Atukir looked up at the dark clouds that swallowed the twinkling stars. She closed her eyes and raised her arms in a gesture of prayer. The first drop of heaven dropped on her lip and diluted the red into a salmon pink, another drop then chased the pink down to her long neck and yet another followed the drops as they got lost somewhere among the 67 ivory beads, strung in strands of hair that hugged her neck. Each bead a memoribilia she earned for saving the life of a fellow. Some while battling beasts, others nurtured by the milk of her breasts. That, in fact is how the great queen came to be known as Atukir. Atu- The God of life and Ukir- meaning milk. As a child Atukir sat by her fathers and deligently learnt to create tools. She was trained by her mothers to smell water from miles away. But it wasn’t until Atukir came to age that she chose to demonstrate herself to the fellows. It was when she birthed not one, not two but three fellows all at once that the tribe, for the first time came to know of her powers. And since then, she was accepted to be the Queen of the land and a nurturing mother to all her fellows.
It was many many moons ago that the tribe had last witnessed a single drop of heaven or had a meal. The land they dwelled on had turned warm and eventually cracked. The seeds they sowed were put to rest even before they could bear stems or leaves. The trees had sunken and then crumbled to the earth. Mother Atukir had first deviced a plan to leave behind the lifeless land and walk far and wide. “A handful of you will March to the side of the rising sun. A handful in the side of the setting sun. The rest of you, I shall lead, towards the smell of the water. ” She had announced after the 30th food-less moon had passed. The fellows were to meet again at their place of origin after exactly 15moons.
When the mother queen returned at the dawn of the 15th moon, it was only her reduced battalion there. The handfuls of fellows were nowhere in sight. The wooden pegs that were laid by the fellows still stood firm in the earth, forming a straight line joing the side of the rising sun to the side of the setting sun. “It is just us. They won’t return. ” Atukir whispered. Mother’s battalion too had lost fellows by the day. They were now a tribe of a few with 3 new fellows who were born in those 15moons. “Oh mother Atukir, we have travelled far and wide and yet hungry. Has the rain God fallen asleep? ” A fellow female asked her. Atukir touched her own abdomen and silenced the growl that echoed in the empty space around them.
“Mother queen, has the Lord been angered by our deeds? Have we wronged him or angered you perhaps? ” Another fellow spoke. “Dear queen, forgive our deeds and have mercy. ” Said the third. Atukir rose to her feet and stumbled. She felt her powers drain at her feet. Her eyes scanned the stars above and a lump formed in her throat. “The Lord demands a sacrifice.” Atukir spoke, raising her hands up to the heavens. “My fathers, tell me at once what it is that will end our hunger and bring us a sumptuous?” She shut her eyes. A tear formed at the corner of her eye and dried before it rolled down.
She fell to the floor leaving behind a loud noise that shook the babies awake. When she awoke, the fellows sat by her side grieving. “The Lord wishes the blood of two infants. ” She spoke even before she rose to face them. “This moon will mark the day of the sacrifice. I will watch over their graves, ensuring their souls reach the Lord. While I stay guard, I will vow to save my fellows as they rest.” She said. Her lips trembled as she gently stroked the bald heads of the crying babies. The other mothers screamed in mourning that was silenced at once by Atukir’s widened eyes.
All prepartions were made. The tools were sharp enough to split into two a single strand of hair. The babies were covered in glorious beast skins. Ivory beads were stuffed into their noses to make sure that the soul didn’t escape prematurely. Then when Atukir held the babies at her breast, a fellow stood by her side and thrust the tool into the necks of the babies. Little drops of red splashed in the air and settled on Atukir’s chest and face.
The burial was an elaborate ritual. The bravery of the babies was rewarded with a claw nail and more ivory. When the fellows’ eyelids dropped, Atukir commanded them to rest and leave her alone with the souls. She chanted to the rain God prayers that fellows knew little about. Her growling stomach synchronized with her murmering.
When the sun rose the next day. The souls had risen to the heaven. Atukir sat beside the empty graves, her lips and stomach silenced. The earth was wet and the air smelled of life again. When the fellows woke up, they saw that the rain God had finally looked their way and showed the mercy they deserved. A fellow ran to Mother Atukir and fell at her feet. Another fellow dropped to his knees and thrust a string of fresh beads in her palm.