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[County Bithynia] Rain

Khronion Dracoseir

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Dracoseir
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The Kingdom of Alexandria
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Common Human
#1
The rainy season in Bithynia was different this year. There was no rain, nor any clouds were to be seen; merely an endless expanse of barren blue skies and parched brown dirt without a hint of green. The winter would surely be a harsh one, as the harvest would be poor, which meant nothing to barter with for firewood and warm clothes. The village farmers spent long nights in the local tavern drowning their sorrows and discussing what might be the cause of their misfortune. The winds were unseasonably dry, perhaps pointing to unusual weather patterns. The traveling merchants reported that torrential downpours had flooded other parts of the province, even as they avoided the province's agricultural center.

One night, while the farmers drank, Father Alandrial, the priest, warned that the drought might be a form of divine vengeance or retribution. Citing no verse or text to back up his convictions, he postulated that perhaps their ancestors had committed some evil, long forgotten, and the punishment for those sins had been passed down to their children. Or maybe one of their own had quietly profaned the vengeful gods. The villagers would glance with suspicion at one another, and discuss behind closed doors who the guilty one might be.

Young Jonah was blissfully unaware of these matters. A child of eight, all he wanted was an endless supply of the smooth round rocks that made excellent marbles for shooting. And, of course, an end to the days of endless sun that made for intolerably hot air. Even as food became scarce (After all, how could farmers afford to buy food when they had nothing to sell?) he did not complain, except to ask his parents when the clouds would return, and if he could have a few coins to purchase marbles from the travelling merchants who occasionally passed through the town.

Every morning, when the temple bells rang, Jonah remained in the courtyard, playing marbles long after his friends left to attend daily prayers. He didn't mind their absence too much, but he wished someone would keep him company. On occasion, he mentioned this to his father, but his father would only shrug his shoulders and tell Jonah to allow people to pay their dues where they would, whatever that meant.

One evening, he came home after a long day of shooting marbles to a crowd gathered around his front door. His father stood in the doorway, brandishing a spear, speaking in a raised tone to the mob. Jonah pushed through the mob, which grew silent as he approached his father. "Father, what is happening?" He tried to step out of the mob, but they refused to let him through.

Father Alandrial spoke. "Elias, your heresy has brought ruin upon our town. Retribution must be made." He pointed at Jonah. "Clearly, you will not surrender yourself to judgment. Your son will go in your stead." The crowd murmured in assent and a man took Jonah into his arms at Father Alandrial’s direction.

"You monsters! Kaharas, unhand my son!" He stepped towards the man who took son, but the villagers had brought their own spears and warded him off. “Don’t touch my son!” When he realized he would not be able to break through the assembled villagers, he began to plead instead. “Wait! Don’t take him! Take me instead!” But his pleas fell on deaf ears, and soon he and his wife were left alone without their son.

"Kaharas, what's happening?" Jonah asked the man carrying him. Kaharas hesitated, unsure of what to say. "Don't worry, Jonah. We're... setting things right. Father Alandrial has told us that things aren’t right -- surely you see that. That will change soon, thanks to you."

"Thanks to me?" He was a mere child of eight. How could this be?

"Yes," Kaharas said in a firm voice. "Thanks to you," he repeated, with a wavering voice.

That night, Kaharas fed Jonah and tucked him into a cot outside. It was warm, so Jonah didn't mind, but he found it odd how Kaharas stood watch over him as if to protect him from something. Despite the oddness of the situation, Jonah felt comforted. Surely, Kaharas was a good man who would lead him to no harm.

"When can I go home, Kaharas?"

"Not yet, Jonah." He leaned on his spear, and looked out over the horizon, in the direction of Jonah's house. "Go to sleep. Everything will be okay tomorrow."

When Jonah woke up, Kaharas' daughter was standing over him. "Father says your family did something terrible." She didn't smile like she normally did when they played marbles. "He says that's why you have to stay here. Your family's the reason we have a drought."

“We’ve never sold grain at profit, unlike the merchants. We make sure everyone gets to eat,” Jonah protested. “And we feed the poor when no one else does.”

"He says your father doesn't pray at the temple with the rest of us. That’s why they’re taking you to the courtyard."

Jonah didn’t understand and wished that today would be over so he could go back home. That was what Kaharas had said last night, after all, that everything would be okay today.

