Curse of the Red Jewels
By: Bill Diamond

"Today is a bad day to die." Cliste mumbled as she was escorted from her all-but-prison chamber in the City Hall. Under overcast skies, she was accompanied by town officials, guards, her parents and her cousin, Diana.

She lived in a once upon a time world where her Drawcab tribe of mountain gnomes occupied a high valley between ancient peaks. Most of the tribe was gathered for the celebration. In ornamental, but secure shackles, she walked along the cobbled streets frightened, but with her head high. Her unlined face was alert and her wide black eyes were observant. In furtive and embarrassed ways, most celebrants refused to return her look.

The central square was lined with the shops of craftsmen, taverns, and a variety of farm vendors. It was the final day of the Summer Solstice festival. That evening, in an appeal to the heavens for rain, the observance would climax with a traditional sacrifice. No matter how much the tribe said it was an honor, Cliste was not keen on being this year's sacrificial offering.

Cliste's father proudly led the procession. He was displaying the bag of silver coins and the cow that was the family's reward for their daughter's selection. Cliste had been chosen on the first day of the festival. Her distraught mother clung tightly to Cliste's arm. Through stifled sobs, she apologized again. "I'm so sorry, dear. We've tried to change it. There just wasn't enough time. Not enough time."

Determined to be brave, the adolescent Cliste comforted her. "I know, Mom. It will be alright. You should go with the aunts." As she was led away, her place was taken by the young Diana.

Drawcab creed held that the purified sparks of the sacrificed girl would rise from the pyre to the heavens. There, she would plead the Drawcab case. Her reward was to become an eternal star in the sky. In a certain light, this could be recognition of superior female persuasion skills. Given her perilous situation, Cliste didn't take it as a compliment.

Diana was a fuse eager to spark. She leaned in with fury burning in her eyes, "It's not too late, Cliste. I've brought a knife. We can fight our way free."

They had schemed about escape. Cliste was tempted, but decided against it. She gave her cousin a tight hug. "I know you could do it, DJ." Then she said, "Like we've talked, if we leave, they'll punish our families." Hours before the ceremony, Cliste was almost resigned to her fiery fate. Although she would be drugged with painkillers, it was not the end she'd envisioned.

At the front of the medieval square, she walked up the raised wood platform and sat behind a table loaded with food. Normally ravenous, today she had no appetite for the sumptuous banquet. Cliste scowled as she looked over the crowd of revelers. She adjusted the rope shackle chafing her ankle.

Clothed in the skimpy, green, traditional costume, her anger built as she pondered all that was wrong with the ritual. It started with this trashy outfit. Did the male Drawcabs really believe the heavens preferred their sacrifices flashing flesh?

More importantly, if being sacrificed was such an ‘honor', she mused, why was it limited to young, virgin girls? Like her, all previous girls randomly selected to be the honorary Priestess of the Solstice came from the lower class. Cliste suspected the chief rigged the process. She was an assertive and rebellious youth. These were not traits the chief and the male members of the tribe valued in women. Also, she knew from her surreptitious studies, there was no connection between the ceremony and crop success.

Finally, beyond her pointless death, it irked her that she was not the only sacrificial offering. A fatted goat joined her. Staked at the bottom of the stairs, the goat also wore a woven crown of wildflowers. Cliste didn't appreciate the symbolic equivalence between herself and a smelly barnyard animal. Did they have to throw in the goat? Wasn't she alone enough to please the heavens? She hated to contemplate the demeaning alternative that she was the add-on.

She asked the goat, "So, what do you think of this whole sacrifice thing?"

The haughty goat ignored Cliste's question and continued chewing his last meal. Perhaps he was comforted by the certainty of a pleasant afterlife. Cliste didn't share the goat's confidence.

It is well known that male gnomes are as dumb as they are ugly. Their dark red skin exacerbated their unpleasant appearance. The strong arms; slumped, protective shoulders; and thick skulls of the male Drawcabs had helped their early survival. Yet, they possessed severely sloped foreheads preventing full cranial development. It was as if their chromosomes decided they'd evolved enough with the discovery of fire.

In an evolutionary quirk, female gnomes had continued to develop. The women of the tribe had a fair blue complexion, thin and agile bodies, and larger brain capacity. Increased intellect allowed them to subtly challenge the male dominance and exert some influence in tribal matters. But, as always, progress was slow.

The virgin sacrifice was one of the chauvinistic rites the women were unable to abolish. The conservative males clung to rituals despite data disproving their value. There were not a lot of progressive first-adopters in this crew.

