Aphelion Issue 293, Volume 28
September 2023
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Keeper of Faith

by Charles G. Chettiar

My father did the work of keeping the faith of the people, not blatantly but surely. His was a trade of wisdom and hidden meanings.

He was a leader without the megalomania. His role was supreme and without comparison. Nothing stood against his authority, and nothing was done without his consent. He was the ruler cum priest cum advisor cum healer of the people. Nothing was sacrosanct except his word; his word made even the profane sacrosanct.

We were preparing for the festival of the half moon. His regard for the ceremony was profound and it kept us on our toes. We were divided into clans but the 'clan of the spirit', which was ours was the most superior. For our clan only was granted the gift to speak to the gods, and transmit their divinations to the people.

The clan of the spirit was kept in strict adherence to the law of the gods. The law of the gods above all entailed when the keeper's children would become chivun (non-virgins) and then their mantles would be handled over to the son. Only two sons qualified to become the keepers and the rest were wed and scattered among the other clans of the island. The girls were given away at a tender age but surely to a particular clan known as the Keeping clan. The girls were kept in the keeping clan, marrying the men in it, and if scarcity of men arose in the Keeping clan, then and only then, the girls were given away to other common clans.

The Clan of the Spirit and the Clan of the Keeping were super most; however, the Clan of the Spirit superseded all others.

Soon it would be the time for my chivun and I would be counted as a keeper. Not that I wasn't longing to be one, but the excitement was palpable, but the more I looked for it, the better it seemed to be. It was like doing the great things of the game. What I couldn't discern was the reason sometimes the ceremony was conducted without the people. I had thought that all the rituals should be conducted with the people as witnesses so that no one could point fingers at the keepers. One such fellow had questioned the ludicrousness of such a practice. He was struck down by the 'staff' my father carried, but murmurs after that incident were there. It was never explicit but still they were there; always implicit, always implicit. They never came to my ears. If they had then I would have done murder by stone, for stone was the tools of our people.

Not that I hadn't witnessed it before. The first real introduction to life to a Belabe, which we call ourselves, is through killing. Not that we enjoyed it. A Belabe hunted first and it was through this hunting that the gods were appeased. It was necessary to give the day's first kill to the gods, and more importantly its first blood. It was said that a Belabe can only become a Belabe only after his or her first kill. I had mine at five years of age and I proved that I was fit to be called the keeper's child. None had broken that record till now and I was certain that none will.

His staff-rod spurted the gods' anger and it was a tool which I wanted to cherish and behold. I so much wanted to touch it, but it was away from my grasp, which I detested. I wanted to become the keeper fast, and see and feel the gods. I had until now, only seen a small glimpse of the gods, and felt their fiery breaths when during the last festival of the half moon, lying prostrate the great fiery column of fire swept up from the gates and seared all except my siblings and my family.

The gates were another remarkable facet of our tiny island. They were black in color, huge edifices, pillar-like and two in number. I had seen my father go through them and disappear, and we were tasked to keep the tribe prostrated till my father returned. Not that anyone could approach them, and if anyone approached them, they were not spared. Once a begala, one of the common folks, did approach it. It was nothing but a child and the inquisitiveness must have gotten the better of him. A clanging reverberation was heard that day, throughout the entire island.

When this reverberation was heard, all the begalas were herded and told to assemble near the gate, and my father cut the limb of the offending family's, and then cauterized the wounds. It was this quality that endeared me to him: The one who can kill as well as heal. It was this which made me want to be like him.

I had thought that it would have been better to have killed them outright, but there were no wisdom in my words. There was wisdom in my father's actions.

The 'traitors' were permanently marked due to their arm being cut off, and from now on will be on the outskirts of the tribe--actually outcasts. They were hafun, once and for all. Their life was forfeit, and everything they possessed or had was now taken away. Anyone can do anything with them. They were now worse than slaves and would serve as a stark reminder to the tribe that extreme punishment awaits the denouncers of the gods' instruction.

As far as I know no one questioned the authority of my father after this incident. What I wanted now was getting inducted as soon as possible. Getting inducted was for me what I was dreaming about for so much time. That I was waiting for it was no secret.

