The rooms are nothing more than small monk’s cells in the priests’ quarters. There’s a single mattress with white sheets and a folded blanket. Tomas shows us the shared bathroom and the dining hall and that’s it for the grand tour.
I end up sitting in the dining hall nursing a cup of herbal tea because I’m too wired up to sleep. Adam joins me after a while.
“Messing up your plans. I know how much the sacrifice means to you… and I—”
I silence him with the wave of my hand. “It’s not important.”
“But it is to you.”
“Magda never believed I’d find it anyway.” Thinking about Magda makes me remember Tunku Nawal and the others waiting in the inn. “We need to tell the others—”
“The priests have sent someone.”
“You get used to it.”
We sit silently, ignoring the unspoken words between us. I want to ask him how he’s feeling, but judging by the turmoil that I feel, I don’t think it’s something he’ll talk about. Finally, I can’t stand it anymore and excuse myself. I head back to my room and lie down, even if I can’t fall asleep.
It’s about two hours later when Adam and I are summoned into Holy Father Farouk’s office again. He leads us into the great hall, where we stop in front of the stained glass panels I had been inspecting yesterday.
My surprise must have shown on my face, because the high priest chuckles a little and says, “Yes, this is indeed a depiction of the six rituals.”
“Is there no depiction of the Berith Melach itself then?” I ask.
He gestures at the stained glass window that overshadows everything in this hall. “The Berith Melach is the Blood Sacrifice. It is one and the same.”
I imagine Adam on the altar in place of the bull and I shudder.
“One step at a time, child. One step.”
He names each step. The first three are the Purifications. Body, mind, soul. Cleansing, Chanting, Confessing. The next three are the Devotions. They’re meant to test the actions of the Sacrifice, to see if he’s pure, if he’s ready. Prepared. The Maze, the Puzzle, the Task. And then the Sacrifice.
“How do I fit?” I ask. “How am I allowed to help?”
“The Purifications will be performed separately for each of you. You may sit out the Purifications, if you wish, but it is recommended that you go through them as well to prepare yourself for the Devotions. I cannot tell you the details of the Devotions at this moment, but you may decide how you wish to tackle them. You may decide to work together on them, or you may decide that each will take a task simultaneously. If you will allow me a suggestion, I would merely say that a shared weight is easier to bear.”
Together then. We’ll do this together.
“Tomorrow we will commence at seven in the morning. I have spoken to your friends. You are allowed to join them for dinner at the Heaven’s Gates Inn tonight. However, do return early to prepare yourselves. It will be a long, hard day tomorrow and the week to follow.”
Dinner at the inn, although delicious, is somewhat subdued. Tunku Nawal whines half-heartedly about Suci and how boring it is. Hawa keeps asking if I’m sure I want to do this, as if the more she asks the higher chance there is that I’ll change my mind. Fikri wanders off early, mumbling some excuse about seeing to the camels. Abdullah is staunchly silent. It feels like a funeral meal. I don’t know why they bothered, but the gesture is kind all the same.
When I say goodbye that night, I feel as if I too may not survive this week alive.
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