Besides inertia, the stumpy men cherished any excuse for a drunken bacchanal.

The superstitious male gnomes put great store in unusual events. Thus, when a brilliant rainbow appeared above the ridge, they stared in awe. Such an auspicious occurrence coinciding with the solstice must certainly be a heavenly message. Some suggested it might be a positive omen their prayers for a good crop would be favorably received. Cliste's mother pleaded that it removed the need for the evening's sacrifice. This sounded particularly appealing to honorary Priestess Cliste.

However, the celestial portent brought confusion. While there were clouds in the sky, there was no accompanying rain. This troubled the dim-witted macho gnomes. Cliste considered explaining that rain in the valley wasn't a necessity for a rainbow on the horizon. But, Screw ‘em, she thought.

As they stared at the prismatic display, a second rainbow appeared to echo the first. Still no rain. Agitation turned to fear.

The tribe looked to the chief for an explanation. Near Cliste, he slumped on an elevated throne at the front edge of the stage. At one time, the tribe's High Dofu was selected for bravery or relative cleverness. It had devolved into an inherited position. As often happens, the original leader's skills weren't passed to their offspring.

The current Dofu was a dope. In his best moments, his proclamations were gibberish. When he was drunk, as he was today after three days of imbibing and lechery, he was completely incoherent. Nonetheless, because he wore the orange robe, the gnomes turned to him for guidance. At those times they couldn't understand his answers to their questions, they assumed they weren't bright enough. Other times, they were willing to blindly fulfill the benediction to the heavens that the High Dofu demanded. Usually, this involved frenetic, arm-waving dancing that the Dofu found entertaining. Often, they just went on with their lives comforted by the notion that the Dofu's incomprehensible blather was a protective prayer.

More critical matters demanded a definitive and sensible answer. Then, the Dofu's female assistants ‘interpreted' his mumbled declarations. These explanations often directed the tribe to take productive actions.

Pointing at the rainbows, the crowd requested the Dofu to explain their meaning. Aroused from his drunken reverie, the High Dofu lifted his arm and gave a ceremonial wave of his wrist. Unsatisfied, the Drawcabs increased the volume and insistence of their questions. The chief raised his head and tried to focus his mead-soaked eyes. He reached down and vigorously scratched his wide and hairy behind. It was his go to move when he wanted to stimulate his brain.

Cliste saw an opening. She signaled to Diana, whispered and pointed to the Dofu. Diana cut the rope on Cliste's leg and snuck behind the chief's throne.

Cliste climbed on the table, closed her eyes and thrust fists to the heavens. In a deep voice, she shouted, "Hear me, heathens!"

All eyes shifted from the shimmering rainbows to the platform. The sight of the typically docile priestess looking down on them with a dominant demeanor startled them into silence. It confused the High Dofu to see the sacrificial offering was free from her bonds. Befuddled, he stared at her legs as if the rope would soon re-appear. He looked for his guards, but they were as inebriated as he was. Then, he smiled a silly and approving grin. At least this distraction would keep him from the challenging task of explaining the multiple rainbows his sodden mind was seeing.

"I speak for the all-powerful Goddess Oprah," Cliste bellowed in her most authoritative priestess voice. The assembly knew Oprah as their goddess of entertainment. But, gods changing status was commonplace. "She tells me she sent the hallowed double rainbows as a warning."

Some in the crowd grunted doubt. Others, happy with the prospect of an interesting story, murmured approval, "Ewwww, hallowed rainbows." A few didn't like the word ‘warning' and slunk toward protective cover.

"Oprah is angry that each year on her Holy Solstice you are slaying her Exalted Priestess. She sent signs that you ignored. The last two years, Oprah punished this blasphemy by hurting our crops."

Cliste peeked from one eye to see the audience reaction. Many Drawcabs nodded at the truth of the recent drought-reduced harvests. Cliste pressed on.

"The Exalted Priestess is Oprah's appointed speaker for the heavens. To penalize you, Oprah has sent the rainbows to say, ‘No rain for you'."

The male Drawcabs were concerned, but not convinced. They were uncomfortable with a mere girl delivering such a proclamation, even if she was an honorary priestess for a day. Still, it was foolish to ignore such a dire prediction supported by the undeniable heavenly rainbows. They looked to the High Dofu for an alternate explanation.