My secret want was not much of a secret it seemed. I wanted to meet the braving hordes. The braving hordes meant rebellion by the people that I detested. The island had no history of such hordes. Once I had seen a horde gathering, but that was prevented by other tactics by the gods. The leaders of such a rebellion were trapped in stone by the gods. They were a stark reminder that the anger of the gods flowed through this life and this world. If I would have met such a rebellion then I swear that I would have struck it with pestilence and death.

The fury of the gods used to break out around our island in isolated pockets. Now and then, it used to break out from the gods' mind, which was a hill. It was every Bablum's final task to enter the mind of the gods and once while coming from the daily ritual of bloodletting, I spied my father taking the trail to the mind of the gods.

I never used to shadow my father, but this time, I couldn't do otherwise. It was never revealed when the next bablum can be made or is done. When the mantle is passed was never revealed, even from the oral-lores. I had questioned an oral-lore about the transfer once but he didn't say anything about the transfer. I verbally nudged and prodded him, even threatened him by saying the unsayable, but he remained firm. He said that it was not his place to know, and that he didn't know.

That convinced me that the oral-lore, may be wise, but he was nothing compared to the bablum. The bablum was the ultimate authority, and he was everything on this island. It was this that convinced me that it was necessary to follow my father, and discern from him the ritual of succession. This ritual of succession was not taught anywhere. It was only known that once when the old bablum had disappeared then the new bablum appeared all of a sudden.

And then led till it was time for the new bablum to appear…

The pre-bablum (nearly passing out bablum) made his way to the off-beaten track. It was getting hotter as the path veered towards the mind of the gods. He could have gotten his feet roasted, but he was wearing something that looked like some sort of sandals, which I had not seen till now. I wrapped some twig leaves on my feet to resist the heat, which was giving blisters to my feet. It was getting steeper and steeper. Sweat was running in rivulets on my face, but the pre-bablum, my father, was not tiring. Suddenly the mind of the gods raged and dust was thrown and pre-bablum was covered with it. I hurried to the place where he was only to find the stone sandals.

Nothing else was remaining. Only the sandals remained. I wore those sandals, and looked here and there. There was no other way by which he could have gone. It only meant that he must have disappeared taken to the mind of the gods. It meant the end of the bablum and the start of the new one. Did that end in such a way? So that was the way of the gods to take their bablums to their minds. So I understood that this was the way bablums meet their end—by going to the volcano that was called the mind of the gods.

As far as I know, there were no last rites for the bablums. The bablums used to administer last rites to the entire tribe, but till now I had not heard about any last rites for the bablums. There were funeral songs for the begalas, and sung with gusto by the oral-lores, but the oral-lores never made any mention of a bablum funeral, or sung a song pertaining to the deaths of the bablums.

I put the sandals on my feet, and felt a surge of power. Long wait and anxiety over, I was now free to lead my people. I was now free to do the gods' bidding, and I was free to roam, and punish and heal.

I was the BABLUM.

I made my way back to the gate and tried to enter it.

YOU ARE NO-CHIVUN AND YOU CANNOT ENTER, said the voice at the gate

So that was the reason for chivun, I thought. Only a chivun bablum could serve the gods.

Therefore, I was not a bablum fully. I had to become a bablum fully.

I accosted a pair of selemes, that is, girls, at the lake trail.

"Puletimlo," she said. She was a childhood companion, and she knew my name, as after the age of twelve us bablum-geny were taken away from the begalas.

"Megana," I said. I couldn't bring myself to tell her what I wanted, but she continued to regard me in the garb of the bablum, and I could see that she was surprised.

"You are in bablum's garb," said Megana.

"I am the bablum," said I.

Accompanying her was her younger sister, Gorana. Her younger sister collapsed, and after kneeling down beside her, we came to know that there was a snake wrapped round her leg.

I had to be quick, because if I wanted to get all my bablum powers then I had to become chivun fast.

"You are a vessel for my chivun," I said as I undressed and pulled off Megana's baitim, to lie on top of her. She didn't protest. She couldn't because I was the bablum.

After a short effort, I lay contented.

I took over my staff and touched Megana's sister saying the arcane words that the pre-bablum had said while making incantation healings. Light came back to her sister's eyes and she sat up. Something told me that it was not complete and Megana's sister, would die in a week if I did not receive the remaining powers from the gods. I was not going to let my vessel-liege's sister and my first healing go without a fight to be lost to the mind of the gods. I made Gorana stand up and made her on her way.

Then I proceeded to the gates of the gods.

