In the early evening, the dugout arrived at the outskirts of Agysst. Directed by AtthYs Aegir navigated the dugout into a small channel branching off the southern arm of the Bredd-ström and to a dock surrounded by comfortable looking houses. "That's my aunt's house." AtthYs announced proudly, "She doesn't know of my visit, but I guess it will be alright because of you four far–travelled strangers! She is sweet but like all rich women she is kind of vain and likes nothing more than to outdo her neighbours." Then he grinned, "Hosting strangers from another part of the world, oh gosh, that's more than she expected in her wildest dreams! In no time she will proudly spread the news about your arrival all over the town."
Agysst was the biggest accumulation of houses ever seen by our voyagers before. Aegir, the red-head from the north, was the most-travelled, not counting Buri's journey as a toddler on his fathers back. But the places Aegir had visited so far were flyspecks compared to this city on the coast of the Black Sea. The city stretched along the beach from the mouth of the southern branch of the Bredd-ström in the north to the city to a swampy salt marsh at the foothills of the coastal mountain-range far in the south.
The commercial harbour of Agysst was at the mouth of the Bredd-ström, but of greater importance for the festivities in honour of the Great Mother was the Holy Pier. This landing was set aside for the debarking of the Great Mother. It was about midway between the commercial harbour and the salt marsh. The pier was also the origin of the main street connecting the pier with the high rising sanctuary at the western end of the city in the Temple Town. This long street divided the town in two. The avenue crossed the neighbourhoods with its low houses along narrow alleys, touched the town square with its shady arcades and then went on to the Temple Town.
The most important section of the town square, the Agora, was the raised stage where the city council met for meetings and which was used for selling of prisoners and captives into slavery. During the festivity in honour of the Great Mother, this stage was converted into the Great Mother's throne. All around the square were merchants' and artisans' shops. The balconied houses also contained guesthouses and taverns. Temple Town itself was an independent town, with a high wall separating the towering sanctuary and the low living quarters of the priests from the rest of the town.
In the dead of this special night, the place by the Holy Pier was illuminated by a half-circle of glowing torches while the landing stage reaching into the inhospitable Black Sea was not illuminated. The torchbearers were white-haired sibylline women on the wrong side of their mid-years. Their task was to keep away the citizen and pilgrims from the welcome ceremony at the pier.
AtthYs's aunt was really something special and the evening meal she prepared with the help of their daughters couldn't be beaten! Full and drowsy the four travellers were hardly able to answer the volley of questions from AtthYs's aunt and her daughters. When Laong fell asleep at the table she ordered "Now its time to catch a cap full of sleep, boys. Tomorrow you have to get up early. Remember, first you take a bath in the river for purgation and then put on your best clothes. It's the most important day of the year! Aaaand" she emphasized and to show the importance of the words to follow, "This will be a great day for our family, one of the greatest days!"
Then she turned to AtthYs, "Haven't you missed Maya, your cousin, my oldest daughter! Tomorrow she will be one of the girls honouring the Great Mother with her dance! She and her friends have practised the dances over and over again!"
Now AtthYs's uncle chipped in, "For weeks and weeks now she was making the whole family nervous with her preparations!" and AtthYs's cousin Kiro added, "She was a pain in the neck and was no help around the house! I hope she will find a husband with the help of the Great Mother and follow him to the end of the world!"
"You stupid boy!" his mother scolded him, "It's an honour for the whole family that the priests have chosen her as one of the Daughters of Agdistis!"
They hardly had taken a cap full of sleep in the small back room of the house, when AtthYs's woke them up, "Hurry up, hurry up!" he hissed, "If you want to watch the arrival of the Great Mother into Agysst, you have to come along!" when Laong moaned, "Hush Laong, you are making enough noise to wake the dead, I mean Aunty. Get on your legs. It's time!"
With the help of AtthYs' young cousin, Kiro they found the way down to the Holy Pier without breaking a leg in the darkness. The six youngsters were not the only ones trying to get a glimpse of the arrival of the Great Mother. All the young men of the town and of the counties around seemed to have gathered at the beach. They all had to stay away from the half-circle of torches around the pier and as soon a cheeky boy came too close to the prohibited area one of the old hags shooed him back into the dark.
When AtthYs with his guests and Kiro arrived at the Holy Pier the younger priests and novices had gathered at the foot of the landing while the venerable Galli were waiting in the dark at its far end for the Great Mother's boat to materialize out of the dark. When the boat had tied up the most venerable priest lifted the sedan chair out of the boat and then the sedan with the veiled Great Mother was carried ashore out of the darkness into the circle of light.
As soon the procession carrying the sedan chair with the veiled Great Mother entered the avenue the young men were allowed to follow at a due distance. The procession moved utterly quietly along the main street from the Holy Pier to the Temple Town. The gate of the sacred district closed behind the last of the priests and blocked the curious youths.
"Where are the girls, the dancing girls, the Daughters of the Great Mother?" Buri asked AtthYs "Don't they take part in the welcoming ceremony?"
"No! You will see them tomorrow! For more than a week they have been confined behind the insurmountable walls. They have been locked away in the Temple Town. Nobody knows what they are doing there. Men are not supposed to know."
"Mother told me under a vow of secrecy, that they are taught all the virtues of a woman!" Kiro whispered to Aegir, "But she wouldn't tell me which! My sister Maya is among them and soon I will get a brother in law! The Great Mother will choose the groom for my sister. I hope she picks the right one!"
"Tomorrow you can lay eyes on the most beautiful flowers in the world! Their mere sight will make your heartbeat rise and you will fall in love with every single Daughter of Agdistis!" AtthYs told the sun seekers, then, however, AtthYs added like in trance, "Only the Great Mother is more beautiful than her daughters! Her beauty surpasses all imagination!"
"Don't lose your head, my friend! Do you want to end up as a bloodless body washed ashore?" Buri grumbled.
"So, what?!?" AtthYs asserted stamping his foot like a stubborn, brainless five-year-old boy! "I, I want to be the chosen one, the one and only chosen by the Great Mother to be her man! I want to become immortal!"
I would like to express my special thanks to my friend Anthony for improving my writing.
Comments, reviews, questions, and complaints are welcomed. Please send them to Ruwen Rouhs
Last, but not least I would like to add thanks for reading.