“Mother, why is it water is constantly pouring from high above?”
“I have told you many times, my son. These are the tears of Almighty Belkior.”
“But it almost never stops!”
“Perhaps if you stopped making Belkior unhappy with your bad behavior, he would stop crying, wouldn’t he?”
No matter how many times I asked Mother, I was always given the same answer. I must have been only two years old when I first dared to ask, and at the time it was easy for me to cower in guilt at the thought of making mighty Belkior angry. Unfortunately, to Mother’s dismay, I was now thirteen, and it was much harder to silence my questions.
I was a good boy. I supported the village to the best of my abilities. I helped to fish, to build new huts, to take care of the elders. Why was it then that Belkior cried on incessantly? There were only a handful of days in recent memory when we had gotten to see his golden face, and I cherished the memory of these just like Mother cherished the statue of the Almighty.
Father might have answered my questions earnestly. I barely remembered him, but I recalled he was feisty by nature, defiant almost, just like me. He never took a half-truth for an answer. How I wished he was still alive. He had been found one morning riddled with arrows, and the Pontiff claimed these were arrows of light fired at him by Belkior as a punishment for raising an unruly son. Mother never recovered.
Our village stood on the edge of a wide river, in the heart of a dense and leafy jungle that we dared not venture into. A high wooden fence protected us from the Rioks, the demons that plotted to overthrow Belkior on the Final Day. We only ventured outside for fishing, although life often felt just as monstrous inside the village walls under the Pontiff’s command.
The Pontiff claimed to be in direct contact with Belkior. He had been given the Code of Conduct from the Almighty’s own hands as a very young man and governed the morality of our day-to-day lives. While we lived in huts made of sticks, clay and vines collected from the outskirts of the village, he lived in a temple made of carved wooden walls, thick enough to shield him from the Almighty’s weeping. The villagers had toiled to build this temple from his strict orders, for only him knew what Belkior desired as a house of worship in the honor of his glory.
A totem statue of the almighty had also been carved right in front of it, towering over the men and women living in fear of his wrath. The depiction of an ominous beast with horns was unlike what I imagined Belkior to be like from the handful of occasions I had gotten to catch a glimpse of his face in the heavens, but the Pontiff insisted this was his appearance.
While our reverent leader enjoyed the comfort of the temple, the rest of us laboured all day under the sobs and sought shelter at night in the huts, except shelter there wasn’t. No matter where you went, no matter what patch of vines you hid underneath, the tears permeated everything. There was simply no escape. Every inch of the village was soaked at all times. Often, I feared the riverbed would overflow from Belkior’s sorrow, and had vivid nightmares of the village being swallowed by muddy water. The Pontiff felt this fear in all of us and pandered to it every morning during the Lecture.
“Our ancestors have cast a great plague upon us with their immoral ways,” he would proclaim. “It is because of them that Belkior sobs in sorrow day and night over our great land. We must endeavour to give our descendants a better legacy. Live dutifully, and your offspring will get to see his golden face in the sky. Live in shameful manners, and he will not only shed endless tears, but fire at them his great arrows of light as punishment.”
At this point, he usually singled me out from the crowd. Maybe it was because he sensed the thirst for truth inside of me and wanted to crush it at a young age.
“Have you done your chores today?”
“Of course, Pontiff.”
“What happens to boys who do not complete their chores correctly?”
“Belkior strikes their families with plagues.”
“Then why has the hole in the temple wall not been repaired yet?”
“No excuses! I expect this hole to be properly covered by midday. It’s because of selfish boys like you, Ra, that fathers are cursed with death in this village.”
He knew very well comments like these were the ones that hurt me the most. The villagers dispersed, casting looks of indignation at me. Ashamed, I hurried to patch the hole in the temple wall while the Pontiff inspected the huts for tidiness. It took me a minute to realize what I saw through it. Something poked from underneath the Pontiff’s bed of vines. Intrigued, I sneaked into the Great One’s room while no one looked to examine the sharp object. It was an arrow, with a viciously cut flint at the head, exactly like the one my father had been attacked with. This was all it took to convince: whatever Belkior truly was, he was not the one pulling the strings in this village.
I waited for the following morning’s Lecture. As usual, we all gathered in a circle around the Almighty’s totem for the Worship, shivering under the relentless weeping. Once the Prayer was over, the Pontiff proceeded with his sermon again, calling me out as was his wont.
“Have you done your chores this morning?”
“Of course, Pontiff.”
“Then why isn’t Old Keo’s hut refurbished with vine?”
“I was distracted by more pressing matters, Pontiff.”
The reply caught him off guard. This answer was unusual, even by my standards.
“More pressing matters? What could possibly be more pressing than pleasing the Almighty?”
“Avenging my father.”
I threw the arrow at his feet in front of everyone. A cold, tense silence followed.
“You murdered him,” I yelled. “Why? Was he a threat to you? Did he ask too many questions?”
“How dare you…”
He did not realize I was not talking to him anymore. I was playing his game, pandering to the crowd. For the first time, they weren’t drinking his words. They were drinking mine. I turned to address them.
“You see this arrow?” I asked, all eyes on me. “I found it under his bed. It’s not an arrow of light. The men who have been murdered in this village weren’t punished by the Almighty. They were murdered by the Pontiff! They were threats to his authority.”
“Now is the time to show him we’re not scared anymore,” I pursued. “We don’t have to be afraid of Belkior’s wrath. For all we know, Belkior might not even exist!”
“Such blasphemy!” Th Pontiff’s rage was now blind. “Of course, Belkior exists, otherwise where would his tears come from?”
A dash of light was suddenly fired from the heavens, striking the totem with might. It caught fire instantly. This was exactly the proof I needed.
“See!” I exclaimed. “No arrow. This isn’t an arrow of light like the Pontiff claims. It’s a completely different phenomenon. Would Belkior set fire to his own totem if he really existed? Of course not. Can you see now that none of this is real? There is no Almighty!”
The villagers were in shock, unable to move. I waited patiently for their response. Surely, they would revolt against the Pontiff. They would tear down the totem and stop toiling away to avoid the wrath they had been conditioned to fear.
Alas, this was not how it went. They all kneeled down in front of the totem, one right after the other, and started chanting a prayer for the flames to dissipate. It was too late. The Pontiff’s doctrines were too far ingrained in their minds. Belkior had always existed as far as they were concerned and would therefore always exist for the centuries to come. I looked at Mother. She too bowed. The Pontiff beamed, for he knew he had won.
There was nothing left for me to do. I understood what the single path ahead was. On that day, I walked away from the village. Alone. The battle had been lost, but I would win the war – the War for Truth. As I ventured into the dense and lush jungle, it felt as though I was breathing for the first time, taking in the air of freedom that permeated the forest. I did not know yet from where the heavenly water came from; neither did I understand the arrows of light. One thing was for sure though: I would do everything in my power to find out.