Monday, January 24, 2011

The Withered Hand

Great Sun City
September, 1805

The City of the Great Sun was the mightiest anywhere, as far as Tall Talon knew, and it slept little; but in the darkest hours of the night there were few boats out, and the streets were empty. Tall Talon walked among the wharves, listening to the river lap at the boats, watching the moon on the water. As he walked, he ran his fingers over his withered hand.

It should have been him. It should have been him to go with the white men.

Tall Talon knew he was not a perfect man. He'd known it all his life; how could he avoid it? But he believed he had been able to turn his deformity into a strength. It gave him insight into the pain in people's hearts. It gave him more compassion, and made him more generous. He was, of course, the eldest son of the Great Sun, and as such he was almost a god on Earth; so compassion and generosity could only be carried so far. But compared to his younger brother! --

"Then let me go, father... I have been almost everywhere Tall Talon has been." Such arrogance! Thinking he was almost as good as Tall Talon, just because he'd followed at his heels everywhere he went!

"This will be a dangerous journey, and none might return. And with your hand as it is... you are not always helpful. I cannot risk you in that way." His father... He loved the Great Sun, how could he not? But this was so... wrong. Tall Talon could scarcely believe it.

Of course the Great Sun was a god on earth. But that did not mean he was infallible, or that he knew everything. There were other gods, other powers. Tall Talon ran his fingers over his withered hand again.

Tall Talon found his footsteps leading him to the Mound of the Moon, and climbing the ninety-one steps to its summit. From here the city lay before him -- not golden, as it was in the afternoon, but gray and shadowed, the rivers glittering silver under the moonlight. In the middle of the plaza before the Hall of the Moon stood the great black slab used for sacrifices. Tall Talon lay his hand on the cold stone, traced his fingers along the grooves cut into it to receive the sacrificial blood. ...And here was the holy knife used by the priests, its blade washed pure and clean.

The thought came to him at once -- a thought that had never entered his mind before. He would have dismissed it out of hand as ridiculous -- but... The thought had come to him as he stood here, at this hour, on this holy mound, under this moon. Where had the thought come from, if not from the Moon? And if it was from that great power, did he dare ignore it?

Tall Talon picked up the knife and watched the moonlight play on it, turning over the idea in his mind. Then he put the knife in his cloak and went back down the ninety-one steps.

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