An arid desert spotted with small shrubs, a snowy-peaked mountain valley, a small village cooking under the relentless heat. The people of the dry valley were strong willed, their faith in primeval Gods even stronger. Droughts were common here, yet, even during the driest of seasons, the fertile land allowed life to prosper. A new, young priestess covered in dirt and sweat finishes the day’s work and now heads for her grandmother’s hut. The soft earth gives way under her muscled gait as she opens the wooden door. Sheltered from the heat inside thick brick walls, her grandmother begins to recite an ancient story:
“Nasha, listen closely to your nana’s words. Today is the day I tell you the story of the sacred boulder and the water that collects beneath it.” Nasha trudges past her grandmother without a word. The old woman continues.
“Long ago, when sand-demons were said to still walk the Earth, our tribe discovered the mysterious boulder while traversing the Montashek mountain valleys. These mountains that surround us in all directions, whose peaks provide water for our people,” Nasha’s grandmother sighed as she continued the story, the deep lines in her face spoke a song of aged wisdom.
“It was said the entire night sky filled with a brilliant light, so strong it blinded one of the village elders captivated by its intensity. It was during the light’s brilliance that the massive boulder appeared to our tribe in a sudden flash. Nasha! Are you listening to me?!”
Nasha was well asleep now, her soft snoring interrupting her grandmother, Ninishek’s, story. Nasha had heard this story at least a thousand times since she was a child. And after a long day of working the fields, tending the cattle, and feeding the birds, there was no energy left to entertain Ninishek’s silly stories. After all, everyone in the village knew the boulder’s origins were just a myth mothers tell their mewling children.
“Nasha! Wake up, wake up! Listen to the words of your grandmother.” Ninishek was shaking Nasha awake, her hands on the strong shoulders of her granddaughter.
“I’m awake! Please I'm awake nana Nini!” Nasha yawned and groaned, as she stirred in the large chair by the fireplace. Nini was staring down at her, her grave eyes studying her indolent granddaughter.
“You need to heed my words, Nasha. I have told you the story of the boulder many times. Still, I haven’t told you it in its entirety. There are things about that boulder you must know to fulfill your role as a village priestess.” Nini spoke solicitously, her tone hinting at her love for Nasha.
“Let me guess nana Nini, inside the boulder is a massive swarm of bees with the sweetest honey imaginable? Or maybe drinking the boulder’s water turns you into a massive snake? Maybe the boulder is made of pure gold, and if you touch it with greedy fingers, your toes will fall off and turn to snails?” Nasha said through a sleepy chuckle. Nasha knew her grandmother enjoyed her humor and could see a smile forming on the corners of Ninishek’s mouth.
“Maybe I’ll turn you into a snail myself, you silly girl!” Ninishek said through a playful laugh. However, her countenance became serious once again. She cleared her throat, peered into the distance and continued her story.
“Listen Nasha. It was shortly after the arrival of the boulder when our ancestors noticed fluid coming from it. This fluid, however, wasn’t coming from the rain or anything that could be seen outside of the boulder like most rocks. You see, the boulder has these impossibly small holes where the fluid seeps out and collects in a small pool on the ground.” Ninishek said flatly. She espied Nasha's incredulous gaze and asked, “What of my story do you not understand, Nasha?”
“So, you're saying the boulder sweats? Is it alive? How can a boulder sweat? I thought the weight of the boulder made the water seep from the earth and collect beneath it. That’s how the story usually goes.” Nasha said, as she fed the fire a fresh log.
“Yes, that’s how the story goes for anyone who isn’t a priestess. But the truth, Nasha, is that the boulder must be filled with water that seeps out. Now, when our ancestors discovered this water, they did something forbidden and --”
“-- And they drank from it”, Nasha finished Nini’s words. “I remember hearing this part, nana Nini.”
“Yes. But listen Nasha, I’ve never told you what became of the man who drank it.” Nini said, as her gaze fell to the floor.
“I thought it was the entire village who drank from it. Now it’s only a single person?” Nasha asked carefully, intrigued by her grandmother’s words.
