What Sodnammoc suggested disturbed them greatly. Like any tribe, the Nusalleans culled the sick, blind, and lame children from their midst. It strengthened their numbers in the same manner a dog tossed a feeble pup from the litter. On those occasions, Sodnammoc would go through a ritual required by Yekunga. It involved the priest ending the terror stricken child’s cries. This he did by piercing its tiny heart with the spiked tip of his down turned axe. He’d then drip a few drops of blood into Yekunga’s sacrificial bowl. All this, the villagers watched, emotionally unmoved.
After this, an escort of half a dozen men would form around him on the path leading out of the village. Sodnammoc would walk in the middle, while holding the small body to a stone alter set on a hill. There he would leave the body to appease Yekunga, and all would retreat. In the morning, Sodnammoc and a witness would return to the alter. If the dogs had eaten the body, then it indicated Yekunga was pleased… The dogs always ate the offering, but this sacrifice was different.
Eventually, a young woman, Haddika, spoke up.
“No child has been born with defect this year.”
“Then we will sacrifice one without fault!” announced Sodnammoc.
Murmurs barely rose again when Kalietha cleared his throat. Although only 14, the blacksmith’s eldest son stood taller than the others, with limbs currently thicker than what belonged to his gangly body. Given time, Sodnammoc saw the youth becoming a man of great strength when his body swelled to match his limbs.
“What if we were to sacrifice a bullock?” he said.
“You wish to appease the dog god with the blood of cattle?!” Sodnammoc shouted, emitting spittle in his anger. “And who are you to speak in the presence of your elders, boy?!”
He didn’t ask the question rhetorically, but didn’t expect an answer from the youth either. Kaleitha dropped his head as Sodnammoc studied his face a moment before continuing.
“I need a child for the atonement of our sins! Who will give me one?!”
He searched among the faces, all of which averted his gaze.
“Then I am forced to choose one myself!”
His eyes darted among the faces, eventually falling on a young girl of about 11 years.
He snatched his axe from the holster and thrust it in the direction of the child.
“No!” screamed a woman.
Sodnammoc strode towards them as the child huddled into her mother. He reached out, almost taking hold of the girl.
“Wait!” screeched a female voice.
With the rest of the village, Sodnammoc froze as curiosity compelled him to watch a young woman make her way through the crowd. The eyes within her hood met his for the merest of moments, before she placed a bundle in his arms. He recognised her although the name escaped him for the moment. She retreated through the crowd swiftly with her hands over her face.
Sodnammoc averted the questioning eyes of the villagers by looking into the face within the bundle. The babe smiled faintly. It looked the same as other Nusalleans, but with eyes of jade green.
Surely that makes the child imperfect.
Unable to convince himself, he looked up at the villagers.
“We have our sacrifice.”