Few Assumi openly discuss the tale of Lyrith and his followers, even when directly questioned about it. Indeed, the Assumi Elders who will speak of it are unanimous in their opinion that the arrival of Lyrith and his followers brought out the worst in their peoples. They feel that it is a shameful chapter in an otherwise long and peaceful history of the Assumi.
To understand this tale, one must understand a little bit about the Assumi and their customs; in particular, their religious beliefs. The Assumi pray to their "Old Ones" for bountiful harvests, successful hunts and healthy children. The Old Ones created their world. For as long as the sun has risen, the Old Ones have existed. For as long as Katsu herds have roamed the forests, for as long as stalks of Nasumi have nourished the Assumi peoples, the Old Ones have been ever present. The Assumi do not presume to know what physical form the Old Ones might possess or whether the Old Ones even take a physical form. But nearly all agree on this: it is presumptuous--even preposterous to hold to the notion that the Old Ones hold human form. After all, man is but a small and fragile species among the great and powerful beasts of the animal kingdom. The Assumi will tell you that the Old Ones are spirits without bodies who inhabit the rocks, swim in the waters and ride the winds.
The Assumi are a tolerant lot in matters of religion. Indeed, it is the Assumi's nature to question accepted beliefs. The Elders not only permit this, they actively encourage it. A typical religious ceremony always includes a discussion time in which questions are raised and beliefs are challenged. "What of other peoples?" ask young Assumi of their Elders. "Who looks out for the Wichiwak and the Talgos? Is it our Old Ones? Did our Old Ones also create their lands? Or was it their "Old Ones?" To an observer, there would seem to be no end of questions, answers, and counter-questions, usually culminating in some sort of consensus.
* * *
Three cycles ago, a man named Lyrith came into the village. Lyrith was traveling in the company of several followers--men who, like him, appeared disheveled and unshaven. They were lacking in personal hygiene and reeking of body odor. Their clothes were tattered and they carried what few belongings they possessed upon their backs. Their arrival caused a great curiosity among the people for the Assumi did not often receive visitors from other lands.
Blygos was the first villager to approach them offering spirits and nourishment. The offer of food and drink was eagerly accepted. It was apparent to Blygos and the others that the men had been without sustenance for some time. But despite their desperate condition, the companions of Lyrith did not actually consume the Nasumi cakes and fermented wine until they had concluded a curious ceremony.
Each man walked up to Lyrith and held his cake up to Lyrith's chest. It appeared to Blygos that the men sought Lyrith's blessing upon the cakes. Blygos' friend, Cameri had a different opinion, however. It seemed to Cameri that each man was making a comparison of the cake to Lyrith. The men repeated a similar pattern of ritual with the fermented wine. It was not clear to the villagers as to the exact meaning of the ceremony as the men spoke in a strange tongue that was not understood by Assumi.
Later, after they had supped, Lyrith inquired of Blygos whether they followed the true Father. At first, Blygos did not understand what he meant. After some additional dialogue, Blygos understood. He explained to Lyrith about the Old Ones who created the world and inhabited the land, the water, and the air. Upon hearing this response, Lyrith fixed upon Blygos an evil gaze and muttered phrases in the same foreign tongue. Whatever Lyrith was saying, Blygos was made very uncomfortable by it. Blygos excused himself and quickly departed.
After several days in the village, it became apparent to the Elders exactly who and what Lyrith and his followers were. Indeed, Lyrith and his followers were proclaiming to anyone who would listen to them the purpose of Lyrith's mission: Lyrith had wandered the lands with his chosen companions for a dozen cycles. Lyrith was the only son of an Old One. He had been sent in man-form by his father to tell the peoples of the different lands about this Old One. It seemed that his Old One wanted everyone's adoration and worship, according to Lyrith, who proclaimed, "My Father is the true and only God."
This was surely a strange concept to the Assumi. After all, it seemed intuitive to them that the spirit world consisted of many separate Old Ones. For, did not the winds blow in many directions? Did not the waters run both deep and shallow?
