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Ezra's Prophecy

Deborah Walker lives in London with her partner, Chris, and her two lovely, yet distracting, young children. Find her stories in Nature's Futures, Cosmos and Enchanted Conversation.
Light filtered through the rush screen covering the mouth of the cave. Ezra shrugged out of her worn, woollen blanket. She praised the gods that it was a warm morning; her stiffening joints had caused her much hardship over the past white months.
She walked over to a ledge in the cave and touched a leather bound book. She ran her hand over the gilded sigils. Her sister had given her this book. Such a great expense. Ezra had begged her sister to return it, to try to get her money back.
“You’ll need it, when the gods speak to you,” said Shavon.
“I don’t seek the gods’ prophecy. I only want to serve them.” Ezra said, trying to push the book back into Shavon’s hands.
But her sister had laughed. “Take it. Take it. If the words find you, you will need a suitable book.”
Shavon was dead now. She died six months ago when the lich raiders came to the village.
Ezra walked to the lip of her cave, pushed back the rush screen, and surveyed the valley bellow. It was a bright, yellow month morning. The mountain flowers were budding, with a freshness that escaped them during the hot purple months. It was a wonderful morning, praise the gods. Even the goats, which on closer inspection would prove to be stained and ragged creatures, looked like dots of white curd against the green vine leaf grass.
Ezra strained her eyes against the dazzle of the yellow time sun. She was expecting a visitor. She looked forward to these weekly visits. It was a time for her to practice her conversation skills. She squinted until she saw a figure leaving the group of a half dozen huts which made up the village. The village was a remote place, nestled in the folds of this isolated valley. Who would have thought that such a small village would draw the attention of the raiders?
She watched a young girl walk up the steep pathway, picking her way through the dangerous track with the assurance of a valley born child.
Ezra waited impatiently. She could see that it was not Danelly, her expected visitor. This child had brown hair and she swung her arms with an energy that Danelly had never possessed.
Eventually the stranger reached her.
“Hello and welcome. I’m Ezra.”
“I know.” The girl’s voice was sullen. She was performing an unwanted duty.
“What do you have for me today?” asked Ezra, pointing to the leather bag slung over the girl’s chest.
“Goat’s cheese, bread, dried fruit. The same things that Danelly always brought you.”
“And you wanted to bring them to me today?”
“Danelly made me do it. She wants to talk to Gordon. She says she has better things to do than. . .”
“Than visit an old hermit?”
The girl looked at her feet. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude to you.”
“That’s okay, I am an old hermit. But I would greatly like to hear about Gordon. Somehow, Danelly forgot to mention him to me.” Ezra winked at the girl. “I wonder why? Perhaps she thinks I’m too holy to think about boys.”
The girl laughed, “She’s so silly. All she ever talks about is Gordon, nowadays. She says that I’ve got to come up here every week.”
“Well, that’s your choice. But, I shall very much enjoy it if you do. Now, my dear, what’s your name?”
“Meera.”
Meera stayed with Ezra for an hour. They talked about village life, paying special attention to Danelly and her foolish obsession with boys. It turned out that it was not just Gordon that Danelly was interested in.
Meera was smiling when she left, and Ezra believed that she would see her again next week. A new link, then, with the village below. Over years Ezra had met many girls from the village. Meera would visit once a week to bring her food. Ezra would enjoy her company for a few years until other concerns impacted upon Meera’s young life. It’s usually boys, thought Ezra, but there was once a girl who left to make the long pilgrimage to the Temple of the Prophet. Ezra thought about Alest and the intense conversations they had shared. She wondered if Alest had passed the Temple initiations. She wondered if Alest was sitting in isolation, even now, preparing for the day’s devotions.
Ezra sorted through the supplies that had been sent to her. With the vegetables from her garden she would eat well for another week. She placed the food on a high shelf in her cave that acted as her larder, and then she returned to the worship of the gods.
Ezra began to sing the morning prayers, as she had been taught so many years ago in the distant Temple. Her old voice threaded through the mountain air like a reed over still water. Ezra’s devotions merged with the sounds of the yellow time birds.
After morning prayers, Ezra tended her garden. She was irritated to see the return of the brightly striped paper beetles on the leaves of her beets. She thought she had removed them all last week. She pinched the beetles off the leaves, crushing them between her fingers. She felt guilty as she did so. Hermits were not supposed to take life, even a life as small and persistent as the paper beetle. Hermits’ minds were supposed to be clean, empty vessels waiting to be filled.
Afternoons were dedicated to the recitation of prophecy texts, ancient words that had been spoken to hermits throughout the ages, the holy texts that told of conflicts past or to come. In this way the words of the gods were kept alive. Women all over the land were doing as Ezra did now. She was breathing life into the prophecies. The words of the gods would never be forgotten.
