to pass. Look at the veiled maiden, look carefully at these gifts of the Great Mother. Only the young man who recognizes the maiden who had chosen him with the feather will win the prize."
A murmur went through the line of the young men. One finally dared to ask, "How will we be able to choose the right one? It's dark and they all look alike, like statues from the underworld!"
"Yes!" another one added shakily, "Yes, they look alike, Holy Father! How can we choose?"
"Get on your knees and pray, pray to the Great Mother. Let your mind do the work! Connect your mind with the mind of your future spouse! If you fail, you will fail forever!
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