Accipiter G. Goshawk
The second story in my “Tarot” series.
There can be no harsher judge of our actions than ourselves. That verdict can eat away at us and prevent us from moving forward.
But within that unyielding judgement, we can find the seed of renewal.
They had voted, and he’d been found to be the best man of the village.
His mother had been proud and he’d been thankful. It was the greatest of honours; only three other living people had ever been nominated in history of their small settlement.
That honour had brought him where he was today: standing in front of the door to the chambers of the one they called Stone-Eyes.
The block of steel weighed more than a ton, but it swung noiselessly inwards as he approached along the unkempt rocky path. The corridor beyond was dry, smooth and cool. No colour, carvings or objects adorned the walls of grey stone. The sunlight filtered from holes in the ceiling, illuminating the ancient way into the mountain.
He noticed the dust on the ground. It told him that he was the first to walk these halls in over two hundred years.
He emerged into the chamber itself, a long room with a solitary giant seat of granite at the opposite end. He tried not to gasp, as Stone-eyes herself appeared to him, sitting on the throne like a titan-queen out of legend.
He bowed deeply and remained kneeling as her grey gaze fixed on his figure.
“Mistress Stone-Eyes, I am John Drai, of the village of Nuruk. I come to you to honour the tradition of the Best. This year marks the fifth century, and I have come as the representative of my people.”
“So you have,” grated Stone-Eyes appraisingly.
A long silence followed.
“I…I was chosen as the best man. I came because…it is tradition that I should do so.”
Finally he lifted his head, only to find himself trapped within her gaze.
“Do you believe you are truly the best, John Drai?”
He shivered, pushing away the surging doubt.
“It matters little what I believe, Mistress. The village-”
“Answer the question.”
“I…I’ve always tried to lead a blameless and generous life, Mistress.”
“That may be true. Let us see then.”
Her eyes flashed, and his existence spread out in the cavern before them, like an endless painting.
Portions of it bubbled and flashed, drawing his eyes: his foot crushing an ant; his axe felling a tree for firewood; his angry voice chastising his son; an argument with his wife; his empty bed in his parent’s house.
“I…I did my best! Please! Surely these are small transgressions when compared to all the good I’ve done?”
Stone-eyes said nothing.
She closed her eyes and the cavern was plunged into darkness.
Then, shadows crept up John’s legs and entered his ears, changing his mind.
He was the ant; he was the broken tree; he was his tearful son; he was his hurt wife; he was his lonely parents. Pain overwhelmed him; the pain he had caused. Every wrong done in his life assaulted him, ripping away his illusions and his beliefs.
Finally, the light returned, revealing him trembling on the floor.
“I…I don’t deserve…”
“Two doors are before you, John Drai,” came the pitiless voice.
He lifted his head to see that two openings had appeared within the wall. One led outside, back to the mountain path. The other led to punishment and fire.
“Which must I take?” he asked mournfully, fearing the judgement.
“The choice is yours,” she whispered and melted back into the stone throne.
Alone, John Dai stared at the two doors.
Then, he stood up and ignoring the fiery portal, he left the chamber behind, carrying with him the hope of knowledge beyond the pain of mistakes.
The walk was a not a long one, but by the time he had returned to the village, he was nursing a new truth.-