The flames from the four large fires scattered the shadows of the tribe onto the trees and up into the overhanging canopy. The ritual wail of fear and supplication rent the air as they all bowed to the great seer, the witch doctor, who protected them from harm.
He was a man beyond the rest; taller by a full mask, and bore the mark of the seer – the two horns that grew from his forehead, just above the eyes.
He bellowed a terrifying supplication into the air and the wail of the tribe was soon to follow. Each individual, eyes glazed, was lost in adoration of this superman, who could fly to the heavens and speak to the gods on their behalf. Without his guardianship all would be lost but with his superhuman powers they would be kept safe from harm. Soon they would drink the eternal blood from the cauldron of truth which would bind them all to the very gods themselves. The Witch Doctor ensured that each adult drank a full vessel and each child a half vessel of that sacred fluid. Not that the tribe needed any encouragement: disobeying the leader would mean death by jungle; pain and suffering beyond imagination.
Gurr trembled as the moon rode high above the canopy; how much he needed the strength from that life-giving brew. All the terrors that lay outside would be laid aside, forgotten with the power of the eternal blood inside him. He drank. Beneath the horns, the red eyes of the Holy Man pierced into his and made him gaze downwards.
“May all the gods preserve you,” whispered Gurr with a passion that gave a choke to his speech.
The gods had been good to the tribe in this star-cycle and provided many of the great orange deer that roamed the plains; people’s larders were full and Gurr felt strong and blessed as he sought out the solitude of the jungle. It was for each young warrior to learn the ways of the world outside, to stalk any animal without being seen, smelled or heard, to know the names of the plants, where and when they grew and to remember which were safe to eat and which were poisonous. It was not without its perils; there were fierce beasts out there, but each young warrior had to learn. His walk was silent; his eyes, ears and nostrils vigilant.
He roamed further than normal, though his sense of direction was total, and the path back to the village – should danger strike – was always instinctively fixed in his consciousness.
Suddenly, he sensed a creature ahead of him. He froze instantly with all the reflexes of the jungle-trained tribesman. Then he inched forward, all senses alert. There was a slight clearing, where lightning had brought down a mighty tree, and the Holy Purple flower – the forbidden flower – was growing in abundance. Then he saw a movement at the far side of the clearing; at first it was simply the grasses swaying, and then it was clearly a creature. He moved a little nearer. The creature certainly did not know he was there, and carried on what it was doing, grubbing at the bases of the Holy Purple stems. It could easily be a wild pig or even a stray orange deer. Then he realised it was the master! Gurr froze in terror. What was he to do? He dare not greet such a great man, yet he did not wish to reveal his presence. So he just froze and watched; he became the jungle as he had been taught, swaying with the sway of the tall grasses, letting the noise and smells of the jungle move through his being like the wind in the trees.
How he wanted to go to the Master and tell him how much he loved him, but that would be wrong so he just melted into his surroundings and watched. The master gathered up his bundle of roots, cocked up his great head, listened and sniffed the air, then disappeared through the trees.
Gurr was so excited at having seen the Master, his heart pounded and he stayed hidden, invisible in the bushes in his state of great joy. Eventually he made his way back to the village, almost floating in his state of bliss.
Just outside the village, in the safety zone, he heard a strange sound. It was someone singing, and as he lifted his head from the shrubs he could see clearly it was the beautiful Marak. She was his age, and he had felt some strange feelings for her. People became coupled in the village and he dreamed that he and Marak might become a joined pair someday. But tribal laws were often difficult to understand and he put these dreams from his mind. His heart was so full of seeing the Master and he wanted to share it with someone that he rushed out to Marak. She started at first, then smiled when she saw it was the handsome Gurr.
“I saw something, something beautiful in the jungle,” he whispered. She looked at him with some joy and fear. “Over there,” he pointed and held her hand to indicate the direction, “It was beautiful.” They laughed together. Her hand felt so wonderful in his that he did not want to let it go. Then, overcome with emotion, he kissed her hand and rushed off into the jungle; he did not turn around to see the flush of joy on the beauty’s face.
Gurr was a curious boy. Curious and, in many ways, courageous. He was also very quick to learn, yet modest of his own standing. The tribe had already put Gurr and Marak as a possible join, but the Witch Doctor must decide – it had always been so.
The nightly fire ceremony was as powerful as ever; the ritual of tribal love and devotion held them all captive. Gurr felt especially alive tonight, though he trembled for the broth of the gods that would restore him. He joined in even more loudly than usual in the prayers and wails, somehow inspired by the events of the day.
Each member of the tribe went forward for their sacred drink; Gurr watched each one in turn, eager to receive his own portion. He watched as Marak took her turn and felt again the strange stirrings in his soul. The master poured the drink for her, but this time she did not have a full cup – just a child’s portion. Gurr was confused, but the master never made a mistake. He watched the master’s face for reassurance as she walked back to her place, but saw no signs of error or uncertainty; just a new and strange glint in the Master’s eyes as he dwelt on her silhouette as she swayed back to her mat.
The next day Marak seemed ill; she was shivering and nervous and was full of strange imagininings. Nothing like this had ever happened before. Was her soul being attacked by the evil ones? Her family gathered around her and Gurr watched helpless from afar. “We must take her to the Master,” they all agreed. Gurr watched from a distance. How lucky they were to have the Master with them – always ready to heal and save his people. The Master always knew exactly what to do. They took her to his hut and placed her inside.
After a few minutes, the Master came out looking grave. Gurr’s heart almost stopped beating in his chest.
“I must take her to the Jungle temple,” said the Master. The people all bowed in the deepest thanks. He gathered her up in his mighty arms and strode off into the jungle to the Holy, Forbidden Place.
