Seventh Circle (Chapter 9 - Rebirth, page 2 of 11)

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The land on the other side fell away in a gentle slope towards a small clearing. The grass was neatly trimmed. Trees and bushes were neatly cropped. Some were cut to imitate animals. The overall effect was one of order and precision, totally different from the mayhem of the village.

A hundred or so white-robed figures were gathered about an altar, chanting solemnly. Men with drums, horns and cymbals accompanied the singing. All eyes were turned towards the big stone.

Tom guessed that, on this special day, the sun rose directly above it. He wasn't worried that the priests held primitive views on religion. Experience had taught him that senior clergy rarely placed a literal interpretation on holy writ. That was for the common folk. Sophisticated minds knew it was the underlying truth that mattered.

A man wearing a shimmering gown came out of the trees. His bearing was one of authority. A golden torque graced his neck and he held a staff surmounted by a golden disc. He reached the altar and raised the staff as the sun rose and the stone cast a shadow towards the altar. Horns blared, cymbals clashed and drums beat out their greeting to the lord of all creation.

Tom got to his feet. His shadow stretched before him. It was his chance to make a spectacular entry. He walked slowly, keeping pace with the blood red disc of the sun as it climbed into the sky. In the clearing below, a gasp went up from the priests and their chanting became ragged. The clashing of cymbals ceased and the drumbeat died away.

Tom was elated. There could be no doubt that he was causing a minor sensation. He was undoubtedly expected and everyone was impressed by his dramatic arrival. He lengthened his stride and made for the altar and the august person standing there.

The elderly man raised his staff.

'Who walks in the face of the Lord?'

'I have come to join your esteemed company,' Tom replied.

'Who conspires with the servants of the great whore?'

Tom sensed an air of hostility.

'Foul creature of the dark!'

The staff with the golden disc thumped down. It bore the smiling face he had helped to destroy the night before. Tom wondered if that was the cause of the antagonism.

'Tomas son of John.'

The old man's eyes narrowed.

'You have transgressed the sacred pathways. You have defiled the Lord's most holy image. You have consorted with the whelp of the she bitch.' He shook with rage. 'What brings you to this sacred place?..What further abominations do you wish to commit?'

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