Night of Dauthus
by Steven Craig
Deep in the dark corner of the wood stick and grass hut was a crying woman. Wrists bound, a rope of vine and garlic about her throat, head held in check by her sisters. The door to the hut was open wide, facing where the waning gibbous moon was soon to rise in the night hours.
She looked up from her bound wrists and out that door, as the shadows approached and bent over to look in. Breathing hard, she knew she was now only an object. One that the tribe was in desperate need to be disposed of.
The waiting shadows motioned, and her sisters tugged roughly at the leash, pulling her out the door. There, naked in the cool evening air, she stood for a moment and looked down the parallel ranks of her family, her friends, her neighbors, her tribe. She would be dragged, pulled, forced to pass between them, as they stared at her, silently. Here and there, in the darkness, a baby cried, a dog scratched at its ears. Beyond that, it was in total silence she moved between the glaring faces. Cold and stoic they were, as the object that she was now, taken to that place. The casting to Dauthus.
She heard her feet, wearing still her shell cased slippers, sliding along the rough ground, in the dust her feet passed for the last time this path, taken slowly so all might see her as she is not, not a part of the tribe but an outcast. Simplely an object to gain the greatest profit for.
The Dauthus waited for her. A tall, stout post firmly planted in the ground, lit just by the growing fires to both sides. She was taken there by her sisters, and pulled to the post and turned to face away for it. They lashed her there, too tight, the anger in their reason was too evident. Her wrists, waist and ankles felt the vine wrap about them, the garlic laced leash was wrapped bout the post and her neck holding her there.
The object knew the reasons. Long a necessity, a tribe existed because of the children it raised to adulthood, to hunt, to gather, to fish, to protect, to build. Without the children, there would be no tribe.
The object, she was 30 years and a month olde this night. She had no children. She had made no contribution to the tribes future, but was only a weight, a draw, a hopeless burden on her tribe and its thin resources. It was a brutal but vital law, that those that do not produce for the tribe, are cast out.
A poor tribe, took back a percentage of what was taken over all the years of no production. To extract from this now object, a payment, to the gods, a sacrifice, a tribute, a plea for a better time for the next generation.
The object was now on the Dauthus, never to leave it alive.
A woman approached the object, and moving up, removed the last thing she wore. The shell cased slippers, and placed them on the ground in front of the Dauthus.
The drums began. The object look around, side to side, into the dark, beneath the darker shadows of the tree branches. The drums were beating. The olde matriarch had moved between the object and the lake shore. Standing there she looked out to the other side of the darkened lake, seeing what, only she knew, Her daughters surrounded her, and lifted up handfuls of dirt for her to gently touch with her hands. These handfuls, of sand and mud, were tossed against the nude body of the object. Smearing her with the ground of her tribe. She looked at her sisters and cried, as they pelted her until the olde woman was satisfied that the ground of the tribe would be cleaned away with the object.
Others had come out of the shadows. Men and women and children of her tribe, and of those of her cousins that lived near about, They stood in quiet ranks and looked at her. Some sat on the round rocks, or on the fallen log. Most stood there. Staring at this parasite that was to be rid of this night,
20 women now were bearing bundles of sticks and marsh grass, and spreading it out carefully about the Dauthus, in a circle, the thick ends toward the center, closest to her body, to burn the longest, burn the hottest. The object watched each one she had known and grown up with, each she had played in the woods or hunted with in the evening, each put their bundle in its place, to await its final calling.
The object, she had not noticed that the chats, that the slow songs had begun, to begin to call the gods to this place, to receive the little morsel of wealth that the tribe offered this night. With the songs, the drums fell into a candance, a rhythm that made the trees listen, and the lakeshore wash more heavily against the loose stones.
The first dance around the Dauthus had begun, young women holding hands, in a great ring, they whirled about the place where their future was tied in balance, in waiting to give her last breath of life for their future success in bearing children. As they circled, as they leaped, hand in hand, each looked into her fire lit face and hoped not to see themselves. Each had the dreams of children on her lips, as they now more gaily, danced in celebration of the objects death.
They did not call her name, It was not for remembrance, but for glory that the object was here.
She watched, and cried, filled with her mortal fears, with eyes wide one moment and closed so tight the next, her face turning away as the matriarch approached once more.
The woodland and the lakeshore was suddenly quiet. There was stillness in all about her. She was breathing hard, the sweat formed beads upon her skin, and her hair began to clump and gather in long bunches, the perspiration drenching her.