Lyrith spoke in commanding tones to the Assumi. "It is not permitted to worship other Old Ones. You must pray to the one and true 'God' and to me, his son who has been sent to you in man-form. If you believe in me you will live in a wonderful place in the sky after you pass from this life."
Lyrith voiced several amazing ideas and beliefs. He told the assembly that he required all true followers to renounce their worldly possessions so that they would not become objects of worship. A "true believer" was expected to abstain from coupling with women, as this would only distract a man from his true duties to the Old One. To couple for the purpose of producing progeny was also useless. Lyrith explained why.
"The Old One is returning to the land in our lifetimes to wreck havoc and destruction. He will lift up those people who are believers and take them to live in the sky for all time. Those who do not believe in Him will be banished to a terrible place below the ground, where they will burn in terrible fires for all time."
Entrance into the "House," Lyrith said, could be obtained only by believing in the Old One and his son. It mattered not how one had conducted himself while living. Indeed, explained Lyrith, many of his own followers had been criminals and outcasts in their respective lands. They had "come to know the truth" and thus, had been guaranteed a home with the Old One. This was truly an odd concept to the Assumi, who believed that one's behavior in life determined one's destiny in the after-life.
At first, the Assumi who gathered to listen to these discussions found the ideas of Lyrith challenging and provocative, even intriguing. But their opinions soon changed, as Lyrith left no opportunity for dialogue or opposing thought. Lyrith was quick to anger for no apparent reason when the Wise Woman Tirana interrupted Lyrith to ask if he had been birthed from the womb of a mortal woman. Lyrith responded by gesturing at Tirana and making strange signs with his hands. His companions repeated these signs. Lyrith then directed angry, evil-sounding utterances at Tirana even as he pointed in her direction.
The crowd looked at one another with puzzled amazement! What kind of religious observance was this? Were they expected to blindly accept what this man was proclaiming, to swallow his beliefs whole without questioning? Why--even the visiting Renuto who worshiped stick-Gods were mindful of differences and showed respect towards the Assumi beliefs. The Renuto had allowed for questions and answers. An ensuing discussion between the Renuto and the Assumi had lasted many hours. Afterwards, the Assumi were invited to handle the Renuto's sacred sticks and even instructed as to the proper method of pounding the sticks into the earth to bless the harvest.
No--Lyrith's behavior was simply too much for the Assumi to comprehend. It was disrespectful. It was intolerable! The assembled Assumi spontaneously rose from the ground and turned away.
And as they left, Lyrith became incensed. He whipped himself into a frenzy and uttered more angry vindictive. The spittle flew from his mouth and he shook with rage. His companions seemed at a loss for what to do. One moved forward to comfort his leader but he was quickly dismissed and told by Lyrith, "Get thee behind me!"
The following day, Lyrith and his followers were no where to be found. The Elders assumed that they had packed up in the middle of the night and left the village destined for other lands. But at mid-day, a very unfortunate incident occurred: Lyrith and his men wielding clubs and stones attacked several Assumi women, including the Wise Woman Tirana, at the river. Two of the women were seriously injured. One did not survive into the night. All were badly shaken by the unprovoked attack. Tirana recounted her experiences to the Elders, who were utterly shocked. She reported that Lyrith cursed the women, accusing them of hindering their husbands' journeys to Lyrith, and to the true Old One. Lyrith's men called the women "sinners and whores" and said they were not worthy to walk the land. Then, they attacked the women.
Never before had any visitor displayed such uncivilized and barbaric behavior! It was absolutely unheard of--not just in their land--but in all of the adjacent lands as well.
Upon learning of the incident, several men of the village gathered secretly together for the purpose of hunting down Lyrith and his men and confronting them. This Lyrith could not be a God-son, they reasoned. No Old One would ever allow his offspring to perpetrate such brutality upon another! Such offense must be avenged. This evil gang could not be allowed to move in a similar fashion against another people. They would not wait for the Assumi Elders to rule in this matter for time was of the essence.