"Leave Jonah alone, love," Kaharas called out to his daughter, walking overdressed in the soldier's armor he once wore when he was still a Legion corpsman. He smiled uneasily at Jonah. "Come with me, child."

Jonah nodded and grabbed Kaharas' outstretched hand. In front of the house, several more villagers dressed in their soldiers' armor were waiting, along with Father Alandrial. They averted their eyes when Jonah emerged. Jonah held tightly to Kaharas' hand. Surely, he could trust Kaharas, who had been looking out for him all this time.

A dais with a tall stake had been erected during the night in the courtyard where he normally played marbles. The sun caused it to cast a stark shadow over the courtyard that landed directly on Jonah, a brief respite from the heat. Kaharas led him onto the dais. "Only a little longer, child. Soon, all will be right."

Jonah wondered how many times Kaharas would say that before anything would be right. To him, nothing really seemed right anymore. The men dressed as soldiers, the stake in the courtyard, the unusual gathering of villagers. The chain wrapped around him was uncomfortably heavy. And where was his family?

A little while after the village had assembled, several more men dressed as soldiers arrived holding his mother and father at spearpoint. "You monsters! We have done nothing wrong, nothing to deserve this!" Jonah's father shouted in a desperate voice. "We have given you everything we had, and even what we didn't. Our grain, our milk, from our own pockets we fed your poor, even the men and women your church refused to acknowledge. And you repay me by taking my son from me!"

"Silence the heretic!" Father Alandrial boomed, standing on the dais, holding a torch. "Your unfaithfulness has nearly doomed our village. Where you saw the poor, we found demons lying in wait, ready to corrupt us with their heretical ways. What you called pointless ritual were our crucial efforts to curry favor with the Divine to protect this village from ruin. And you nearly undid us!" He turned to Kaharas. "Let us finish what should have never started. The child will pay off his father's debts, and he shall usher in salvation for our village"

But little Jonah did not understand what was happening. He knew that the village was upset and that the priest was sermonizing, but he did not understand the significance of the stake, nor the chains that bound him to it. He did not see the traveling merchants, shaking their heads in disbelief at the scene unfolding before them from their corner in the rear of the courtyard, nor did he see his mother sobbing where she and his father were detained.

No, his eyes remained fixed upon the sky. "Look, a cloud," he said in a voice so soft that only Kaharas heard it. The older man looked up in disbelief at the storm clouds beginning to form and pointed as the winds began to pick up.

"Father Alandrial! Look! The storm is coming!" The villagers gasped in awe as the clouds blotted out the sun and cast an ominous shadow over the village. Some dropped to their knees and began to pray.

But Father Alandrial ignored the villagers. "In the name of all that is holy, we cast this child into Your hands!" Father Alandrial cried, throwing his torch into the base of the dais. The winds began to fan the flames and the dais soon erupted in a furious conflagration. "The rain returns to our village!" he cried as the storm grew more and more violent.

And then something happened that the villagers would never forget.

As the storm broke, a vortex of wind developed, touching down where the dais had been built, throwing fiery debris into the courtyard. The villagers, fearing for their lives, ran for cover, trying to avoid the flaming shards of wood. Father Alandrial was thrown fifty feet only to be impaled against the front doors of the church by the very stake he had ordered erected.

Kaharas too was thrown aside by the vortex, and he came to rest on the courtyard ground, in the corner where the children would play marbles on an ordinary day. As he struggled to right himself, he looked to the sky to see young Jonah smiling serenely in the middle of the flames, as if to welcome the rain back to the village. The winds grew more violent, and when Kaharas was able to look up again, Jonah had vanished into the clouds above.

When the skies cleared, the rains had flooded the fields and washed out the roads. Father Alandrial was dead, battered by the storm and impaled upon his beloved temple doors. The villagers were unsure what to believe, except that the rains had come, Jonah was gone, and their priest was dead. Indeed, the rains had come with the ritual as promised, but the storm had wrought a path of destruction through the village, flooding the desiccated fields and washing out the only roads to the nearby cities.

Kaharas, gravely injured by the storm, could barely stand as he looked at the drizzling sky, framed by a rainbow. “Forgive us, Jonah.” The wind picked up, gently this time, and blew a smooth pebble across the courtyard, neatly knocking another pebble out of the ring where the children played marbles.