The temple priest stood atop a high ridge. Deep blue water flowed down a ravine behind him and poured into the dark of the caves that cut sharply into the crust of the earth. Water, the lifeblood of the valley, flowed through the caves in a cool current, pushing and pulling with the throb of a beating heart.
Spring was coming. Along the shores of the ravine, between sprigs of sharp green grass, little white flowers were opening, their tiny bright faces glowing with radiance in the sunlight. The temple priest stretched out his long, thin arms and reached up, up, ever upward toward the sky. Holding his hands aloft he called out the incantations of his people, the prayers that had guarded the village since before his father’s fathers had donned the cowl and performed the rites themselves.
The sun moved across the sky, arcing over the valley from one peak to the other. “The words don’t matter, you know,” his father had told him many years ago when he was still a young man and not yet burdened with the wisdom and the well-meaning folly of age. “All that matters is that you speak them. You could say anything. They don’t know, they couldn’t know. They trust in you—not in you as a man, my boy—but in your position. If the priest, whoever he may be, speaks the words the people are comforted. It doesn’t matter—it has never mattered—whether the words have any power or not.”
The temple priest smiled. The psychology of a simple people was a powerful thing if cultivated. That was his true task, he knew now, as he had not known then. To cultivate the minds of the people, to sow the seeds of peace, and to harvest the crop of kindliness. We are not so different, he thought as he looked out at the flowing stream and the small flowers and the scattered grasses, from you other growing things. We are a simple people. It was a good thought.
Red light splashed on the white flowers. The sun was setting. The temple priest lowered his arms and they were sore. He had held them over his head for hours. It wasn’t the action itself that mattered, it was that he did it. He knelt slowly to the ground, lowering his head until his lips touched the dirt. A colony of bats burst out from the caves, the blue water flowing beneath their spastic, twitching shapes.
The priest rose from the ground. Night had fallen around him. The chirping of the bats sang over the gentle hum of the river. He bent down and picked one of the small, white flowers then turned back to the village. The rites have been performed, he thought. We will have a good year.