Consider this a companion piece– can’t call it a sequel, as I have no idea what the chronology might be– to “Crossroads.”
“You have killed, have you not?” he asks.
He watches me through heavy-lidded eyes; his tone careful, his face flat. I do not reply. I am not to speak; I am to hear confession. And to judge.
He nods. “I thought so. You have killed. And you have killed many, yah? Perhaps more than I have. Perhaps more than old Pakensé ever did. Yet Pakensé is here, and you are there. And Pakensé…”
He trails off, waves his arms at me. He is chained to the wall at the neck and ankles. The ankles, because his arms end in stumps. Old Pakensé has no hands to wave. They have been taken from him.
I do not speak.
“I will tell you a story,” Pakensé says. His voice is rough and deep, filled with stones; he has not had anyone to talk to for a long time, but he has screamed. “I will tell you a story, killer-man of the Nara’ae, and then I will say no more. Then you may judge as you wish.”
He waits. I sit, cross-legged, my khalaat lying bare across my knees. The stone of the floor is cool and damp, and the distance between us too much for his reach.
Pakensé opens his mouth to speak, reconsiders, closes it again. Leans his forehead against the ruined ends of his arms, his eyes closed, as if pondering where to begin. I sit and I wait. I do not speak.
“I want to tell you that I had no choice. And that is true, in some ways. In others, not. When the ojombwe began, the men of the towns went from house to house, to find who was with them and who was not. They gave a khalaat to each man who said yes. Each man who said no found a mark on his door the next morning. And he did not need to wonder what that mark meant. He soon found himself explaining that he had been drunk on mango wine or taken with a fever; he had not understood. And then he was not given a khalaat, but a club.”
“The call was given, and we went forth. Each man with his khalaat, or his club, with six or eight of his fellows, men he might drink with or fight with on another night. And we hunted. We hunted the Fenidae. And those we found…”
He waits again, pain written on his face.
“They hid, you see. Our coming was no secret; it had been whispered of for weeks, and those who were unbelieving… they could no longer hide. They ran to the woods, to the swamps; they hid under houses and in caves; it was said that some took to the sky itself, but those I did not see. But we were told to return with trophies or not to return at all. And men… men such as we respond poorly to frustration. The Fenidae that we found; it did not go well for them. The khalaat’s song was heard from the sun’s rise to the moon’s.”
Pakensé stares at me, his eyes widening only so slightly. This is no confession, not yet; but he is near to one.
I test the edge of my khalaat. A single drop of blood falls from my thumb to the stone.
“The ojombwe was a week old, and the hunting had grown stale, the few Fenidae who remained too wily to be easily caught. I was with four others when we came upon the altar.”
I lift an eyebrow.
“There were three of them, all elders. It should have taken only moments. But suddenly, the other four… they were simply gone, noiseless piles of meat that never could resemble men. Only I was left, and my club fell from my fingers to the ground. The Fenidae had not moved. They prayed, their palms turned to the sky.”
Old Pakensé begins to cry.
“I saw it then, killer-man of the Nara’ae. I saw the god of the Fenidae, come down from the heavens and up from the earth. It was radiant of eye, many-limbed, and those eyes foretold naught but pain and blood. A thousand years of hatred and oppression lay plain on its face. And it turned that face toward me.”
Pakensé opens his eyes wide for the first time. They are red, redder than heart’s blood, a red that should make men blind.
“They told us that the Fenidae were to die because they were blasphemers, killer-man. They told us that their gods were lies and their religion an offense to true gods. But never have I seen our gods. I have been told that they were there. I have prayed to them. But never have I seen them. And that day, I saw the god of the Fenidae, and he was just and terrible. And he… he spared me.”
He holds up his arms.
“The ojombworro found me the next day. There was no blood on my club, and the others… well, I have spoken of them. I had no trophies to deliver to them, nothing to show for our loss. And they lay me on the altar and took my hands. My eyes were as you see now. I see only blood, killer-man.”
One breath. Two.
“I know now that the Fenidae held the truth. They held the truth and we yet slaughtered them like cattle, like rabbits in a cage. But we did not slaughter their god, killer-man, and I have beheld the face of that god and felt his anger. He waits; I know not the reason. But he will come for me. He comes for all of us. And the song of your khalaat no longer brings me fear. If confession you seek, you have it. Do what you must.”
Old Pakensé falls to his knees, his head down; he speaks no more. He shall never speak again, I think, not if I leave him to sit by his wall until time turns his chains to dust; not if I unlock his chains and let him leave this place, his choices once again his own. Or my khalaat’s song may end his life; his song shall be heard no longer regardless.
I rise from the floor.
He does not move.
And I pass my judgment.