Gurr followed at a distance. He was aware that he should never follow the Master into the jungle, but his love for both of them seemed to make it right. He would keep watch of his beloved Master and of Marak; how he would willingly die for them to show his true love.
At the temple, the Master laid down the body of the girl and quickly lit a fire, throwing some strange plants onto the flames that sent a powerful aroma up around the trees.
Then he began to take off her clothes, slowly and unhurried, one garment at a time. Now her beautiful breasts could be seen – should Gurr look away? Alas, he had no choice as he could not shake his gaze from her beautiful body. Then the Master poured some oils onto his hands and began to rub them into Marak’s body, her neck, her shoulders and her back; Marak began to moan. Then he took off the rest of her clothes and Gurr saw for the first time her hidden place. The Master touched it and Marak moaned even more. Then Gurr noticed that the Master too had taken off his clothes and saw the mighty spear that appeared from his loins. It brought fear into the heart of Gurr as the Master slowly took the spear to her hidden place. Now her noises were louder, and the Master put his hands over her mouth. His loins moved faster and faster. The screams were muffled under the Master’s hands – it was awful – so disturbing. Finally, Gurr could bear it no longer and stepped out into full view of the Master.
The Witch Doctor stood up, his eyes ablaze with rage. He looked terrifying, naked and with his spear erect. He charged at Gurr who had no idea what to do, but simply bowed his head before the Master. Immediately, a mighty strike caught him on his temple and he fell to the floor. Then came a rain of blows on him from the Master, blows and kicks over his legs, his back, his shoulders. Finally Gurr lay still. The master let out a savage cry and walked a little way back to pick up the huge stone by the temple door.
Gurr raised his head and looked at Marak.
“Save yourself, Gurr,” she cried. Gurr still looked confused as the Master strode back to his victim, “Save yourself, Gurr,” she screamed, as the stone was held high above Gurr’s head. “Gurr, you are the One!” she screamed. In an instance, Gurr had rolled out of the way. He stood to face his combatant.
The fight was long and savage, but Gurr was young and fast. To Gurr it was his worst nightmare, a bloody contest he would struggle to win, a swirling in his ears and a wild brutal fog. Finally, the mist began to clear and with his heart pounding in his chest he saw the Master who lay bleeding and motionless.
What evil spirit had taken possession of Gurr that had made him try to kill the Master? What punishment would await that heinous sin? He sobbed, knowing that his life was at an end. “What have I done?” cried Gurr as the beloved Holy Man breathed his last. He knelt for an eternity staring at the dead hero, then began to shake; it was surely the end of everything – everything they held sacred – the end of the world as they knew it.
Gurr and Marak pulled the dead body of the Master into the temple and held each other like there was no tomorrow, for they both knew that there could be no tomorrow without their beloved leader.
Yet even in these depths of anguish and despair, Gurr was moved by the beauty of the girl he held. The villagers would surely come and kill them for what had happened, but for now there was only her and him. Hours went by. The only water they had was the water in the temple which they both drank. It tasted like the drink from the cauldron of Truth, but here with death awaiting them they drunk until they could drink no more. They ate other strange fruits and leaves in the temple and their fears and cares just slipped away as they shared their formless dreams.
Time stood still and their spirits rose and danced above the trees. They spoke with their gods and begged forgiveness; they laughed and sung on the high plateau then slept in a dreamless sleep amongst the snow-capped mountains. They danced together above the carefree clouds and – lost in a timeless dream – their spirits hunted the heavens while their bodies made the dance of the jungle animals in their season.
But Marak was cured. Was it the fluid from the cauldron of truth that had healed her, Gurr wondered. And why had the Master given her a small amount before she fell sick? Had he made the whole tribe needy of the drink? His mind raced. But now they needed to go back to the village and face their fate – of certain death he was sure.
Yet a warrior and his bride must die in beauty; they washed and made themselves ready. They put on the cloaks from the temple and anointed themselves with the holy oils. Then they walked – tall and grave, resigned to their fate – into the village. Gurr even felt taller and his stride was greater as he walked with his love back to the village, his head held high, for now he was a full and complete warrior. He would embrace whatever death awaited him, for he and his bride had sung and danced in the palace of the sky gods.
The shouts went up as they approached, but their gaze remained on the heavens whence they had just returned. Their bodies glowed from their spirit journeys; they felt immortal.
Soon all the villagers were around them, howling and moaning in a great communal pain. Then one of the elders bellowed out: “Gurr has cured Marak; our old one has gone. Gurr is the New Master!” A wailing began in their midst and grew to a massive crescendo. Soon the cry of “Gurr is the new master” came from every throat and every one of them fell on their knees with the prayer of the village.
Gurr was in a daze. Was The Power upon him? Is this what it all meant? Had he been chosen in his great spirit-journey to the gods?“Bring us of the Sacred Broth,” cried someone, “for the sickness has come upon the village.” Everyone looked at Gurr. He gazed up at the heavens, uncertain of what to do, but knowing that the power of the gods would speak from inside him:“I, Gurr, will bring back the drink of the eternal blood.”A roar of approval and supplication went up from the crowd.Gurr went back slowly and fatefully to the temple and found the Holy Urn; at each step he felt taller and mightier. The power flowed through his limbs and the glow of the gods was upon him. Then the people gathered around and the fires were lit. They all cried out and then drank the sacred broth, and soon the sickness was all gone; the people were saved. Slowly, Gurr began to comprehend that he was the chosen one, and he began to increasingly feel the powers bestowed upon him. His red eyes surveyed his flock, fearless of each one. He wiped his forehead and was hardly surprised to feel the two small bumps growing out of his forehead just above his eyes; the new Witchdoctor had arrived.