TERROR ON THE ARCTIC
The cool breeze from the arctic ocean lightened the mood of Vokros, the king of a small tribe of Eskimoes. The festivities of the day were reaching a climax. Songs of legendary heroes cheer the reveling peasants. The day marked the start of the tenth year of Vokros's reign.
Vokros was observing the celebrations from his warm throne under the royal tent. He was brooding about the upcoming ritual to the God of Fertility. The past few years have seen a decline in the fish population. There were insidious whisperings among the populace that Vokros was falling from the favor of the gods. Vokros was amused at the thought. He did not believe in gods or rituals, but the whisperings disturbed him. Whisperings grow into rebellions. Whisperings mark the beginning of the end.
A sudden silence interrupted Vokros's train of thought. The head priest Makkaias was making his way to the ritual pit. The pit's periphery was studded with gleaming torches. In the middle of the pit, there was an altar, essentially a gargantuan monolith. The altar's crimson surface had been thickened over the years by several layers of dried blood. A polar bear cub was tethered to a pole near the altar. The cub was shivering with terror. The cub's predicament evoked pity from the children huddled near the pit.
Makkaias, the head priest, walked laboriously toward the pit, acknowledging the numerous greetings from the crowd with a sway of his staff. His attire for the occasion was a robe made of bear skin. His head was covered with the dead beast's skull. He was thinking of Vokros. He had guided three generations of the tribe and had tutored four rulers. None had dared to challenge his authority. He was venerated by all. But things changed when Vokros ascended the throne. Vokros was not a savage like his predecessors to be bullied with superstition, he was taught by the great monk Arnis of the Erkusian Monastery located somewhere in the great Mountains of the North. Vokros's indifference to religious matters and strict adherence to logic spawned a new generation of intellectuals.
Vokros was the only man to see through his stratagems. He hated Vokros with all his heart, he wanted Vokros dead. Vokros's mocking grin took away his sleep. He had plotted his downfall for years now. This was the day he would punish Vokros for his godlessness. Vokros would be dead by nightfall.
Makkaias entered the pit and gave his staff to a servant. Another servant handed him the sacrificial sword. The helpless cub flinched at the sight of Makkaias.
Makkaias turned and faced the crowd.
"For all of you gathered here today, deep inside your heart, there must be a question.." he paused. The crowd fell silent. Vokros's face hardened.
"Will there be enough fish this year?" Makkaias continued.
"Throughout my life I never had to ask that question; the gods were kind to us because we believed in their divine powers and worshipped them with fear."
"But our youth have lost their way, they don't fear the gods anymore. Their infidelity has angered the gods. The wrath of the gods is upon us. Remember the fate of the Tihaka tribe, their godlessness brought their downfall." He paused.
"Does our tribe deserve such destruction?" he shouted and watched the crowd's reaction. He caught glimpses of remorse.
Vokros stirred in his throne.
The priest went on, "today we won't sacrifice to beg the gods for prosperity, we will sacrifice to beg for their forgiveness."
With that, Makkaias turned to the cub. The drummers slowly started their hypnotic rhythms. The priestly eunuchs started moving around the pit, twisting their bodies to the beats of the drums while chanting ancient phrases. The flames of the torches surrounding the pits burn brighter. Makkaias cut the tether with the sword, lifted the cub by the scruff of his neck and showed him to the crowd. The cub started moaning.
"Elais mathou't honua" the crowd bellowed in unison. May the gods forgive our iniquities.
The drum beats gather speed. The chanting of the eunuchs grow louder, their bodies undergo violent contortions. The sky was filled with pleas for forgiveness from the repentant crowd.
"Elais mathou't honua"
"Elais mathou't honua"
"Elais mathou't honua"
"Elais mathou't honua"
Makkaias laid the squirming cub on the crimson surface of the altar and slit its throat. The cub's body twitches and blood gushes out of the cub's throat adding a new layer to the altar's surface.
The chanting and the beating of drums reach a crescendo.
Someone in the far end of the crowd uttered a shrill cry and panic spread through the crowd.
"Bears" shouted someone. People were running in all directions.
Vokros was unsettled. He hated surprises. His mind was clouded. He was trying to understand what was happening. The bears usually avoid human settlements. Could they have come in search of the cub? Was Makkaias involved? Was this part of a conspiracy? He turned towards the altar and saw Makkaias. He was whispering something to the eunuchs.
