“It is Father’s Day, Taryn, the twenty-first you have seen. Therefore, you must come forth and take your place in the chamber. This is an honour bestowed on only the very few. It is the moment for which you have been prepared your entire life –”
Taryn crumpled the letter and tossed it into the hearth. The flames seized it hungrily, turning the parchment bright orange and then black as it was devoured. If only that were an end to it, thought Taryn. If only things were that simple.
A knock at the door startled him. It was Vestus, the priest. “Are you decent, boy?” the old man cooed from outside.
Fuck off, Taryn cursed under his breath, along with several other indecent thoughts.
“The hour is upon us.” Vestus pushed the door open.
“Hoi!” Taryn protested. “I’m getting dressed!”
Vestus kept his milky eyes averted, a smile bending the wrinkles of his cheeks.
“To think that one of mine, one of my own, should be chosen! It is a miraculous thing!”
Huh, thought Taryn, pulling the white robe over his head. This is what being a good student gets you. This is what knuckling down brings. This is where bettering yourself gets you. Bloody ‘chosen’.
Vestus risked a glance. “You look – radiant, my boy!” The eyes began to water. “People are going to remember you for all time. The radiant one, they will call you. The golden boy.”
“Father Vestus…” Taryn sat on the bed. “What if – what if I don’t feel like it? What if I don’t want to go? What if –”
The old priest’s knotted claw seized Taryn’s hand. “You are bound to be nervous, my boy. It’s perfectly natural. But once you have drunk of the sacred elixir, all that will vanish. All doubt will evaporate like the morning dew – which reminds me: we have to get a move on. We cannot keep the elders waiting.”
He shuffled to the door but before he could reach it, Taryn flung himself at the hunched back and brought the priest to the floor. Taryn clasped his hands around the old man’s bony neck and squeezed the life from him.
Minutes later, in Vestus’s hooded garb, Taryn shuffled out of the hut and through the streets. The crowds were gathering for the annual sacrifice to the Father. It was all Taryn could do not to run. He kept his head down and his pace slow and made his way to the city gates. They were unguarded – everyone and his dog was heading for the temple.
Taryn slipped out and took his first breath of freedom. It would not be long before the alarum was raised. Someone would find the old man’s body when they came to investigate the delay.
Taryn quickened his step. Over the mountains lay another city, another life.
And the first thing he would do upon arrival would be to inquire what were the local customs when it came to Father’s Day.