We did not know why it happened.
It felt like any other time. The years rolled on much as they always had, and – we assumed – always would. The young were born, they got older, and if disease or other misfortune did not tear them from us, they married, had children of their own and then the gods called them back to the Old World.
Or, at least we thought they did.
Now we know.
Now we know that the stories told about the gods, the stories passed down by the elders from generation to generation were not true.
There are no gods.
Even if there were gods before, which many now doubt, we know there are no gods now.
Mendra came back.
She had died for us as the Laws told us she should. The gods should have taken her. She was to be our gift to them. Thanks for all the wondrous bounty of this world, which – though it can be cruel at times – keeps us and gives us all we need for a good life.
Every year, one is Chosen, marked out by the altar as we pass our hands through it on the day of the Calling Home.
Everyone from all the five tribes comes back to the Cave of the True Garden for the Day of the Calling Home. Even if, these days with the tribes ever growing, the actual day takes several days for us all to pass through the Cave of the True Garden and allow the altar to bless us.
Mendra this year was the Chosen One. She came out of the Cave with the blue mark of the Calling on her wrist, holding it up for everyone there in the valley that day (the second day of the three) to see the mark.
There were tears in her eyes. Tears of sadness because she was leaving us, tears of joy (we hoped) for she was going beyond the sky to the home of the gods
By the time of the next Two Moons, Mendra was ready. She wore the Robes of Passing and had said all her goodbyes, especially to Hengril, her once betrothed. He had begged, pleaded, both with Mendra and the wise women, but to no avail. He had tried scrubbing at the mark on her wrist until her skin was raw and red, but the mark never comes off – or so we thought.
When her time came, the tribes gathered again in the valley. The wise women and the tribal elders took their accustomed places in the cave by the altar.
The procession led Mendra into the cave, leaving her to stand in front of the altar. Even from where I sat at the rear of the elders, I could see her shivering in the thin robes.
The blue light came down, bright and blinding. We in the rows of watchers covered our eyes until the hum of the thousand bees stopped.
The thin robes lay pooled on the floor of the cave as always.
Then the light came again as it had never done before.
We all had to turn our eyes away.
Then, when the light had gone, and the buzzing stopped, Mendra stood there naked on her fallen robes, staring around at us all, uncomprehending horror in her eyes.
‘There was no-one there,’ she said, falling to her knees and crying.
Then I saw the blue mark on her wrist had gone.