I was happy that Ti had withered away within the last moon death, because there were now only eight elders in the village of the gatherers. But eight was more than enough. I was already bruised and sore as never before when Ai, the great chief, had taken his staff out of me that first time, having spilled the first of the seedings of the night before I was to die for the village. I did not care. Let the pain and the filling come, I thought. The danger for all of the people was near at hand. An offering to appease the mountain was needed. Once chosen, I did not care what happened to me on the night before the appeasement.

It was an honorable death. And death was ever present here on the more fertile side of the island, in the very lee of the thunder mountain. If scarce harvest did not take us, it was either the body weakening and sufferings, or it was the meat people from the other end of the island - constantly attacking us and taking, taking, taking. They were much larger and more robust than we were; we were like the sand before their crashing waves.

Ai was withdrawing and Ga had moved into his place. Ga looked almost sad. He had favored me for many moon dyings. I had found him enthralling and, as he favored me with extra food he had gathered and the murmurings of his longings and wishes, I had begun to mold to his desires. Now, as he gently turned me on my back and raised my hips with folded palm-leaf matting, he whispered to me of his regret and sorrow. Regret that he had not taken me sooner, because if he had, that would have made me unfit to be selected for the appeasement offering. Sorrow that now this would be our only coupling, because on the morrow, I and the seeding of the strength of the village would go into the burning mouth of the thunder mountain.

Ga came in between my legs, and I arched back and cried out as he entered me. Ga was younger, more virile, and both thicker and longer of staff than the elderly, withering Ai, and for the first time my channel walls were being stretched to the limit and tested for their flexibility. I, also out of regret of what now would never be with Ga, held him inside me and stretched out the taking for as long as possible before his seed joined and mingled with that of Ai deep inside me. It was with a sigh and a groan that he gave up his essence inside me, and it was with a sob of loss that he withdrew his staff and turned from me, not being able to see what my eyes had to tell him.

The mean and vindictive Fre was next. He had wanted me when Ga was showing me favor, but there was nothing about him that I had found endurable. He wanted to own and turn everything to his pleasure, and he was not at all picky about what he would do to own it. Until Ga invited me to gather with him, once I had reached my season, I had to hide from Fre during the gathering. I had heard the stories of young men who did not elude him during the gatherings, most barely into their season, and how he had trapped and ruined them.

Now he was doing all he could to ruin me. I was bent over on my belly on the palm-leaf matting, and he was thrusting into me from the rear. Long, hard, rough thrustings. And he had fisted the hair on my head in one hand and was cruelly arching my torso back to him. And he was slapping me on my sitter cheeks hard as he rode me. The other elders were muttering and telling him to be more gentle, and I was pleading with him to slow and give me more time to take him. But he just laughed and continued on. He spilled his seed, but did not declare it, as ceremony required him to do. He wanted to enjoy me longer, so he kept on thrusting even as his staff was growing smaller inside me.

He could not fool the thunder mountain, though. The mountain knew he had seeded already, and the mountain showed its displeasure at his breach of ceremony. The ground underneath us began to move and groan, and the thunder mountain began to rumble its complaint that ceremony wasn't being followed. There were flashes of daylight outside the open doorway to the hut, as the mountain attempted to move the ceremony straight into the next sun birth - before all of the preparations had been made and all of the requirements meant. The wailing in the village at the verge of the beach conveyed the fear of the community of gatherers. They had been sad when I had been chosen, but this was our lot since the dawn of time. We merely served at the pleasure of the gods of the underworld, and we were privileged to live at their entrance at the top of the thunder mountain. It was a melancholy honor to be the sacrifice for my people. I could hardly bear to withstand their fear and wailing at thunder mountains display of its displeasure.

For me, this anger from the mountain meant the elders had to shorten my ordeal, and they clutched at Fre. Knowing of his guilt, knowing that he could not fool the thunder mountain as he fooled his fellow elders, Fre pulled away in fear, and the next of the elders quickly took his place and built up and spilled his seed as fast as he could.

The mountain quieted then, and the elders returned to a more decorous, leisurely fulfilling of their ceremonial duties - filling me with their seed throughout the night so that their authority and strength would go into the maw of the mountain with me and thus placate the gods of the underworld.

