The Queen's Belt

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Vicky is an ordinary teenager who stumbles on an object that makes it possible to defy the constraints of time and space. Not fully in control of her time travel ability, she takes a chance and travels to an ancient world in order to solve the mystery of a stolen artifact. Will she ever be able to find the relic and return home or will she have to stay in the prehistoric world forever?

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8. Chapter 8: Worship

When Serahwe and Swaseeia departed for the assistance for Éroros Oqos, Skeleiei and Khase also disappeared. Vicky was left with Éroros Oqos alone again. The girls sat in the grass waiting for the others to return.

“Where are Skeleiei and Khase gone?” asked Vicky curious of their disappearance.

“To the camp to choose the participants for the ceremony,” answered Éroros Oqos.

“So the ceremony, what is it all about?” asked Vicky feeling that she somehow has to prepare for it since she already been assigned a part to play in it.

“I will be playing Tabbitti, and the others will be dancing around me,” answered Éroros Oqos in her usual concise manner.

“Tabbitti is your Goddess, right?”

“Yes.”

“So what’s she like then?” asked Vicky trying to elicit more details from the girl.

“She is the ever young protector of all living things. She is the Goddess of fire, of life and of motherhood,” answered the girl, “look here.” Éroros Oqos pointed at her quiver, which was still strapped onto her back. “Do you see her?” she asked, “That’s Tabbitti.”

Vicky saw that Éroros Oqos’s quiver was decorated with a skillfully made applique. The pieces of skin attached to the quiver depicted a female standing, with a dog and a bird to her sides.

“Why are there a dog and a bird around her?” asked Vicky.

“It is a crow,” said Éroros Oqos pointing at the bird, “they are her favorites, but she also likes horses,” answered the girl. “When we worship,” continued Éroros Oqos, “we make sounds like horses do with their hoofs when they are running.”

“Why the horse if her favorites are the dog and the crow?” asked curious Vicky.

“Because the horse is our speed, our strength and the victory over our enemies,” said Éroros Oqos.

“What did Skeleiei mean, when she said that it will be irregular to hold the ceremony here?” asked Vicky.

“It is because we usually find a place in the steppe where there is a birch tree. Then we hang a robe on the branches, and it is the tree that represents Tabbitti. Today I will be dressed to play Tabbitti,” the girl explained.

“Oh so you have these special, kind of, sacred places for worship?”

 “No,” answered the girl looking perplexed, “all places are equally sacred to us.”

“Do you mean that you find a new place for each ceremony?” asked Vicky.

“Yes,” said Éroros Oqos.

 “But you regard the cave as sacred, don’t you?”

“This is because of the drawings,” explained the girl, “They are from our ancestors.”

“How do you know that? You’ve said that you don’t know who drew them. What if it’s some neighboring camp that drew them?”

“No,” said the girl firmly, “they are from the ancestors. They must be.”

“How can you be so sure?” insisted Vicky in an attempt to understand the girl’s reasoning.

“You are the oracle,” Éroros Oqos replied, “don’t you know that the rocks represent the kingdom of the dead?”

“Oh that,” said Vicky, although Éroros Oqos’s explanation made no sense to her, but to assure the girl she added: “Of course I know that.”  

The clatter of the horse hoofs once again announced the approach of the camp women. Just as Skeleiei ordered, Swaseeia and Serahwe returned with three other warrior-attired women. The women went straight to business redressing Éroros Oqos into a long robe, combing her long blond hair, in which they then braided some branches of birch tree. Éroros Oqos was holding a piece of cloth embroidered with animal motifs, which Vicky found out to be an important ritual accessory specially made for the ceremonies. Without her warrior dress Éroros Oqos looked very different. Vicky thought that she really did look like a deity now. 

In the midst of the preparations none of the women noticed a young man hiding in the bushes close to the place chosen for the worship. Quite unobserved in his hiding place, Tletu had the full view of what was happening. He made himself comfortable in the high grass as he knew that the preparations and the ceremony would last for a while.

Soon five camp women, accompanied by Skeleiei and Khase, appeared. The women helping Éroros Oqos to get ready for the ceremony departed for the camp: they were obviously not the ones chosen to participate in the ceremony. Together with Serahwe, Swaseeia and Vicky the women present made a circle surrounding Éroros Oqos.

The ceremony was initiated by Skeleiei who addressed Tabbitti in a speech, which served as a kind of a prayer to the Goddess. Then she gave the word to Khase.

“Honourable Khase,” said Skeleiei, “what have you to say to Tabbitti?”

