The Bull by
Live Until You Die Remix by northern
When you get the message, the young boy awed at speaking with a priest of Mitras and stumbling a bit over the words, all you can do is slide your fingers over your embroidered insignia, over and over again until they're numb, while you mumble your acceptance to his "thank you, Father." You watch the boy back away, bowing, until he hits the flap and lets in some of the dazzling daylight. You stare at the dust motes swirling by the door opening until the thin cloth hangs undisturbed again and no light is visible to show where the dust keeps on swirling, an eternal dance of up and down and round and round. Then a heavy feeling rolls over you, starting to crush you from the chest outwards.
It's strange the way you know something is going to happen, and still you pretend it won't. You pretend that you will go on living, happily ever after, and you will die of old age, in your bed, not too long after each other.
You turn, because you have to keep on moving. You move, and you walk toward the inner sanctum, to the small courtyard off your private room, and you step outside into the heat, blinking against the sun and the crumbling of your insides.
He's there, of course he's there, sitting in the small rock garden, face turned against the sun and eyes closed. The familiar lines of his body pain you. The shining white of his loin cloth against his golden skin nearly blinds you.
The drought must end, and the Bull God must die for it to happen. He must bless your land and give it life with his seed and his blood.
You call him by his name, and you walk out into the sun to him, because there is nothing else. He greets you with a smile and starts to talk about the tomato plants in the acolyte garden and an idea he has to give them more shelter from the sun, but his smile fades and his words stop after a moment. You do not care about the tomato plants. His face grows still, his eyes wide.
That night, your lovemaking is desperate, the weight of tomorrow between you like some impregnable second skin. You try to break through, again and again, because this is the last time, ever, but all that happens is that your bodies build tension and then release it. There is no way to recapture the joy of last year, or even of last night. Your bed, the wider one you made two years ago for the both of you, smells sharply of acrid sweat.
Finally you lie motionless, because you can't think of anything to say. You wind up crying, silently, while he pretends to sleep.
At dawn you rise, feeling empty. The knowledge of later has already made everything meaningless, except for the pain of it all, going on and on towards the end that is coming. The moments flow by like pulsing blood, taking with it your memories.
This is the last time you will see him wash his feet. He moves like an old man lifting his leg onto the rim of the stone basin, and even though it's just the two of you alone in the temple, he doesn't speak, doesn't smile. The emptiness inside you twists as he finishes his ablutions. He takes several deep breaths and you watch him use the calming and centering exercise you taught him, years ago. His features smooth out and as he turns toward you, you realize you aren't breathing. This is the last time he will look into your eyes.
The last times pile up and pronounce themselves like a holy chant inside you, blending together in your mind with the holy chants you speak out loud, the consecrating, the prayers, the Most Holy Words, again and again. You speak them as much for your own sake as for his, to ground you both in what must be done.
He is already disappearing, you realize, like he has been since his arrival to the temple, proven to be born at the holiest time, on the holiest day. He was very young then, but already golden, so very perfect. He had made you smile, and made you feel, and nothing had been more important than to be near him. Only you among the temple servants had ever pretended he wasn't disappearing, that his brightly burning self would stay here forever, safe with you. You would cry, if your tears had not been shed already.
You were always the one meant to do the last preparations, so you do them, giving him the concoctions that will make him docile at first, then starved for lovemaking. But it won't be lovemaking, the things he will be expected to do. It will all be holy, all to bring the rains back, every time he thrusts into a woman, or a woman sits astride him to coax some of his seed from him, to perhaps make a child of the God, a lucky child. There are many women in the square outside the temple. You hear them already, their excited, hungry voices in prayer or laughter, as you brush the gold dust over his naked body, painstakingly precise in honor of the rite. He stands there, looking straight ahead, withdrawn from the world and you, but most of all from you.
In a few more moments - they're running now, flowing, like sand through your fingers—you will let him go. You will turn him loose to the crowd outside, and when they are done with him, you will don your mask and follow him through the streets, pull him through the streets if he's too exhausted to move, until you reach the first of the great fields.
In the field, underneath the burning sun, you will kill him with your spear.
With hands that should be shaking, but aren't, you hold the jar of sooted fat steady as you dip your finger into it. Before you, you see the unblemished forehead of a young man who was yours, as you were his. You lift your hand and paint the sign of the bull with your finger, stark black against his golden skin, and then, you see the Bull God standing before you. He is great and terrible, divine power. You say the prayer, and you guide Him to the temple entrance with light but reverent touches to His arms and back.