art by Tais Teng
A Song Never Tasted
by Barbara A. Barnett
Akorsa lurked beyond the reach of the firelight, where darkness swallowed the bold pounding of the villagers' drums. Like the drunken young men who gorged themselves on hunks of meat torn from the harvest festival's spitted lamb, Akorsa watched the unwed women dancing around the bonfire, searching for one who would satisfy the hunger throbbing inside her. But the women passed in a blur, blond hair flaming into red, tanned skin fading to pale, curved hips thinning until svelte--all the same to Akorsa. After a thousand years of roaming the earth, she had tasted every kind of song these women had to offer.
A lifetime ago, villagers like these would have welcomed her to their celebration and extolled her name: Akorsa, immortal oracle to Inamis, goddess of the moon and femininity. Akorsa would have shared the songs of Inamis and filled the people with new knowledge, and they in turn would have offered Akorsa her fill of food and drink and shelter for the night. But in those days of old, the people grew greedy for more than they should know, and the oracles began demanding exorbitant recompense for such songs.
Akorsa's stomach cramped--a sharp, painful reminder of the price they had all paid for bartering with the knowledge of the gods. She had never shared the greed of her fellow oracles, but she had also been too weak and fearful to condemn them openly; and so she now suffered as they did, cursed to feed on the songs of the human soul, afflicted with an appetite in accordance with the goddess she had served.
Akorsa stretched her face toward the moonlight to ease her pain, then returned her ravenous gaze to the young women dancing around the fire. No food could sate her now but the moonlight and the songs of the women Inamis had once protected.
The festival drums silenced, then began anew. While the village matrons stoked the fire and banged the drums, men crowded closer to the undulating dancers, who spun with arms raised, beaded hips swaying, feet kicking up clouds of dirt. The eager among the dancers smiled at the men they hoped to claim as husbands; the shy kept their gazes lowered, their cheeks as red as the flames. But whatever their outward manner, the same music enveloped their souls--a song of hope, of the desire to be chosen and loved, and the accompanying strains of dread that one would instead be forever alone.
Akorsa knew the tune all too well. Like every song, it had once brought a pleasure that made her guilt bearable, a taste so rich that, for a moment, she could forget she had taken a life in order to feed. But over the centuries, the true nature of the gods' curse had become clear: without the divine songs the oracles had once shared, humanity's music grew stale, and the oracles' hunger grew worse.
With a chastising bark, one of the village matrons steered a girl into the crowd of dancers. Around her hips, the girl wore the red beads of one who had reached her sixteenth year, and her skirt, rumpled yet flowing, threatened to tangle between her feet. She danced with her head held high, thin braids of sand-colored hair trailing down her back as she gazed toward the full moon. The other young women regarded her with whispers and giggles and pointed fingers until one among them finally cried, "Hirneen dances to the music of the devils she hears!"
No man will choose her, Akorsa thought. Hirneen moved to a beat other than the one the matrons pounded--a slower beat, as ancient as Akorsa, yet new to her ears. It pulsed from within the depths of Hirneen's soul, and Akorsa's body throbbed in time with it. Here was a song she had never tasted, one that promised new flavors, melodies and rhythms that would make every song before it taste like dust.