Hours later, the Assumi vigilante group found man-tracks leading to a clearing. In this clearing they found Lyrith praying, alone, his followers nowhere to be seen. The incensed Assumi men seized Lyrith bodily and demanded to know the whereabouts of his followers. Lyrith merely shrugged his shoulders, muttering, "My followers have deserted me in my hour of need."
The vigilantes were in no mood to hear about the Old One who demanded their adoration, or of his son, a man-God, who promised an undeserved after-life in the sky. The Assumi men became extremely agitated. They dragged Lyrith along the ground for hundreds of paces to a nearby cropping of trees. There they spread Lyrith's arms wide and lashed him upon a tall, sturdy tree branch in such a manner as to cause Lyrith to slowly suffocate by his own weight. It was befitting, they told one other, to serve such punishment unto a man who would lead a vicious attack on their woman in the name of an evil spirit.
Some of the younger men tormented Lyrith by poking his bare feet with sharpened sticks. Others threw stones at him and taunted him, saying, "If you are truly a God-son then save yourself, Lyrith!" To this, Lyrith only moaned and muttered, "Forgive these men, Father, for they know not what they do."
Suddenly, the party was interrupted by the arrival of Assumi Elders led by Katote. The vigilantes were truly ashamed upon seeing this great man. A silence ensued.
Katote was greatly disturbed and saddened by what he witnessed. Never before in his lifetime had an Assumi taken the law unto his own hands. It was clearly the business of the Elders to judge in matters of wrong-doing, and to decide upon appropriate punishment. Katote immediately commanded the vigilantes to cut Lyrith down from the tree and place him in a comfortable sitting position at its base. Then Katote addressed the assembly.
"Friends, my heart is heavy for what I have witnessed here this evening. I am truly ashamed to call myself an Assumi. We are supposed to be a civilized people. I will not allow you to lower ourselves to the level of this God-son and his criminal companions. Your violence will return unto us three-fold, four-fold, perhaps even more. Your actions will not be without consequence. This I promise you."
Katote then walked up to Lyrith and addressed him.
"You, who claim to be the son of an Old One, hear me now. We, the Elders understand your actions. You would try to use us as tools in your perverted plan. You desire to be ritually sacrificed at the hands of a cruel people in order to fulfill a sick prophecy. I am right about this, am I not? We have studied your teachings, and have concluded this to be your desired goal."
"I tell you this, Lyrith: we are not your pawns. We will not be led astray like a child in a game of hutuchi. We will not sacrifice you. You may destroy our property, injure us, even kill us, but we will not kill you. You cannot provoke us!"
"Tomorrow, I am sending messengers to travel to the adjoining lands with word of your treacherous scheme. And I will instruct those tribes to carry my words to more distant lands. Soon, there will be no fertile ground in which to plant your evil seed, Lyrith. This I promise you."
"Now, get up and leave us. Leave our land and do not ever return! Or I will personally enslave you for the remainder of your natural life."
A bloodied and bruised Lyrith arose and left the assembly with some difficulty. He and his men were never seen again.
* * *
In later years, the Hununi peoples tell a tale of a small, strange tribe of dead men they call "The Damned." The bodies of The Damned were found in a ritual circle. Every man appeared to have expired from a self-inflicted stab wound to the heart. But on a nearby tree, a lone man was found hanging by a rope tied around his neck. At the tree base, someone had left a crude wooden plaque bearing strange markings whose meaning was unknown. The hanged man wore a crown of prickly thorns upon his head. The man wore one other unusual item: a frozen smile upon his lifeless, blood-stained face.
Phil Temples has over sixty short stories published in print and online publications. His first novel, The Winship Affair, is now available in print and e-book from Blue Mustang Press. His second novel, a paranormal horror-mystery entitled Helltown Chronicles, was recently accepted for publication by Eternal Press.