The olde woman motioned with that staff again, and from the darkness, they came. All the successful mothers, each with a baby in their arms. Each stood before the object, and held the baby up to see the object, that woman that had eaten their food, taken their shelter, and returned nothing to the tribe. Each mother smiled, and whispered into the babies ear. Each mother took the childs arm in hers, and together, they motioned, waved farewell and riddance to this object. Each one in turn, stood there before the Dauthus, and both smiled, both waved good-bye. With a smile.
The object, she stared at each one in turn, feeling her life ever more meaningless, breathing, but wishing she could just have it end. But ends are not the easy at times to have and to hold. The moon had not yet risen.
Ravens soared over the tribes assembled there, though the trees, and a pair alighted upon the very top of the post. Their bouncing, bowing, bobbing bodies set the touch of the night upon all. The ravens called out, and looked about the camp, eyes yellow with fire, looking at the object now, knowing they would have their calling soon. They were hungry.
The fires out and about her, were being built-up, brighter, higher, more intense, the orange tongues precursors of torment yet to come. The incandescent cinders leaped from the wood and the bark popped, spraying the night with tiny flares that raced to the sky, to suddenly wink out, and fall unseen.
All could see her, as the light grew from the pyres, making her the center call to the gods, to be acknowledged only by her end. It was a curse now for her to be alive, eyes burning with the slow drifting oak smoke. She hung her head and cried, as much to wash the tears as to feel the torment of silent rage about her.
She was aware of the archer, walking toward the object. Tall, the blonde hair holding close to her shoulders, the archer walked forward, eyes fixed on the eyes of this object. She was dressed in deer skins, with dark brown leather boots, stained with the blood of the sources of the nights feasts. She carried only a long bow of yew, and a quiver, strapped to her back, held by a golden belt over her shoulder and across her breasts, to a black belt on her waist. Never did her eyes leave the object, fixing the archers mind, fixing the archers mark, fixing the precise moment, as a hawk about to dive and set talon.
The archer stood there, tall and straight, intent. All about her were silent, slowly moving closer, slowly moving to where they would see this act of calling the gods to this exact spot.
The object looked up, her eyes held in the gaze of the archer. Her breath was shallow, slow, her body limp against the bonds of vine and the harsh post. She knew the ritual. She knew what the tribe demanded. She knew this was the opening call, to the nights purpose, and all that the tribe would need to continue tomorrow.
The olde matriarch stood to one side, and looked at the archer, standing there erect, deadly, and turned to face the object. No word was exchanged, no glance was acknowledged. It was not needed.
The archer, never taking her eyes off the object, reached over her shoulder to the quiver, and pulled forth the single arrow it contained, and set it on the string of the long bow. She held it there, the deadly tip pointed to the ground, feeling the arrow set on the string, feeling it anchor tightly, without splitting, and resting shaft upon the yew. The steel tip glinted in the flash of the fires light, a single star on the end of a shadowy lance.
Just a hint of a smile touched the archers mouth, as she began slowly lifting the bow, lifting it until it was perfectly parallel with her body. Only then did she being to draw back the string, the bow creaking, straining, as she pulled it back, until her wrist touched her cheek.
Eye still fixed on the object, she held it there. Marking, and re-marking in her mind the exact point of her intent.
All this time, the object stared transfixed, unable to move her eyes. Her breath froze in her lungs, helpless to exhale. The archer had her. The ravens watched. All others lowered their heads and quietly wished for the release of this curse from their lives.
The olde matriarch had lifted that staff but an inch, and nearly without making a sound, tapped the ground once.
The bow sang, the arrow was loose, there was no time to even hear the missile fly.
The object felt the arrow bury itself deep into the post before she felt anything else. Then, came the loud clunk, and silence.
No, she was screaming, screaming loudly, endlessly, the stress of it all finally let loose.
The ravens had exploded off the post, but quickly settled on the near tree, and bobbed their heads, to look, to gather the news. Others gathered closer, sensing the coming kill.
Still the archer stood there, eyes on the object.
Waiting. Contained emotions, held check by discipline, she waited.
The little rivulets of blood began to appear on the object. Slowly, they began to stream down her forehead, bright, fresh, scarlet on the objects skin.
The arrow was precise, just creasing the center hairline of the objects head, splitting the skin there, but nothing else.
The tribe began a great shout, The cheers and praise began, as they gathered about the archer. That archer still had her eyes fixed on the object, relentless, giving in to no call, no hug, no kiss of her bow hand. There was only on the archers face, a relaxed smile, a satisfaction, done it was done now, and nothing could unmake it.
The ravens joined in the uproar, calling and clicking, in an excitement of a feast upon well prepared trash that would be all that remains of the Dauthus in the morning, just a few hours from this moment of their joy.
