Authors: J.H. Hayes
J. H. Hayes
Copyright © 2015 by J. H. Hayes
Cover art by Kerem Beyit
Photography by Anne Hutton Photography
In 1994 Professor Klaus Schmidt of the German Archeaology Institute first surveyed a shallow hill in south-eastern Turkey and noticed something of consequence where previous experts had not. Ancient T-shaped pillars were soon uncovered, yielding one of the greatest historical discoveries of the modern age. It was readily apparent that stone age hunter gatherers had come together to build monumental structures, even before they’d built the first cities. This discovery turned the archaeological community on its head. Gobekli Tepe showed that religion came before civilization, perhaps even preceding the beginnings of agriculture. Recalling that moment later, Prof. Schmidt said he knew he had a choice. He could either turn away or spend the rest of his life in that exquisite place. Luckily he stayed and a new world was unearthed. It is a world of unceasing questions, of unrelenting mystery. Prof. Schmidt dedicated his life to unraveling the riddles Gobekli Tepe presented. This novel simply would not exist without his decision or without the years of painstaking, meticulous work he and his team of world-class archaeologists have made. Sadly, on July 20, 2014 the good professor was lost to this world. Rest in peace, professor. Your achievements have inspired us all. May your next world be filled with new mysteries to explore.
I’d like to thank my sister, Karen, who not only was one of my first and most dedicated beta readers, but whose expertise in the marketing and promotion of this project was invaluable. Without her generosity I simply would have been lost. I’d also like to thank my parents and the rest of my beta readers. Your insights and critique are so appreciated.
Lastly, I must thank my wife for her extraordinary patience and encouragement. I cannot repay her blind faith in this project or her sacrifice of too many weekend mornings.
Beneath the cover of a dense cedar curtain, two boys knelt on fertile ground, waiting, spears gripped within their tight fists. For one of the young men, patience was beginning to fray. The other though, was less troubled. His eyes had been fixed on their target for several endless moments, a female perched atop a low lying branch. He wondered what she was watching, captivated as she flitted from one wide branch to another, silently, almost effortlessly. In that brief, quiet moment, he realized he'd never known they could be so... so
. He also realized he hadn't had much use for that word before now. But it seemed to fit. Sneaking through the few holes in the surrounding canopy, the same late-spring radiance that warmed the well-tanned skin on his back, reflected off the vibrant blue and red feathers atop her head, drawing his gaze from her frame, up her slender neck, to her intelligent eyes.
They really are exceptional
, he thought to himself. Everyone said they were a bewitching species, but he found this one especially beautiful. His father had told him he'd eventually share his interest in them, but Dogahn only now realized his father had been right. His father had also told him he'd need to study them diligently if he ever wanted to catch one. Right now, he was enjoying doing just that.
Up in the majestic cedar, the female's eyes darted back and forth between the object of her attention, the next branch and the two juvenile hunters down on the ground. She knew they were there, crouching, hidden, their eyes following her. But she also knew she could ignore them. For now, anyway. As long as they stayed where they were. But for how long would they remain still? They were impatient beings. Unpredictable. As if realizing her mind was wandering, she cast her eyes back up the gently sloping hill, to what really interested her.
The first, eager boy, Tiriz, looked down to the dirt, at the spear lying uselessly within his white-knuckled grip. How long would they have to wait? Like most boys his age, he disliked waiting. He didn't hike all the way out here just to sit and watch. He wanted to put his spear through something. Finally deciding he'd restrained himself long enough, he shifted his weight, gently pushing off the ground with his fist.
Dogahn's hand caught his friend's wrist, holding it tightly, pulling Tiriz back close to the ground. Tiriz shot him an annoyed look. Dogahn shook his head.
"Dogahn, what are we waiting for?" Tiriz whispered.
Dogahn shrugged his broad shoulders. He was well muscled for his age and wore his dark hair slightly lower than his shorter friend. He kept a deerskin cord wrapped around his head to prevent the wind from blowing his long locks into his face. "Just wait..." he instructed.
Frustrated, Tiriz looked back and then up. Even through the foliage he could tell the sun was near its zenith, a few of its harsh rays beating down on his browned face. Despite the shade, it was hot. He didn't want to stay there forever, crouching in the heat. They had to get to it. How were they going to catch any gazelle sitting around here? Finally deciding to take matters upon himself, he shook Dogahn's hand off and sprang up, ripping through the brush.
"Tiriz, wait!" Dogahn called after him. "You'll-"
He didn't bother finishing the warning, resigning himself instead, knowing there was no stopping his friend now.
