You are invited to read Marcus of Abderus and the Inn at the Edge of the World, a fantasy adventure novel available at Barnes and Noble Online.

Saturday, October 27, 2007



A short story by Michael R. Lockridge

His mother was there when he was born. That is a given. The village midwife was also there, Mother Arna. That was practically a given. The village priest was there, as well. The Great Mizuti. That was special. It was time to select the Child of the village. If the child was born a male, The Great Mizuti would bless and name him.

He was born male. The Great Mizuti did bless him. The Great Mizuti named him Blame. He would be Child of the village, son of the people. His days would be blessed. The people would prosper, because of him.

For ten years Blame grew as most other children. He was a bit fatter than most, because many women of the village felt the compulsion to mother him and give him treats. He was a bit more protected, for the other children were not allowed to abuse him. Blame was Child of the village, and of symbolic value. The children were encouraged to respect and defer to Blame.

On his tenth birthday, The Great Mizuti came at dawn and lead Blame away. Blame was not afraid, until he was lead between two lines of masked men. The carved masks were horrible, and made Blame draw close to The Great Mizuti. The priest put an arm around Blame, and hugged him tight as they made their way through the threatening gauntlet.

When Blame was standing near the altar, The Great Mizuti had the men lift their masks, so that Blame could see the faces underneath. Blame became less frightened as he recognized many men of the village. Most of the men had been kind to Blame. He began to relax.

The Great Mizuti had Blame lay down on the altar. He did so. Four men tied his hands and feet to the altar. Blame again felt afraid. The Great Mizuti patted Blame’s head, and said that it would soon be over. Blame tried to relax.

Another four men came forward, and with reverence placed a board on top of Blame. The Great Mizuti made motions over the board, and mumbled secret words. Blame again felt afraid. The Great Mizuti turned to the gathered men, and said some more words. Blame could not hear the words, because his heart was pounding loudly in his ears.

Then the men took the board away. They untied Blame and helped him sit up. The Great Mizuti lifted Blame from the altar, and took him by the hand. They made their way back to where his mother waited, outside the Holy Place. She hugged Blame, and led him home. There were tears on her cheeks.

Every year after that, for six years, The Great Mizuti came and got Blame from his mother’s home. Every year they walked between the masked men. Every year they tied him to the altar, and placed the board on top of him. Every year he was returned to his mother. Every year there was a tearful hug, and a return to everyday life.

When the ritual was completed on his sixteenth birthday, Blame was not returned to his mother. He was taken to a beautiful little house on the north edge of the village.

“This is now your home, Blame.” Said The Great Mizuti. “You may visit your mother as much as you like, but here is where you will sleep. Many people will visit you, here. You are Child of the village.”

At first Blame spent much time at his mother’s home. However, he had many visitors at his new house. Many brought him gifts. Quite a few of the young people came to visit Blame at his house on the north edge of the village. Some of the young women were quite friendly. It was not long before Blame seldom slept alone.

Blame grew quite fat and jolly. He lived on the gifts of the village, which were given freely. He enjoyed his visitors, and they enjoyed him. Some commented that he was one of the kindest persons to bear the name in many years. This he did not understand, but he accepted the compliment nonetheless.

Twice more he passed between the masked men. Twice more he was tied to the altar. Twice more the board was placed on him and words said over him.

Several of the young women of the village who had visited his bed grew round with child. Their parents were proud, and gave even more gifts to Blame. Soon Blame found himself crowded by young women. They strove with one another for his attention. He did his best to attend to every one.

Following the next year’s ritual, some of the married women of the village came to his little house. The came covered in shawls, always late at night. They would chase out any young women who were in the house, and take Blame to his bed. They would always leave before first light, wrapped again in their shawls.

Blame grew concerned, at first, that the husbands of these women would visit him in anger. However, that did not happen. Soon he relaxed and enjoyed the new attention. The younger women were delightful, but the older women proved much more interesting in many ways.

One day The Great Mizuti appeared at Blame’s door.

“This is your twentieth birthday, Blame.” Said The Great Mizuti. “Come. We must again go to the Holy Place. Today you are Blame.”

As he had many times before, Blame went with The Great Mizuti. He walked between the masked men of the village. The masks were particularly gruesome and angry this year, and made Blame uncomfortable. Blame quietly took his place on the altar, and allowed the men to bind him to the stony surface.

This time the ritual took longer. The board rested in its place along the wall. The people of the village had gathered near a pile of stones to one side of the altar. One by one, they came to The Great Mizuti. They whispered in his ear, and then returned to their place of waiting.

The Great Mizuti selected a stone for each person who had whispered to him. They were round and flat, and looked old. Some were rather small, and these were handed to the villagers under the direction of The Great Mizuti. Some were large, and a masked villager would carry the heavy stone to be placed at the feet of the appropriate villager.

Now the board was set in place on top of Blame. Starting with the oldest members of the village, they came forward one by one. Each placed their stone carefully on top of the board. Many kissed Blame on the forehead after doing so. Blame grew confused. This was not the way the previous rituals had worked.

The men in masks aided those who could not lift their own stone. Soon Blame was having trouble breathing. Still they added stones. Finally, when he thought he could stand no more, there were no more people lined up. Breathing in small breaths, Blame felt some form of relief. Perhaps it would soon be over.

The village fell back, and The Great Mizuti addressed them in a quiet voice.

A villager came forward and spoke with The Great Mizuti. With a grand gesture, The Great Mizuti invited another villager forward. The Great Mizuti and the two villagers conferred for a few minutes. Then the first villager selected a good-sized stone. He handed it to the other villager, who came toward the altar.

Blame could not breath. He felt a rib crack as another stone was added to the pile. His vision blurred, and began to go dark. With the addition of another stone, Blame issued a sigh, and blood flowed from his open mouth. Darkness engulfed him, and he knew no more.

The Great Mizuti raised his arms over the pile of stones, and spoke the ancient words. He turned to the gathered villagers, and lifted his arms toward them in blessing.

“We named him Blame, twenty years ago. Blame, as one to take all of our faults and sins to the grave for us. I declare all of you forgiven, and all grievances within the village absolved. Be at peace with one another.”

He looked with pleasure at the many full, round bellies on the women of the village. It will only be a matter of weeks before he will again name a child.

“Go now, in peace with one another.” Said The Great Mizuti. “Be at peace with yourselves. Your faults and sins have died on this altar.”

They all went to their homes, in peace.

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