An hour before dawn, I was awakened, with an elder still crouched between my legs and mingling seed with seed as an offering to the gods. And I was guided, my knees almost unable to bear me out of the hut and toward the surf, now angry as well, coming hard upon the beach and crashing up in big fountains of spray. The sea felt the rumbling of the ground underneath our feet and joined in the angry demand that we atone - for what, we knew not. Had Fre done something else unspeakable before we became aware that the thunder mountain was demanding an offering to bring balance back into our world? I could only regret that Fre was not eligible to be sacrificed, although I was sure that the mountain would not accept him even if he had been untouched and pure before the ceremony began. I'm sure it would have just spit him back out.

I was dragged, more than guided, out to the beach, where the sand stopped and the sea grasses and the base of the palm trees started. There was a large crossing of two palm trees there that were bent together and lashed to form an X. There I was lashed as well, arms and legs spread wide, the meeting of the palms in the small of my back, open and naked to the sea.

My first duty was to try to calm the sea as I hung there open to it, awaiting the dawn of the sun cycle. If the sea calmed, I would be spared for another sun cycle to discern whether thunder mountain calmed as well. If it did, I would be free and we would be saved. If the sea didn't calm - and it never had before when a ceremony was required as long as any of the villagers still with memory could recollect - I would be carried to the top of thunder mountain and thrown into the burning maw of the mouth of the gods with the hope that this would be the gatherers' deliverance.

I hung there in what I knew were to be my last hours, welcoming the rebirth of the sun, hoping for it, as all of the villagers did as well. Sometimes, legend told us, the sun had not been reborn on the sun cycle of the thunder mountain celebration - the sky had remained as black as the sun death cycle. On these occasions, custom required that all of the unseasoned boy children in addition to the newly seasoned offering were to be given to the thunder mountain.

We had lost too many of our boy children this season cycle already - to a wasting away and to a raid from the meat eaters from the dark forest that separated our two peoples on the island.

But as hoped for, at the moment expected, a glint of reddish-yellow light appeared across the horizon out into the sea, and a cheer of relief and joy went up from the gatherers assembled between where I was hung and the village. The sun was being reborn. And gloriously so. The reds and yellows and oranges and purples as the sliver became a line and then a widening band, were heartening to all. Only I would need to be given to the gods. And, as afflicted and sore and bruised as I was, I rejoiced with all of my people.

The sun rose from the water to greet us and to promise life and sustenance, and the people continued their rejoicing.

My rejoicing abated, however, and slowly dawned into a new fear, a new concern of imbalance and danger. I waited as long as I could, willing myself not to see what I was growing to know was a reality.

When I could contain myself no longer, I bellowed out a warning, sending my clarion call above the cheering and rejoicing of the gatherers. 'Warrior canoes! The meat eaters! Coming out of the sun in abundance. Run, run for your lives.'

It took several moments for the gatherers all to hear me, but no one here was too old not to know what the war canoes of the meat eaters boiling out of the sun in the morning meant.

Shortly I was alone, tied to the crossed palms. A lone offering now to the wrath of the meat eaters, as my people melted into the forest beyond the village.

What had we done so wrong as to bring this upon ourselves, I wondered, as I strained against my bonds, trying to break loose and escape. Thunder mountain was adding its displeasure; it had resumed its rumbling, and the ground was moving in waves again - and the waves were crashing more heavily on the beach, sending curtains of foam into the a sky that was darkening. The sun was dimming, perhaps having decided to leave us to our fate.

And then they appeared, as of ghosts, through the curtain of sea spray. Big, bulky men, heavy of muscle, tall of stature, larger and more robust than any of the gatherers. Naked and their staffs thick and long, swaying heavily between their legs as they strode out of the spray. Their eggs bigger than bird's eggs and hanging low. I moaned at the thought of the stories I'd heard of youths who had been captured by them and had escaped back to the gatherers - but not until after they had been sorely used and stretched and split by the meat-eater monsters.

They were all carrying clubs, ready to raid our stores after a good harvest. Striding in front was a particularly large and muscle-bulging warrior, painted for conquest, and obviously the leader of the raiding party.

He strode up close to me, blocking the light from the saving sun, as I writhed on the crossed palms, still trying to free myself. A nearly equally gigantic meat eater moved to stand beside him. The leader waved for the other raiders to continue on into the village, in search of grain and conquest.

