This was a ‘writing challenge on Writer’s Carnival. “Your friends dare you to jump into the water, but when you look down you see a reflection of the Grim Reaper. What do you do? ”
I went ‘off piste’ a little, but there is no arguing with my muse.
Akar’s smile reflected back at him. The brown eyes he looked into held a melted copper tone that glinted with intellect.
“It is time,” a smooth deep voice declared, breaking Akar’s concentration.
“Yes father.” The twin boys responded as one.
Akar held out a hand and Rehu’s determined clasp closed around it.
Both turned to face Ratams, a tall warrior, his undiluted Egyptian heritage clear in the bronzed complexion and dark eyes. The gold cobra coiled around the fall of glossy jet hair marked their father’s status as the wenuty priest; the keeper of time and ceremonies.
His stern expression masked the usual affection. When the boys looked into their father’s eyes the dull edge of sadness in their depths was unmistakable, even to the ten year old Akar.
“Come, the entourage are assembled.”
The boys kept pace with their father. The weight of the engraved gold anklets and gilded fanned collar molded to the thin shoulders of each boy made walking a ponderous affair. Their bare feet skimmed the polished quartz floor as they ascended the stone corridor and emerged from the golden temple and into the moonlight.
Akar lifted his chin and met the coal black gaze of the Chieftain priest, Uga. Encouraged by a squeeze of his brother’s hand, Rehu lifted his face too. Akar felt the recoil rattle through his brother’s body when the priest frowned.
“The Moon Goddess will decide,” Uga said, his gaze sliding from the boys to Ratams stiff face.
The father drew the priest aside, but their words carried on the still night air.
“They have reached their tenth year. The Gods have spared them.”
“Ratams, you know two souls cannot wear the same face.”
Ratam’s lip curled as he glanced at the identical appearance of his sons. “But they do,” he spat. “If the Gods haven’t taken one, then let them both live.”
“Both boys cannot become men. Only one is blessed. The Moon Goddess will decide.”
Akar noticed his Father’s jaw twitch, but he knew there would be no further argument. One of us must die.
Escorted by the procession of six priests, the boys walked silently along the wooden causeway which led down to the river bank. The broad bladed leaves of the rushes rearing up on either side resembled sword blades stabbing skyward.
Ratams smiled, presenting a calm air as he helped each boy in turn to remove the heavy gilt collars and placed them into the waiting hands of priests. Laying a hand on a shoulder of each son, Ratams studied their earnest faces. “Don’t be scared. Look into the water and your fate will become clear.”
“But what if you are wrong, father?” Akar said.
Ratams gripped the boy’s chin. “Disease or misfortune should have taken one of you. It is written, The Moon Goddess will decide.”
The planks of the wooden jetty extending out over the water chilled the soles of Akar’s feet. The last few steps felt like a walk to the gallows. Dropping to his knees onto the cushion of a hessian covered sandbag set at the water’s edge, Akar closed his eyes. He gripped the edge of the wooden platform and leaned out over the river. He opened his eyes, and his breath caught in his throat as the shimmering face of the moon glistened in the water beneath him.
The silver grey orb danced as the surface rippled. As Akar stared, hope grew as the moon remained bright. He sighed, his body rocked as he prepared to draw back, and then he froze. Three black holes pierced the silver disc. Two became charred eye sockets, the third formed a gaping grin. Akar jerked back. His stomach knotted, forcing vomit up into his throat. Sitting back on his haunches, he concentrated on rising smoothly to his feet. Fixing a serene smile on his face, he turned towards the row of figures studying him intently.
Akar retraced his steps along the jetty, impulsively hugging his brother as Rehu passed by to take his turn at the water’s edge.
“Did you see the reaper, Akar?” his father asked quietly without taking his eyes from Rehu’s retreating back.
Akar moved to stand beside Ratams. “I saw a bright silver circle, nothing more.”
Rehu performed the same ritual and rejoined the gathering. Akar knew his brother’s smile sprang from genuine relief. “Neither of us saw the Reaper, father. The Moon Goddess has blessed us both.”
His father’s heavy hand squeezed Akar’s shoulder as he said, “Perhaps.”
When the boys were released to retire to their adjoining chambers, Akar slumped down onto his bed. A chill chased goosebumps along his skin as he noticed a gold salver gleaming in the lamplight with a dagger resting upon it. Father knows. He know I saw the reaper.
Akar picked up the dagger, gripped it in both hands and pressed the point of the broad blade to the notch at the base of his throat. Closing his eyes, he pushed until pain danced along his nerve endings. On a harsh sigh, he let the dagger drop again. Why me?
Carefully replacing the dagger, Akar padded on bare feet across the floor and entered Rehu’s room. Leaning over his bed, he shook his brother’s shoulder, quickly placing a hand over Rehu’s mouth as his eyes shot open. Beckoning, Akar helped Rehu out of bed and they returned to his own chamber.
“What’s wrong, brother?” Rehu whispered.
Akar sat on the bed and patted the mattress, remaining silent until Rehu sat beside him. “It is me, Rehu. I must die, and father knows.”
“No.” Tears shimmered in Rehu’s eyes. “I thought you said you only saw Her face.”
“I lied.” Akar took a deep breath. “I must die before dawn.”
Rehu silently took his brother’s hand.
“Stay with me Rehu, for this last time.”
The two boys laid out on the bed and held each other. The sobs grating in Rehu’s throat finally faded as he fell into an exhausted sleep.
With a heavy heart, Ratams opened the door of the bed chamber. The sun cast a blade of light across the polished quartz floor, picking out the ruby highlights in the pool of blood congealing on the floor. The dagger lay still resting in the boy’s small limp hand. Ratams sat on the bed and lifted his dead son into his arms, oblivious of the blood smearing across his own chest. His shoulders shook as he sobbed silently.
The adjoining door opened and Akar hesitated on the threshold.
Without looking up, Ratams said, “Your brother has gone. He was cursed and you are the blessed one, Rehu.”
Akar recalled the pleasure of pushing the blade into Rebu’s throat as he slept and smiled. “Yes, father. I won’t let you down.”