The gates opened, incanting 'chivun-bablum', and I beheld a narrow passage and just before the passage started there were some objects that I knew were books. Another eccentricity which the bablums possessed which the begalas were not privy to was writing. Such tomes were there only in the bablum house and only bablum children destined to be the after-bablums were taught. The instruction was given by the bablum himself. All learnt the knowledge, and due to this that the segregation between bablum children and non-bablum children.

They were tomes and they had entries, which I was taught to decipher,

22 baliti, 215….

This was a month before.

I closed it to see that the cover was written as the 3rd BABLUM. Therefore, it meant that this was a note of my father.

I kept it aside and saw the next volume. On it was written the 2nd bablum & the 1st BABLUM. So I was now the 4th BABLUM. There were in all 4 books. I opened the first book to see that it was a book of instruction, as the instructions inside it were given by the pre-bablum to me right from the day I could remember.

It was aptly titled: "The book of BABLUM's- The book every bablum should read."

So I was suppose to write something in my book, but my book was not there to be found anywhere. I searched in the entire room, but it was nowhere to be seen. No book was empty and nothing bore the title 4th BABLUM. I looked around the chamber.

I started leafing through the volumes to see if I can find what I had to do. I don't know what I may find, but I knew that I would find something of importance.

The first tome began thus…

1 tumate, 1

I have given proper dosage of the serum to the locals. They seemed to have absorbed it properly. The recombinant DNA is OK. After 3 weeks, these nomads have started to fear my staff and the power of sword and wind that I wield due to the technology. We are not genetically that different, and due to this I was able to impregnate the prettiest girl on the island.

Now only the codes of the Bablum, the law, and the festival have to be established. It has been done before so it's not going to be anything was the first time.

23 nuavinge, 9

The serum has worked fine, and these are showing proper signs of intelligence and servitude. As per the goddess, it is OK, and the results are amazing, even to me. I was just a matter of 6 months.

55 polimbum, 10:

It is good. The codes of the bablum have been established. Every day the day begins by sacrifice which is given by the Bablum.

There were other entries in the 1st Bablum's tome.

And there were other things also. The entries stopped at year 94. So it meant that the 1st bablum had reigned for 94 years. Then the entries in the next tome started.

37 gumgi, 99:

Major hallmarks of the goddess' instructions have been established. Now there is a hierarchy of chiefs, the main being the bablum. The only thing which irks is what is going to be done to the extra children.

I thought, Extra…

Extra, because maximum 2 boys are sufficient, one as bablum and one as successor in case something happened to the immediate successor of the bablum. There are girls and there are boys, as the goddess didn't not give any instruction on the progeny. I don't know what my father did. I hope that the goddess reads this and grants an audience.

48 melimi 107:

Now the law is firmly entrenched. There are punishers appointed. In one instance, a total of 23 people were executed as they had gone against the law. That must have taught them a lesson, to not obey. That this was so different was another shock that I got. Now the sacrifice and law have been permanently done, but due to some genetic malformation, their evolution is not much in accelerated place as mentioned by the goddess. It seems that a bablum or two will required to totally evolutionize these people.

I thought, A bablum or two…

17 Libillile 139:

It is really good to see that life is in its proper place now, but the children continue to remain a problem, but the goddess has taken care of them. They are in the mind of the gods--not dead, but alive. It is a beautiful sight. All the children now grown up and are getting ready to depart to another world. I asked the goddess about the time, and she told that the recombinant DNA is now streamlined and the people should be ready to spread out in this world in a couple of decades or generations at the most. That was what she told me. It was good to see that it was going to be done. The goddess keeps her promises.

This lifted a load of my chest, as the extra-progeny were alive and secure.

But why were we being subjected to this?

32 printipa 158:

I saw what the goddess showed me. That this world is six times bigger than the world of the goddess and what a mighty empire would grow out of this planet. That was a great plan, and that was a plan to get more soldiers for the goddess and in this way win the war.

The entries went on up to year 175. So it meant that the bablum reigned till 81 years, and lived for even more. Then the tome of the pre-bablum, my father started.

36 printipa 176:

At least the age of innocence is over for us bablums. The gods and specifically the goddess wanted tribute and that tribute for me is the issuance of the festival of the half moon. It so happened that some dissenters who didn't want to believe in the gods and the goddess' decree just left and made a different camp from the one where we were designated to remain.