Tiriz charged ahead fearlessly and planted underneath the tree the female was perched in before commencing his assault.
"Azaria! What are you doing!?" he hissed.
The pretty young woman ignored her friend on the ground, and instead continued peering through the shade of the cedar and oak forest trees, squinting to make out the scene unfolding on top of the massive limestone structure ahead. She turned her gaze upward and between two thick outgrowths saw a flock of vultures circling high above. Below the carrion birds, a ringed mountain range spread out in both directions across the horizon, meeting again far, far behind her.
"Azaria!!" Tiriz called again.
"Shhh!! Hold on, Tiriz!" she hissed back, just loud enough for the boys below to hear. Dogahn had just joined his friend beneath her.
She returned her focus to the Great Temple, noticing the Ta'araki had gathered on top of the wooden platform that encircled two towering central slabs. Most of them appeared to be taking predetermined positions, while two of the figures approached the central planks that lay across the two main stones. Azaria could see something lying on top of the high altar, but didn’t understand what she saw.
"Azaria! You're looking the wrong way! The gazelles are that way..." Tiriz whined, pointing opposite to the direction the girl was looking. When she didn't bother to acknowledge him, he pleaded again to his best friend, "Dogahn, what’s she doing?"
Azaria dropped silently out of the tree, nearly landing on top of the irritated Tiriz, almost knocking him over in surprise.
"Shhhh!!" she screeched at him, with her index finger to her lips. Before running off to the northwest, she briefly turned back and whispered. "The Ta’araki are at the Temple. I want to see what they're doing." She disappeared through the trees, keeping low and out of sight.
"Azaria, where are you going? Who cares about the Temple?" Tiriz called before turning back to Dogahn. "Where's she going?"
"I don't know. But we'll never find out here," Dogahn answered, grinning widely before sprinting after her.
"Dogahn! Those gazelles are going to get away! Dogahn!!" Tiriz called again. But it was too late, his friends were either out of earshot or not listening.
I knew we shouldn't have brought her
, he said to himself before reluctantly following.
Azaria ran quietly past the great trunks, heading west of the Temple. She wanted to be downwind of whoever was there, to avoid detection. When she reached another cedar closer to the Temple, she scrambled up its sturdy, low branches.
Dogahn reached her first. "Azaria," he whispered. "What do you see? Who's at the Temple?" He too shared the other boy's desire to continue their hunt, but was also curious about whatever it was his other best friend had discovered. The Great Temple was forbidden to unaccompanied children, and therefore had always served as an undeniable mystery for the more adventurous among them.
"It's the Ta'araki," Azaria answered, referring to the mystical elders who led her people. "Dogahn! It looks like someone's lying on the altar."
"What? Who?" Dogahn asked. Her claim was implausible. No one had died recently. Why would there be a person on the altar?
"I don't know... He's not Natu. It looks like he's wearing Kebar dress," she answered, speaking of the hostile neighboring peoples to the west. "Fahim is standing above him," Azaria added. She suddenly emitted an audible gasp and instinctively brought her hand to her mouth. "Dogahn!! I just saw him move... I think he's still alive..."
As she described the scene, Tiriz came crashing through the underbrush, obviously not caring who heard him. "Azaria, what the-" he started before catching himself, having heard most of Azaria's explanation as he arrived. "Wait. Fahim is standing above who? Who's alive? Wait... What?"
"SHHHH!!" the other two shushed him in unison.
"Get down!" Azaria spat out the command.
With urgent dread, she realized the Ta'araki co-leader, Fahim, had stopped what she was doing and was staring right at her. The old woman was known for her exceptionally keen hearing, but less so for her sight. The Ta'araki surrounding the altar saw their leader abruptly cock her head, and turned in the same direction.
As they did, Azaria froze, terrified she'd been seen. The punishment for spying on the Ta'araki would be horrific. They'd probably... Actually, she didn't know what they'd do. She'd never heard of anyone caught spying on them before.
Azaria watched as the frail old woman brought her leathery hand to her brow to block the blinding rays. After a few tense moments however, she seemed to lose interest and returned back to her task. Fortunately for the three young teens, the glare from the blazing, golden orb above them had obscured the view.
"That was close," Azaria whispered as the elderly Ta'araki was turning her attention back to the altar. "Tiriz, be quiet!" As she rebuked her friend she receded back into the cover of the great tree's branches.
