TEN: CULT OF BOVINITY
THE KNIFE FELT RIGHT in the bald man’s hand. It was part of him now, an extension of himself formed in twelve inches of cold steel. He found serenity as he knelt, naked and wet from the shower, caressing the blade, running his fingers over every surface, exploring each nook and cranny, stroking it in the way a parent would their newborn child.
The power of the thing seemed to vibrate from somewhere deep within and so he clutched it tighter. He bent, brushing his lips across the steel with a gentle touch, and for one brief moment, felt freedom. A sigh escaped him and he allowed himself a small smile.
He took out a whetstone and sharpened the knife for the third time that morning. He ran the blade along the stone’s surface, losing himself in the repetition. After a time he tested the blade on his thumb. He drew blood with the smallest touch. It was perfect.
He ran his bloodied thumb along this freshly shaven scalp, knowing that the runes tattooed there on his head were glowing. He could feel heat from the power of the runes as they fed upon that which flowed through his veins. His life giving life to the magic.
The runes were everywhere but the bald man’s face, the palms of his hands, and the pads of his feet. The process had been agonizing, but the magic he controlled now made it all worth the pain. But it wasn’t enough. One could always gain more power. The knife would help the bald man do just that.
He spoke aloud the arcane words of spell-work as he wrapped the blade in a clean, white, lint-free cloth, taking more care then he would with his very life. Droplets of water rolled lazily from his body as he chanted. The runes burned and shown with an inner light.
The wrapping completed, he took up the bundle in his hands, cradling it, and fantasized about what was to come. It would be his first time killing another. Would it be like the animals he’d sacrificed on the altar of power? Would there be as much blood? How would it look to see the life fade from a fellow human’s eyes? The excitement was almost too much.
An image formed in the bald man’s mind. The face of his sacrifice. He could imagine the look of confusion, the fear, the pain that would roll across the woman’s features as he ran the blade along her throat. The moment played over and over in his mind and his excitement grew to giddiness. The emotions were coming quickly, feelings that were like strangers to him. He found it all a bit overwhelming and for a moment, he began to cry.
It was like an emotional reboot and he gave himself over to it, sliding from the chair to lie on the floor with his knees hugged tight to his chest. He rolled back and forth as the tears fell. Time had no substance as he wept there on the floor, but as the cries passed and the tears ceased to fall, he found that his body was no longer wet from the shower. How long had he been on the floor? A quick check of the clock showed that it was nearly time. He’d have to hurry.
He rose and strode into the bedroom where he slid into his ceremonial robes, the color of blood. It wasn’t easy, this simple task, as he found he still clutched the cloth-wrapped knife in his hand. Another smile found its way onto his face as he placed the knife on the small table next to the bed.
A new emotion suddenly fell over him. It was the deep sorrow that comes from loss. But he had suffered no loss. Was it the knife? It was within reach. Surely the loss of the knife from his hand was not the cause of this pain he felt. The object in question drew his eyes and he looked upon the thing with longing. Something in him wanted to snatch the knife up, to tear it from its cloth bundle, to hold it close, let the steel touch his skin, swim in the tactile sensation the blade would bring to him. But he left the knife where it was.
The sadness quickly turned to anger as he thought about what he had been about to do. It was just an object, a tool, a means to an end. The knife was not something he could allow himself to get attached to. For an instant he wanted to fling it away, to throw it from him and show the thing that he owned it, not the other way around. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Instead, he slid it into a pocket. Out of sight but still weighing heavily on his mind as he lifted the hood over his head and left his quarters.
He entered the arena to the sound of chanting. Hundreds of voices becoming as one, their deep intonation causing the hair on his arms to stand on end as the words drew power from the very stone around them. He stood there, just inside the entryway, pausing to bathe in the feeling, the raw electricity that crackled throughout the room. Then, head bowed, he stepped forward.
His stride was slow, but purposeful, and soon he found himself standing before the altar. He pulled the hood back, revealing his bald, tattooed head.
The chanting stopped. His eyes took in the assemblage of monks in their brown robes. Never before had he seen so many in attendance. These were truly great times.
“Brothers,” he said. The runes glowed as he spoke, his voice heard by each ear as if he stood next to them. “Soon it will be our time.”
“AHHHH!” The monks responded in monotone unison.
“We have selected our sacrifice. Soon we shall have her, then our reign will begin.”
“We have been found worthy by the Bull God and we will show our devotion in blood.”
“And then, my brothers, then, we will have the power we have desired. The power we deserve. The power to rule!”
“It is our time, brothers. We have waited long enough. In less than forty-eight hours we will step forth from the shadows and the world will tremble.”
A roar erupted from below them. A bellow that shook the walls.
The arena dropped into silence and the monks looked to each other in concern.
“Minos calls out his approval, brothers!” The bald man shouted, throwing his left fist into the air.
The monks cheered. He couldn’t have asked for a better sign.
He led the monks in prayers, speaking the words of their religion in low deep voices that resonated throughout the arena. They praised their god and sang their devotion. Less than an hour later the prayers ended with each of the monks drawing their own blades across their palms, letting the blood spill out onto the floor beneath them in sacrifice to Minos.
“And now, brothers, I must finalize the arrangements for tomorrow night,” said the bald man. But before he could turn to leave, a voice spoke out from the crowd.
“What about Norman Oklahoma?”
“Who?” said the bald man.
One of the monks stepped forward.
“Norman Oklahoma, Great One,” the monk said. “He is a man who has a history of interfering in the doings of those such as us.”
“Is he a wizard?”
“No, Great One.”
“Is he a god?”
“No, Great One. He is a man.”
The bald man laughed. The assemblage laughed with him. The lone monk looked down in shame.
“He is no wizard, you say. He is just a man, you say. Then, like all others who have stood in our way, this Norman Oklahoma, should he bend an eye upon us, will die.”
With that the monks shouted and cheered. The cacophony followed the bald man from the arena. It was then that he realized that his right hand had been in the pocket of his robes the entire time, his fingers wrapped around the hilt of the knife.