This week’s prompt: It was fall, the season of knowledge, but nobody knew that.
It is fall, the season of knowing, but nobody knows that.
Once, there would have been a festival. A great stage would have been erected in the middle of town where lectures on all the year’s most important discoveries could be given. The streets would be lined with booksellers, the air a cacophony of competing bards, the children acting out plays amongst themselves, while their parents raise goblets of mulled wine to Zhakai, the god of knowledge. At the end of the night, one lucky soul, chosen by the high priest, would stand on the dais and receive the gods’ blessing on behalf of the whole village.
Now days, however, only those who keep the old ways can even remember what each season meant (spring for love, summer for prosperity, fall for knowledge, and winter for communion), and they can be counted on just one hand.
Penny is one of them.
The air is still warm and the weather fair, but soon the last of the plums will need to be harvested, before the rot sets in. It will be her last chance to earn some coin from the jam they will become; or perhaps she’ll turn them into a pie or two. After all, next year there won’t be a harvest. As long as Papa keeps to his word, that is.
Her back is to the house, but she can feel his gaze on her even now, though she knows if she looked he would be pretend otherwise. The sun is quite low in the sky and it is past time for supper but… she’s not ready to go in yet. She can’t have the conversation she knows awaits her there. Not again.
Penny sighs at the thought, a melodramatic sound she immediately regrets, not the least because it gives the sleeping woman beside her to stir.
“Oh,” Elyse murmurs as she struggles into an upright position, palm pressed against her eye. “Did I fall asleep?”
“Yep,” Penny replies, trying to sound unconcerned, but she guesses she probably failed from the piercing look Elyse gives her.
Fortunately, the woman doesn’t make it an issue. Instead, she stretches, groaning with each movement. “Sorry, I just can’t help it,” she says, though the dreamy smile on her lips belies a lack of remorse that Penny can’t begrudge her. “This weather is just perfect for an afternoon nap. It’s my favorite time of year, autumn. The season of knowing, you know?”
Penny snaps to attention, as if Elyse’s soft words had instead been a thunderclap. How could she —? “I know that,” she says with deliberate emphasis. “How do you know that?”
Elyse makes that face she sometimes does when she’s trying to reach through through the thick blanket of fog around her memories. Papa once said that he thinks she does it on purpose, that she’s faking it, and, in this moment, Penny wonders for the first time if he might be right. At last Elyse concedes, “I don’t know,” then, “doesn’t everyone know that?”
A bitterness no child has a right to steals its way into Penny’s heart, overshadowing any suspicion she harbors there. “No,” she says, looking away, “not anymore.”
But Elyse won’t leave the matter lie, not this time. “Is that why you want to join the priesthood? To remind everyone?”
In spite of Penny’s darkened mood, it’s honestly refreshing how genuinely curious the question sounds. Not like Papa, who always tries to appear supportive, but can never quite mask the disappointment in his voice when he asks.
“Our traditions are important,” Penny replies, plucking an overlong blade of grass and twisting it between her fingers. “We shouldn’t abandon them just because it’s more convenient to not believe where they came from. If everyone forgets… then we might never get them back.”
Elyse makes a placating sound, but she doesn’t seem entirely convinced by that argument, and, to be fair, she’s right not to, at least partially.
In truth, Penny doesn’t know why she wants to take her vows, only that it has been her dream since the very first time Astrea took her to the temple. She still remembers it vividly. It was the same month Papa left and she was eight. Before that day, the the temple had always felt spooky. The strange smells and eerie chanting emanating from within was enough to keep most the village brats away, and Penny was no exception. But, once she’d crossed the threshold, her hand gripping Astrea’s for dear life, she realized that her fears we quite unfounded. The temple wasn’t scary. It was warm. It was welcoming. It was home.
The congregation was in double digits, but barely, and mostly comprised of villagers so old Penny thought they must have shared a birthday with the earth itself. There was one younger man, barely a man at all by years, who later joined Papa’s footsteps to join that horrible stranger’s private war in the world below. Unlike Papa, he never came back. Slowly, year by year, the membership dwindled, death and disinterest culprits of equal measure.
Astrea was always convinced they’d return eventually. One way or another, she said, they would need the gods again and they’d be back on bended knee, begging forgiveness and succor. But no one ever found their faith again. Now, only High Priest Rassalas, Astrea, and Penny herself are all that remain of the old ways.
Why then? Why cling to a dying creed? Why hold onto something so fervently that more often brought strife than comfort? Why choose, at the tender age of 13, to give one’s whole life over to gods that might not even exist?
Penny doesn’t know. Perhaps she never will.