Skeleiei turned to Khase, who stood with closed eyes as if in a trance mumbling something indistinguishable.

Vicky sensed that the time to play her part had come. Her eyes met Skeleiei’s. Skeleiei looked from Vicky to the cave, then looked back at Vicky and nodded. As she was leaving the circle, Vicky heard Khase say in a clearer and more audible manner a kind of invitation to initiate the sacred ceremony. Then the women in the circle drew their akinakes out, threw them up in the air in an amazing unison. The daggers flew up, made three or four flips in the air and then were each caught by their owner, just as simultaneously as they were thrown.

Vicky ran to the cave where she turned on the music again. Then she returned to the circle of women. The five camp women who had not yet been introduced to the “singing cave”, as the rest of the participants, seemed agitated when the music started. They looked in the direction of the cave, at each other and the others trying to decide how to react to the unusual situation. However, seeing their queen being calm about the sounds, they relaxed and proceeded with the ceremony.

As Éroros Oqos had told Vicky before the ceremony, the women began to tramp with their feet to the beat of the music, imitating the sounds of the horse hoofs. Skeleiei, Khase, Serahwe and Swaseeia seemed most comfortable with the task: these four women were noticeably the most experienced participants of the sacred ceremony. They also seemed to have quite a good sense of rhythm.

Vicky thought the movements which the women were making peculiar yet beautiful. She took it as a challenge to copy their curious dance and joined next. Soon the whole group was tramping the grass around Éroros Oqos. Inspired by the music, the dancing women seemed to enjoy themselves.

Vicky, who seldom enjoyed dancing in public, experienced the dancing for the sake of the worship differently. She did not feel the shyness and the self-awareness which she had normally had on the dance floor at parties.

It might have been the primitive dancing that gave her the confidence.  Vicky sensed her advantage: she could show these women some moves they had never seen before. At the same time she did not need to worry about how she looked or how well she performed these moves.  Vicky spiced up the tramping with some hip and arm movements. She noticed that the women in the circle quickly and surprisingly expertly copied her moves and were now following Vicky’s improvised choreography.   

Soon other inhabitants of the camp appeared and joined the twelve original participants of the worship in their dance. Some women brought drums, which they played adding to the euphoric effect of the music coming from the cave.

Song after song, the sacred ceremony gradually developed into a wild party like Vicky had never experienced before. Women and girls alike taught each other the dance moves they had just learned from Vicky. Some of the women showed a real flair for dancing while everybody present thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

Vicky found Éroros Oqos in the crowd of cheerful women and teenage girls. The two girls retreated into the thick grass a bit away from the party. Their moans of pleasure faded amongst the sounds of music and the voices of the excited crowd, which gradually dissolved into the silence of the morning steppe.

 

***

 

“Honourable members of the council,” said Oloros surveying the men gathered in his tent. “Tletu has once more accomplished the mission we entrusted him.”

Oloros gestured to Tletu to take the word.

“Honourable members of the council,” began Tletu, “today, when the sun was well past its zenith, I have witnessed the women worshipping their deity. There is no doubt that their deity is Tabbitti.”

Tletu paused as the men murmured and nodded their agreement. When their murmur ceased, and the men were once again ready to hear more, Tletu continued.

“But what I’ve seen and heard during their worship is disturbing.”

This time a murmur of surprise interrupted Tletu.

“What’s disturbing about their worship?” asked Oloros impatiently.

“As the women were having their ceremony, one of them left and entered a cave. Then the cave started to sing with a voice and other sounds like I’ve never heard before. It was as if Tabbitti herself was singing in that cave. Those were powerful sounds, but the women just stayed and continued their worship, so I too stayed and watched some more. It was as if I could feel their excitement together with them. These women seem to have some special connection with Tabbitti. I say we should be careful with these women not to make Tabbitti angry with us.”

When Tletu finished his story, there was a complete silence in the tent. Nobody even seemed to move for a while. Besides the shock of hearing Tletu’s unbelievable story, everyone in the tent felt that something was not quite right. Something or someone was missing. Then Oloros, as the leader of the tribe, broke the silence.

“Honourable Kimerios, what do you say to Tletu’s story,” asked Oloros as his eyes searched for the only dark-haired member of the council. However, there was no sign of Kimerios in the tent.

“Where is Kimerios?” asked Oloros. 

The men in the tent looked at each other as if trying to find Kimerios amongst themselves yet without success. Now the men knew what was missing: as soon as Tletu had finished his story, they had all expected Kimerios to contribute with his usual disapproval. Yet Kimerios was not amongst the men and nobody seemed to know where he was.  

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