Out there, in the wastelands, lie the remains of the cities the gods built. At least, according to the legends, the gods built them. The old ones, at night around our fires, tell us the stories their old ones told them when they were young. These are the stories of the gods who lived here long before us. They built great cities that reached up to the sky. They became immortal and could fly through the air and run faster than the fastest deer. They could speak, and appear, to each other across vast distances. Not only that, the old gods could wreak terrible destruction on each other and the poor mortals who trembled beneath them.
These are stories, of course. Some of them might be true.
Occasionally, we discover, one way or another, various incomprehensible objects, withered or rusted with age. We take them to the old ones for explanation, and they – almost invariably – tell us that the object we have found was something the gods made, back in their age.
These are stories too.
We have no way of telling if the old ones are speaking the truth. I have looked into the eyes of Antone as he held one of these rusted objects in his hands. He turned it over and over as if expecting to see some way into the mysteries it contained. It was too ancient to make any sense of, a rusty blob of metal, nothing more. But, Antone proclaimed it to be the work of the gods.
Drella, sitting next to me, grinned and reached out to touch my arm, her fingers hesitating just above my skin.
Antone watched her until she withdrew her hand and placed it back in her lap. He stared at Drella, I could see what he was thinking, her warm body shone in the sunlight and we both, Antone and me, could feel the young heat from it. I smiled because Drella had been promised to me and now I’d found an artefact from the old gods.
Eventually, Antone spoke. ‘The old gods have given a sign that they bless your union.’ Antone stood and showed the rusted lump to the rest of the tribe. They cheered.
Drella took my hand, as custom allowed. Antone turned to us, holding out the rusty object towards us on the palms of his hands.
‘You shall go together.’ he said to us, using the ritual words. ‘You will go to the wastelands and take this offering the old gods have entrusted to you to show us all they have faith in you and your union.’
We held out our hands to receive it together.
Antone placed the thing in our hands. ‘Take it and go… as man and wife. Return the holy relic to the wasteland and the old gods…. Then, when you return, you will be blessed and ready to begin married life together for the rest of your days.
The tribe cheered as I muttered ‘if we return,’ under my breath.
Drella was beaming at me. We kissed as the ritual dictated and then set off together, the object in my pack, to see if those old stories really were true.