It was a break which the free spirited people wanted to do for a long time. I didn't know whether this was a good thing or not, but as per the goddess it was a good thing. I didn't realize it at that time but much later.

53 printipa 176:

The goddess obliterated the dissenters, as I looked. Sulphur rained down from above.

This fear had to be instilled in them, said the goddess. The goddess was angry and very angry because I had nearly failed her.

There has to be a living lesson taught, said the goddess.

So this was the reason for the hafun. The goddess had instructed about neutralization of all dissent.

28 Libillile 215:

The festival of the half moon is nearly ready. All the begalas believe in the myth of the full and half moon. There is no dissent. All will seem to attest to the fact. The extra-progeny have come up with a full creation myth about the goddess and the Penintriis, which is us, the name given to us by the goddess. It is a soft booklet and this I am going to reveal in the festival of the half moon.

So the pre-bablum had not departed but had gone to fetch the booklet which he was going to reveal. The entry continued...

...the written language is ready which the goddess has called 'the alphabet' and it will be used to teach the oral-lores written-lore and then will be administered to the ranking officials, so that the first war of amalgamation can be executed.

"What are you doing here?"

My father stood in front of me. He was unharmed and he was dressed in his garb of a bablum.

"Father, I thought that you went to the mind of the gods!"

"Foolish son, why are you so impetuous?"

Just then there was a rumbling sound and the discolored rectangular part at the corner of the room started moving, and out of them came white clad figures carrying something like a staff. They were unlike what my father carried, and their eyes it seemed were big with blackness without any pupils. The white clad figures surrounded us in a semicircle, and then a red skinned woman with a serpentine crown and shimmering yellow adornments entered and stood before me.

She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my life. Her skin was soft and supple and she was translucent to see. Her lips were full red and her bust was the curviest I had beheld. Moreover she was wearing a black tight fitting dress and her nails were red like rubies.

"Quick, kneel, the goddess and her angels."

"A bablum and a post bablum! THIS WAS FORBIDDEN."

"I have had no part in this. It is all because of the boy's impetuousness, mistress."

"I have seen, it is indeed the boy," she said. "Lot of inquisitiveness, post-bablum."

"I judged that my father had disappeared and it was time to take over," I said.

"You judged wrongly," she said bowing down.

The fragrance which she possessed was such a sweet delicacy that I was lost for some time in its hypnotic effect.

"So bablum does he know the way?" she asked.

"Yes, mistress," my father said.

She regarded me and said, "Do you know what your race is entailed with."

"To become great and powerful, and all ruling on this planet and also the other five planets in this system," I replied.

"You are no longer forfeit of your life, post-bablum."

I shuddered. She had meant to end me.

"You have garnered a lot from these tomes. That is the reason I had instructed all the bablums to keep progress reports in these tomes, so that the remaining bablums can learn from this. This means that you know about your race's destiny."

"Yes, mistress," I said.

"You learn fast. Good. Recombinant DNA is doing its trick."

She smiled. "Now, for your penance. You will be placed in the mind of the gods along with the extra progeny, and there you will be taught how to slaughter, enslave and conquer. There you will be for more than five years, and in that time, bablum, you have to get the dogma of the gods accepted and start the written-lores on their way to get all the tomes into your bible. This book will give you directions on how to achieve your destiny of conquest of this solar system and the ones away from it. You will achieve this writing and more, bablum. You have to start the rudimentary building of the army, and start small skirmishes with the south people who do not know about war. With this you will get all the proper training of conquest, and after five years your training done, post-bablum, you will take over."

"Yes mistress," we both replied.

"Your penance is to conquer the entire continent in five years and I want all the remaining 17 continents in the next twenty-five years."

"Yes, mistress," I replied.

"Rise," she said.

We stood and as I was being taken away to the mind of the gods, I had one question. How come she was able to survive so many years.

"Mistress?" I entreated.

"Yes," she said.

"What are you called? And how come you are so young when we die in a matter of some eighty years?"

"In our home world we call ourselves humans, and we have surpassed many boundaries which your race has not even started to decipher."


2015 Charles G. Chettiar

Bio: Mr. Chettiar is an Engineer by circumstance and writer by choice in Mumbai. He has one unpublished novel and has just started on a second.

E-mail: Charles G. Chettiar

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