Even in his daze, the chief sensed something was awry. Priestesses were to be seared and not heard. He rallied to denounce this upstart from usurping his position as the voice for the heavens. He said to the crowd, "This girl is a fraud. Sacrifice her immediately." With his thick tongue and alcohol diminished brain, the sounds that actually came out were, "Dsz gnl zz l ffffd. Ssecrhh hhu mmetly."

Shaking their heads at the unintelligible mumbles, the crowd turned to the female aides for translation. Cliste braced for the response that would decide her fate.

The lead assistant sensed a long-sought opportunity. Looking at the crowd, she said in a clear and definitive voice, "The High Dofu admits the Exalted Priestess Cliste is right. She is the true speaker for the heavens. He confesses he is a fraud and a very bad Dofu."

This stunned the male Drawcabs. Diana seized the moment and chanted, "Praise to the Great Oprah. All hail her messenger, Priestess Cliste." The fed up female Drawcabs joined in and the rallying cry echoed throughout the valley.

Furious, the High Dofu struggled to rise from his chair, but, his wobbly legs and fat body failed him.

With momentum in her favor, Cliste shouted, "Let the heavens humble the one who is false." She gave a wink to Diana who yanked on the rope she'd attached to the back legs of the throne. The chair jerked. The Dofu tumbled forward down the stairs toward the sacrificial goat. The startled animal reacted and crashed his horns into the chief's groin. All the men winced.

Howling in agony, the Dofu rolled off the goat and landed face first into a fresh pile of goat dung.

When a leader is helplessly doubled over, spitting turds and smelling of manure, it undermines his power. Cliste capitalized on this fortuitous event. She proclaimed, "Even the sacred goat agrees with the heavens."

Unperturbed, the goat maintained his air of silent authority. He nibbled the wildflower crown dislodged by the collision.

The men were dumbfounded by the rapid turn of events. The women were joyous. To consummate the deal, Cliste continued and delivered the ultimate blow. "The Great Oprah tells me you must immediately and forever end the sacrifice of the Exalted Priestesses. If not, all red Drawcabs will suffer the same fate as the humbled Dofu. Struck down and their jewels crushed!"

The superstitious red beasts cowered at this hex and covered their gonads. They moaned and whimpered. Religious traditions were one thing, but this curse struck close to home. The threat of personal and intimate agony overcame all other considerations. They could not deny the compelling nature of the omens and, therefore, the power of the Great Oprah.

Diana jumped to the front of the platform, "Well?" she boomed. "Do you want to suffer the Curse of the Red Jewels, or proclaim Cliste the new chief?"

The men rushed forward pushing each other to curry favor with the new power. They ripped the orange cloak from the still squirming Dofu. Brushing it clean, they presented it to Cliste and placed her on the throne. Then, they joined the women in shouting, "Long live Exalted Priestess Cliste."

After a few minutes, Cliste raised her hand to silence them. She announced, "Your wise action pleases the Great Goddess. I have entreated her to show mercy. Oprah has told me that she will not impose the Red Curse."

The men whooped in relief.

To reinforce her influence, Cliste added, "For now."

The red Drawcabs exchanged the thankful looks of those who had escaped the gallows.

Cliste proclaimed, "Henceforth, the Solstice Festival celebrates that all gnomes are equal. If you follow the wisdom of the Exalted Priestess, Oprah assures me we will prosper."

The tribe cheered this good news.

Cliste understood the power of traditions. "To honor Oprah, we will continue to offer the goat." Cliste felt no guilt at abandoning her sacrificial companion, since it was just a damn goat. She said, "Roast the goat for dinner. Drinks for all". They led the goat to the kitchen.

Food and drink were two of the red gnomes three favorite things. Since their lives were basically undisturbed, they pliantly accepted the new regime. The women were empowered by their liberation and determined to keep it.

During the dinner, Cliste announced the tribe would begin construction on an irrigation system. This would ensure crop security more than some dopey sacrifice. It would help the tribe, and cement her position.

While he was still drunk, the deposed Dofu was banished and escorted from the valley. He spent the rest of his days as a clown in a traveling circus.

As the evening wound down, Cliste looked regal on her new throne. Savoring the roasted goat, Diana said, "This is great. You changed the world. One lone girl."

Cliste patted her arm, "No, DJ, we changed the world. But, remember, no revolution is permanent."

With a squint of her eyes, and blood in her voice, Diana whispered. "Then, let's kill all the men. While they're drunk."

"Whoa there, cousin. They do have some uses."

Diana's expression indicated doubt.

With a wink, Cliste said, "If necessary, we'll get rid of them. But, if we make progress, maybe we can all live happily ever after."



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