“Yes. It was only one person who drank, and it was the very same elder who was blinded by the light’s brilliance. This elder, who I've never told you until now, was our direct ancestor, and it was the women who descended from him that became priestesses.” Ninishek said with her eyes still on the floor.
“You can’t be serious nana. What made him want to drink from it? Was it not forbidden?” Nasha asked with her mouth agape.
“Yes Nasha, I am deadly serious. The same questions you now have used to confuse me when I first learned the truth too. It was said that the elder received a vision from the Gods telling him the boulder’s water would cure his blindness and restore his youth.”
“Did it work for him, nana Nini?” Nasha was at the edge of her seat now, waiting for Ninishek to finish her story.
“No Nasha, not even remotely. When he drank from the accursed water, he fell into the dirt writhing in agony, his body twisting in all types of unnatural directions. It was even said his hair began to melt while he vomited blood and bile. It was truly horrifying for the ones who witnessed his torturous end. Finally, after it was all complete, the elder simply evaporated into dust.”
“Whoa. So, if you do drink from the water, you do change into something!” Nasha said through a stifled laugh, trying to lighten the mood.
Before Ninishek could respond to Nasha’s inanity, the large village bell was loudly clanging in the distance. The tintinnabulation of the brass bell was only meant to alarm the villagers of life-threatening danger. Heavy footsteps clomped outside the hut as people ran in all directions. There was shouting in the distance, but it could not be understood through the hut's thick walls. Ninishek looked at her granddaughter, the truth of the confusion hidden behind her face. She sighed deeply and closed her eyes, choosing her words carefully.
“It is time Nasha, for you to meet your mother. She has returned from the great beyond.” Ninishek said, as tears
Nasha sat up with a sudden burst of energy.
“My mother? But … I thought … My mother died when I was born! How could she be here now? Tell me what’s happening nana Nini!”
“Your mother was so rebellious Nasha,” Ninishek said, as she ran her hands through Nasha’s beautiful hair. “When it was her time to priestess, during her ritual, she … she drank from the water too and --”
Pounding on the hut’s door interrupted the peace inside the room. Nasha jumped to her feet, frightful of her grandmother’s words and of the unexpected guests outside, the heavy chair falling behind her with a loud thud. Ninishek chuckled to herself as the door was flew off its hinges. Men, armed with swords and spears charged in, smashing and nocking everything to the floor.
Without a word, Nini was dragged outside as Nasha protested and fought one the men who held her back. Nasha’s face exploded with pain as one of the men bashed her with the back of his fist. The room started spinning as Nasha began to lose consciousness, blood pooling in her exposed mouth. When she awoke, the room was empty yet again. She looked around desperately for Ninishek, but she was nowhere to be found. The room was destroyed, a lifetime of possessions utterly strewn about. Nasha slowly got to her feet, her hand soothing her swollen lip.
“Nasha! Nasha!” Someone yelled as they approached the ruined hut. Nasha slowly walked outside and looked off into the distance. She could recognize the voice but couldn’t see where it was coming from. Behind one of the stone structures leading to the courtyard, a young man runs into view. He approaches Nasha, bewildered by her wounds.
“Nasha, my God! What happened to your face? What happened to your door?” He asks, as Nasha wipes blood from her nose. There are tears in her eyes as she regards her friend.
“Snax, you're … you’re here.” She speaks low and carefully. “Men came, I think soldiers, kicked in the door and kidnapped my grandmother. They hit me. I tried to stop them. Snax, what do I do!?” The tears started to pour as reality started to sink in. Snax wraps his arms around Nasha, consoling her.
“It’s okay, Nasha, It’s okay. I’ll speak to my father about what happened. I can’t believe they hit you.”
“I can’t believe they’d steal my grandmother!” Nasha retorts as she pulls away from him.
Snax, or better known by the villagers as Snaxil, was the eldest son of the village elder. He’s been good friends with Nasha since they were children.
“Yes. Your grandmother.” Snax shifts uncomfortably as he chooses his words. “I will ask my father what happened to her.