The leader of the band laughed at my feeble attempt to escape. He backhanded me once across the mouth, which sent my head snapping to one side. And, as I was trying to bring my vision back into focus, he leaned down, and cut away the bonds at my ankles, grabbed the backs of my thighs in his big, strong hands, and lifted and spread my legs.

I screamed to the gods of thunder mountain for relief and release as he crouched under my raised hips and thrust his splitting staff up into my already beleaguered channel. All I wanted to do at that moment was to die, and the staff of the leader of the raiders was so long and thick and was being thrust so hard inside me that I thought I was soon to have my deliverance.

But the dark period of taking and the flooding of my insides with the seed fluid of the village elders gave me enough protection to stave off death, although it also denied me the relief of unconsciousness. I found that even when the other meat eater who had stopped before me with the band's leader moved to behind me, grabbed my hips with his big, calloused hands, and set his staff to working inside me in countermotion to his leader, I still could not drift away from this ordeal.

All I could think was that I would not reach the fiery mouth of the gods alive, and even if that were possible, I now was defiled, because the leader of the meat eaters was already jerking and grunting and flowing his accursed seed inside me. As he did so, his hand left my thigh and he grabbed up his club, and I knew my time had come.

But just as he was about to strike and the second man was pumping his seed deep inside me, the rumbling of the thunder mountain turned into true thunder, and the sky blackened. And then it was replaced by brilliant light. And from out of the sun, straight down from out of what was now revealed to be the risen sun, came balls of fire. Hitting the ground and hissing. Hitting the thatched roofs of the village huts and setting them afire. Setting the very palm leaves over our heads afire.

Pandemonium suddenly reigned among the raider band of the meat eaters, and they were running back out of the village, almost entirely empty-handed, and dashing for the canoes through the stormy surf. My assaulters were among the first to reach the canoes and to start paddling them hard back out to sea.

Almost as soon as the mountain's anger had started, it ceased. Totally. Although the balls of fire still hissed in the sand, they were quickly turning from bright red and yellow to a grayish black. The earth no longer was moving; the mountain no longer was rumbling. The sea had calmed. The raiders, however, could not see this. They were far down the island coast and out to sea now, racing back to their own people. Not looking back at what would now be seen as a formidable defense of the gatherers against raids.

It was all becoming quite clear to me now. The thunder mountain wasn't angry with the gatherers. The thunder mountain was pleased with us. So pleased that it wanted to protect us from the meat eaters. We were blessed.

As the villagers returned, tentatively, led by the eight elders, I was testifying in loud voice to how the mountain had saved us and prophesying that it would protect us from raids from the meat eaters as long as their warriors could speak of the events of this sun cycle.

Ai approached me, perplexed, and Fre immediately started nay saying me, saying that I was only trying to escape the ceremony. But Ga interceded, declaring in commanding, reasoned tones that all that I had said had come to pass had, indeed, come to pass. He challenged Fre to pick up and hold one of the mysterious, still smoking stones that had appeared in profusion on our beach if he spoke the truth. Or to explain what limited amount they had all seen and heard while they were hiding in the forest. The sky had darkened. The sea had been angry when they ran away and was calm now. The mountain no longer was speaking to them in its anger; the earth was not trembling its ire beneath our feet.

Fre leaned down to take up a hissing stone, but as he drew near, a grimace set on his face and he snatched his hand up and turned and walked quickly into the now-smoldering village.

If I was lying, Ga went on, pulling the attention of all from the retreating Fre, what explained this calm that had fallen on them without the completion of the ceremony? No, Ga, proclaimed, the gods had accepted me as an offering as I was. I had given the prophesy of long relief from the raiding meat eaters - who everyone here had seen with their own eyes - but who now had disappeared. I therefore was a true prophet of the gods of the underworld, fit to sit with elders.

All were silent, and then Ga became bolder. He took the knife accorded to him by his position in the village, and carefully freed me from the tree. All the time he was speaking in commanding tones to all who were gathered about. As the presumed elder who was to replace Ai when his time with the gods came, Ga said, he had much to learn from their new prophet. We would draw rations for three days and withdraw to the sacred ledge half way up to the mouth of thunder mountain, and he would commune with me.

Ga and I ultimately found the perfect position for communing, with him sitting on a moss-covered stone and me sitting in his lap, facing the great sea below and using the heels of my feet on the ground as leverage to rise and lower my now well-opened channel on his powerful staff as he stroked my staff with one hand and pinched my nipples with the long, elegant fingers of the other.



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