"Okay, but what's going on?" Tiriz whispered back, fully aware of just how close they'd come to being caught, and not relishing the idea of being punished for a stupid girl's crimes.
"I don't know. It looks like the Kebar is tied down," Azaria answered. She squinted, trying to afford a better view. "Fahim has something in her hand. I can't make it out."
"Let me get up there. I want to see," Tiriz said, rising to climb the tree Azaria was perched in.
"Tiriz, no," Dogahn said, grabbing his leather tunic and pulling him back down. "Just watch from here. You're going to get us in trouble."
"What? Me?" he protested. "We shouldn't even be here. Azaria is the one who wanted to see."
Azaria hushed them both. Fahim was mouthing something and gesturing upward with her hands. Azaria strained to make out the signals, but didn't recognize them completely. What she did understand didn't make any sense.
After what seemed like an eternity of strange signals and unintelligible grunts, Fahim placed her hand on the throat of the man lying on the altar, and with a ceremonial blade, slashed it in a quick, clean stroke. The rest of the Ta'araki began chanting, beckoning with their arms to the heavens, inviting the hungry avians above them to come down. Dark, crimson liquid gushed out the man's neck and began to pool around his head and torso.
"Hhhuuuh!" Azaria inhaled silently, cupping her hand over her mouth. She turned her head away in horror. Dogahn and Tiriz saw just enough to realize what had happened, including the blood pouring from the sides of the altar. The three young teens watched paralyzed, sickened and terrified as the Ta'araki continued their dance. Finally, Fahim stepped back and another elderly Ta'araki, her mate and co-leader Takur, took the knife and finished the job she'd begun, completely removing the foreign man's head from his body.
Azaria was so appalled by the scene she didn't notice the wind had reversed. Atop the platform another of the Ta'araki, a large middle-aged man, caught the scent first. "Someone is here," he roared, jumping down. He landed with a gracefulness unusual for his imposing stature. Standing half a head taller than most men, his shoulders were broad and his chest thick and dense with heavy muscles developed from as many suns spent hunting and wrestling as performing his Ta'araki duties. Powerful legs carried his massive frame quickly to his prey. He ran west toward the shifting wind, pulling a spear from its quiver on his back and setting it in his thrower. Several of the younger Ta'araki were right behind him, their spears-throwers in hand as well.
Azaria finally picked up on the wind's shift after hearing the man's yell and dropped immediately out of the tree. "Let's go!" she commanded under her breath before charging back into the thick of cedars. Her stunned friends needed no urging and slashed through the grove close on her heels.
Azerban arrived on the scene just as the three young encroachers disappeared completely into the wood. His heart dropped when he recognized the dress of the young woman. He knew her scent as well. He slowed, not wanting to catch them, knowing he wouldn't be able to anyway.
"Azerban, did you see them? Who were they?" asked Umar, a Ta'araki of one of the neighboring camps, from just behind.
"They were too fast, I couldn't identify them," Azerban lied.
"But did you see who they were? Were they Natu? Or Kebar? Or someone else?" the other man asked again, more urgently.
Azerban hesitated, not sure how to answer. If he said they were Natu, he was sure Fahim would have the Ta'araki questioning the entire camp until they eventually pressured out the perpetrators. On the other hand, if he claimed he saw Kebar, the repercussions could be even more severe. Paranoia would spread like wildfire if it was believed their rivals had witnessed the sacrifice. He considered claiming it was youngsters from one of their neighboring bands, but the idea soured in his gut as he contemplated it. He'd be asked for details. The questions would continue until he was spinning a web so large it would likely collapse under its own weight. "I didn't see them," he repeated, continuing his original deceit instead. "They were gone too quickly." By the look on his face, he wasn't sure Umar was convinced. He was grateful the Swan Camp man didn't further press him on the matter.
When they returned to the Great Temple Fahim interrogated him again, and the others who had chased after the interlopers.
"I saw three figures through the trees, but I didn't see who they were," said Izyl, an attractive female Ta'araki of another of the neighboring camps, under direct questioning. Her hair was an unusual shade of reddish brown, which along with her tall and shapely figure, made her very popular among the men of her camp. She had broken the tie with her mate several winters back after catching him with another woman. Since then she chose to stay untied, pursuing casual relationships with many men and ending them prematurely when she felt overwhelmed. She had notoriously left a trail of desolate hearts in her wake.
Fahim stared at her penetratingly, expecting more. "Azerban had the best look at them," Izyl added, hoping to divert away that piercing gaze, forgetting to use her elder's proper title in her haste.