Vokros felt that something vile was about to happen. He turned towards his commander who was barking orders at some soldiers.
"Commander Bryce" he called.
"Yes my Lord" Bryce answered.
"I want thee to keep a close watch on Makkaias."
"As ye wish, my Lord. Do ye think the old one is involved in this?"
"Trust no one, Bryce. Only the vigilant survive the vagaries of men."
"Aye, my Lord, I'll guard thee with vigilance," said Bryce. With a gentle bow, he turned towards his men.
Makkaias could see two giant polar bears growling at soldiers throwing Spears. Two peasants lie mutilated at their feet. He saw Vokros shouting orders at some archers. A barrage of poison-tipped arrows brings down one of the beasts. The other charges towards a soldier and knocks him down. The enraged beast tears away his right hand and roars at his attackers. The soldiers unleash their hounds on the beast. The ravenous hounds pounce on the beast, gripping its skin with their claws while their iron jaws tear away morsels from its body. The furious beast shakes them away and roars deafeningly intimidating the hounds. A few more arrows pierce the beast's body making him stumble. A brave soldier charges towards the lumbering beast and drives his spear into the beast's eye. The blinded beast moans in pain and collapses to the ground.
At the end of the commotion, the ritual ground resembled a battlefield.
The soldiers and the few curious peasants present on the ritual ground heard an ominous chanting.
"The wrath.. the wrath.. the wrath.." the eunuchs chanted in an ethereal voice standing motionless around the ritual pit. Makkaias's eyes were blank, his shriveled lips were coated with blood.
The piercing sound of a horn was heard.
In the distance, a great cloud of smoke was seen. A great horde seemed to be making its way toward the ritual ground.
Vokros and his men were puzzled and intimidated when they caught sight of the fast approaching menace. They were fifty men on creatures never before seen by them. Their banner bore the sign of a four-winged dragon. They appeared to be a band of cut-throat mercenaries.
They wore shiny armour with helmets masking their faces. Strange tubular objects hung from their shoulders.
Bryce ordered his men to take defensive positions around Vokros.
An intrepid hound pounced on one of the riders. The man's tubular contraption made a thunderous noise and the hound's head was split open. The hound's body crashed into the snow.
The Eskimoes who witnessed this ruthless and sudden destruction were incapacitated with fear.
Were these Angels of death sent from heaven to punish them for their sins?
The leader of the band removed his helmet revealing his pale skin and a flame-red beard. He had blue eyes. He shouted something in an alien tongue pointing his finger towards Vokros and his men.
Vokros understood the futility of putting up a fight but he was not a coward. He did not want history to remember him as a coward. He wanted the songs of poets to praise him for his bravery in the face of insurmountable odds. He wanted glory in death.
"This is it, men" Vokros spoke aloud to the soldiers around him, with a calm demeanor perhaps brought about by resignation to the impending doom.
"Today we engrave our names in history. Do not let the enemy's weapons distress you. They are not gods. They are mortal men like you and me. They threaten our freedom and must be put to death. We'll fight till our lungs draw breath." He stopped, he wanted to speak more but couldn't.
Snow started falling from the sky. The sound of waves splashing against the beach could be heard.
The man with the flame-red beard stopped shouting and wore his helmet. He unsheathed his rapier, pointed it towards the sky and yelled something to his men.
Vokros took the cue and charged his men toward the foreigners. The same thunderous noise that brought down the hound was heard in quick succession. Vokros's men dropped like flies. Vokros went down clutching his chest. It was all over in a few minutes.
Vokros never thought it would end so fast. He had actually believed he could make the enemy suffer casualties.
"Hope.. how foolish..." he murmured to himself and chuckled. His breathing became slow, his lungs had difficulty drawing in air. The projectile's impact left an intense burning sensation that drained all his energy.
He saw the murderers ride towards Makkaias.
Though he was waiting for death to claim him, the sight of Makkaias grovelling before the murderers enraged him. Anger filled his heart. "Treachery.." he growled, a surge of pain triggered by the exertion silenced him. He could do nothing. He could only watch while the eunuchs loaded barrels of whale oil upon the creatures on which the murderous foreigners rode.
The snowfall gathers intensity and morphs into a blizzard. The corpses sprawled haphazardly on the ground vanish under several layers of heavy snow, giving away Nature's poor attempt to cover-up man's wickedness.