In the evening she would sing psalms to the gods and thank them for their blessings. It was a simple life.
Ezra recounted the Prophecy of Mirabelle. A goat bleated outside the cave, but Ezra didn’t hear it. She was transported by the power of Mirabelle’s words. This prophecy had always been a favourite of Ezra’s.
When she reached the obscure verses recounting the Long River Wars, Ezra’s hand began to tremble. She faltered over Mirabelle’s words. These were words which she had recounted a thousand times and were as known to Ezra as every inch of this cave. Time, which had always been an unremarkable thing to her, seemed to warp and stretch. Memories of Ezra’s life hit her mind like spinning arrows. Even the solidity of the cave began to change and warp. Prophecy had entered the mind of Ezra.
For years she had attuned her mind to the slow ponderous thoughts of the gods. Not with any expectation of reward, but simply to honour them, those who were so much greater than she, those who have planted the seeds of worship in her mind. She had lived here, in this cold cave, at the charity of the villagers. At times she thought she might go mad with the relentless silence. She had striven to still her insistent humanity and to become a vehicle of adoration. In humility, she had served the gods and the gods rewarded Ezra with the touch of their unknowable minds.
She fell to the floor as images pounded into her brain. Again, and again, and again. She rolled on the floor like a beast. The touch of the gods was a harsh burden for a woman to bear.
After a time Ezra rose from the floor. The gods still inhabited her but they had found their place in her small human intelligence. They were filling her mind with holy visions. The shape of the future was unveiled to Ezra. Visions of what will be rode along with the poetry of prophecy. Such wonderful words, resonant, imbued with meaning and with ambiguity. Such terrible visions imbued with reality.
Ezra reached for the book her sister gave her. She reached for a stick of charcoal. Ezra was compelled to transcribe the words of the visions into the stanzas of prophecy. There was no choice. She was a vehicle of their undeniable wills.
Ezra enters the mind of a queen. There is the joy of the mother here and the expectation of new life. But after the birth the black beetles crowd the bedside. The child is destined to steal a great weapon from the lich people. The black robed priestesses push their expectations onto the child. They crush their fate upon her. In their hands they hold a gilded book.
Ezra writes the prophecy.
Ezra enters the mind of a lich priest. He is different from Ezra. He worships other gods and is fashioned into their alternate image. Ezra trembles as the priest seeks to read meaning into her prophecies. What twisting of the words might occur under his alien interpretations? Yet, his mind surprises Ezra with its familiarity. Distinct he may be, but his mind is full of family, honour, the love of his strange gods.
Ezra writes the prophecy.
Ezra enters the mind of a commander. She has sought time away from her soldiers and stands alone in a field. The commander holds an inscribed sword and slashes at the sky. She seeks to cut the air, to carve the blood-red, sharded sky that, like her enemies, always surrounds her. She wants to cut herself on the metal of the sky. She is broken.
Ezra writes the prophecy.
Ezra enters the mind of a lich raider. He hears the cries of the honoured fallen, a rush of noise. It is too much for any man to hear. There is blood in his eyes. He thinks that they bleed with the sights he has seen. The sights, the sounds, the stench of war, have impressed themselves upon his mind. He is overwhelmed. A mind that was a mundane clay tablet is impressed with the strange cuneiforms of honour. In his last moments he prays to his gods that the red harvest will be good, that it will be enough to last his mother through the coming white months.
Ezra writes the prophecy.
She coursed through a hundred future minds, reading their emotions, understanding how their lives would contribute to the tapestry of the gods’ intent.
At last she was finished and the gods departed. She still heard their words; she will hear them echo forever.
She held the book in hands, the book that might become the Prophecies of Ezra. Her words would ring through the time and initiate yet another cycle of the wars between the lich people and her own. She should have felt honoured that her life had been rewarded thus.
Yet . . . .
Yet . . . .
Ezra looked at the low burning fire in her cave and then she cast the prophecy onto the still smouldering embers. The paper caught and fire bred in the words of the gods.
Let them burn.
Like the world will burn
Let the words of the gods’ burn.
Ezra touched the burnt fragments of paper. She wanted to make sure that no words remained.
Then she stepped out of the cave and breathed in the clean mountain air. She walked down the path. She would wash her hands in the ice-cold steam that runs along the foot of the valley.
Ezra did not doubt that the gods would seek out another prophet. They liked their games. They loved their mysteries and their machinations.
In time the world would flame into war, but Ezra would have no part of it.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, September 7th, 2010


"Ezra's Prophecy" started life as a poem, but I wanted to expand Ezra's story. I'm still blown away by Ezra's moral courage. I love the fact that she repudiates the gods and walks away from everything that she has built her life upon.

- Debs Walker

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