Twenty-one – A Father on the Altar
“Billy and I stood to the left of the body on the altar, the ‘foot’ end, my mother towards the head end,” Perveen explained, flitting pictures between unspoken telepathy to convey the wedding scene of her mother and Billy. “There was no fanfare, no wedding march (save the unnerving hymnal from the depths of the cavern, beyond) and we cut straight to the marriage ceremony. It was all conducted in Latin, but I somehow grasped every word. No doubt you will too, Sebastian, when our time comes.” She said, issuing a command rather than seeing whether I doubted her word.
“The gist of it was that, upon completing the sacrifice to the Dweller of the Deep, the body on the altar being said sacrificial vessel, Billy and mother would be wed; they would go on to consummate their marriage in the sacristy of the temple, beyond and the High Priest would bring me over into the flock in a separate ceremony. It was a case of all in favour say ‘Aye’ and, with no other option no matter what I thought about being left alone with the High Priest, the ceremony was under way. But everything changed when he pulled the sheet back,” she said, hoping to convey some hidden message that I misinterpreted completely, mistaking her thoughts and accompanying pitiful glance as self-indulgence into a painful reminiscence of her own, not a warning of what may lie ahead for me.
With that warning lost, she carried on, “The body beneath the sheet was my dad. That’s what Billy had meant about sealing all deals from the mortal realm. Mother lost it, had not brought her faith with her as much as her body. Fatal mistake. She flew at Billy as the High Priest shuffled back, not wishing to become embroiled, merely to spectate.
“Billy held her off with an outstretched arm – not physically touching her, but by some more of his sorcery. He started drinking from my father’s pulse; from the jerking beneath the sheet, it was obvious my useless dad still lived. My mother went into total, mental breakdown at the flick of this switch.”
Perveen looked up at me, to see if all of this was sinking in. It was, sort of, and even then I wasn’t prepared for what came next.
“The High Priest saw me standing there, unnerved, but totally calm, accepting the scene for what it was, realising – as I had done for months – that my mother and father were lost to me in any true sense of the word ‘parents’. For my mother, the shock was too sudden; for me, although I abhorred Billy for what he was doing, it was her with whom I was angry. It was then that I realised just how much I’d got used to the fact that neither parent could help each other or me. Why couldn’t she just accept it, the way she’d expected my coming over to this life to be undertaken without question?
“Not to miss out on his role in proceedings, the High Priest summoned me around the table to the rear wall of the claustrophobic chamber, away from my father’s convulsing body and my mother’s pathetic attempts to stop Billy causing dad’s spasms. I accepted his invitation and, upon doing so, seemed to glide across the cold stone floor on a mattress of air. I felt his teeth pierce the skin on my neck and simply melted into his arms. Such love, such knowledge, such history, yet he was offering me even more,” she said, quite matter-of-factly, totally oblivious of just how jealous she was making me, lost in her thoughts of that moment.
“What did he show you?” I asked. If we’d been using the spoken word, rather than communicating with minds (a method, and its nuances, that I was picking up on rather quickly), the question would have come out as a squeak and I would have had to cough to make my tone more gruff in the question’s repetition.
“Oh, to attain that ‘more’ there was something I must do for him,” she said, looking at the pebble-strewn floor she’d started to dawdle upon. She turned her face up to look me square in the eye, “This High Priest is bountiful as long as you give to him what you can. He knows we are not all made equal, that we have our limitations depending upon the manner in which we’re ‘made’. And Billy is good at that, even if he takes his work a little too seriously at times. Now, promise me again that you won’t hate me!” she demanded, turning on a sixpence, tugging my cheeks with her palms so that I could not stray from that pulsating glare of hers.
There was not a morsel of hatred in my body for Perveen, only sympathy; that some ancient custom of Asian cultures preferring sons over daughters had led her family to the demise she was retelling was pitiful. I nodded, understanding completely, yet scared that the truth would indeed turn me against my star-fated lover before we had had chance to become so.