One of the younger women reached down, and looked only briefly at the Dauthus, and quickly picked up the shell cased slippers, and held them up to the archer. A gift, rare and precious, the archer looked at them only briefly, and gathered them into her hands.
The object, pinned beneath the arrow buried in the post, feeling the blood making ever more, ever longer streaks upon her face, felt the pain, and the life and the warmth of it all, and in a moment, became aware of a new and brighter light focused upon her left cheek.
The moon was rising over the brooding lake, a long yellowish white streak of reflection upon the still surface, pointing straight at her, this object, this cast out, this gift to him.
Its finger touched her neck, slowly moving to her shoulder, across her breast, and down, marking each rib, past hips and thigh to her bound ankles. Its cold touch held her, as she looked to it for salvation.
The first ring formed again, and began to dance around her.
The second ring joined, and revolving in the opposite direction, danced the faster.
Quickly, a third ring came to form. The children gathered, and taking hands, tottered, or ran, or crawled, in a loose broken ring as well as they could, mimic their parents. Some held hands, some walked about alone, some in twists, and others in confusion. But they danced, in that circle, and laughed and enjoyed the play of being grown.
The forth circle was the last, as all the others from round and about, walked down, and slowly, walked about the inner dancing circles. They did not sing, or laugh or cry. They looked into the woods for fear, and into the fires for warmth, and in-between, were so grateful it was not them lashed to the dauthus.
The object watched though bloodied eyes, head low, to let the blood drip away. Her blood was thick and it clung to her, a relentless memory of a brief moment in her life, years ago, that had come to nothing. So here she was, to be consumed and wasted one final time.
Still, the dancers frolicked, or played, or walked in silence.
The drums were still beating the nights aires, the flutes had started, and the first fires were moving.
The outer ring held torches in their hands, and had quietly lit them in the bonfires. They were moving into the center, past the children that stopped and looked up at the flames. They moved in past the dancing rings, that opened in gaps to allow their passage. They moved in until they stood at the rim of the piled brush and wood. And stood there.
The archer, had put aside her bow, came though the middle of the torch ranks, and climbed upon the piled wood, to stand in front of the object. She tied a garland of garlic about her bloodied forehead, around and around her head. The archer set it to right, and smiled once more before turning away for the last time, disappearing into the darkness.
The olde woman appeared the one last time, and only pointed at the post and the wood, which set the circle of torch bearers in motion, slowly dropping their personal flames into the bundled wood.
The fire took root, consuming the dried wood in a ring, that slowly moved inwards.
The object took this with a long, endless scream. Here it was. Here was the final, supreme moment. This was the last battle of life against death, sure to loose, unable to escape the destined end, or her final purpose. Though the growing, rising flames, she looked out and saw no hope. Only the cold moon being hidden behind the wall of fire, consuming, raging fire.
She was hot, her skin was boiling, her hair melting, her eyes blinded. She could no longer breathe, choking, gasping, and nothing was to feed the need for air. Her lungs had no voice. She was at that moment of doom, as the darkness and the fire merged into one great and destructive embrace.
She held her last breath as long as she could and exhaled it in a fevered epitaph of lifes rage.
She opened her eyes that last time.
Through the eyes fog, there was a motion above her. A brown paddled ceiling fan was revolving slowly, a slight current of air being pressed toward her.
She lay there in uncertainty. She had to breathe. A sheet, its satin bunched in a roll, was tight across her throat, pinned by her shoulder. Her hands grabbed at it and yanked it free. She was breathing again, fast, deep, panting. Her hands now clawing at the sheets. Soft and smooth, they were not what she expected.
The comforter, piled with unfolded clean clothes she never put away, was tight about her calves and ankles, holding her tight to her bed.
She kicked and kicked again, knocking all of it off her, and onto the floor below. She looked around the room. Save for the ray of sun coming in the window that fell upon her face and down the side of her body, all was as it was when she went to sleep. Slowly, it occurred to her, the night was not even a bad memory.
The ravens were outside again, scavenging the neighbors trash bags for a living. Those people never put a lid on their cans. Like vultures, the crows and raven would greet the Saturday mornings with joy.
She moved to sit on the edge of her bed, feet dangling off the mattress. She was hunched over, still gasping a little extra breath, her heart was still racing. Her hair was soaked, as was her forehead, with the perspiration of the nights emotions.
She slowly pulled her hair aside, up from her cheek, and looked to the floor, to slide her feet into her slippers.
She became aware that the slippers were not where she always put them next to the bed. Looking around for them, she noticed that her bedroom door was open.
She started to get up.
It was then that she noticed.
There was a scent of garlic in the air.
Author's Note: Ever have a night like that?
Posted on 10/20/2007
Copyright © 2020 Steven Craig