In the courtyard, off to the side out of the way, was a small wooden building of obvious age. For as long as Harris could remember, it had always been locked and had gone undisturbed for years. Harris remembered someone telling him that it was used for storing old things no one was quite willing to throw away, though he couldn’t remember anyone ever putting anything in it, and no one ever bothered to clear it out.
Daniella’s mother, however, was never so lax about such things. When she discovered its true contents, she had stopped right there and showed her daughter, who was shaken enough to tell Harris.
Long before he could see what was inside, Harris began to feel uncomfortable. He found he was unable to touch even the doorjamb, but when he looked inside, what he saw turned his blood to ice. It used to be a shrine to the Mother, but layers of dried blood all but obliterated the features of the small statue.
“Blood sacrifices,” whispered Makkovik at his shoulder, “a lot of blood sacrifices.”
There were chicken’s feet tied around the wrists and neck of the statue in a macabre imitation of jewelry; a kid’s head crowned its head, with the tiny hooves draped over its shoulders and the rest of the desiccated skin hanging down its back in a gruesome imitation of a hooded cape. Something once slimy but now old and dried was wrapped around its feet, as if to trip up or shackle the figure in the middle. Other - mostly unidentifiable - things were strewn around in obscene arrangements.
“Are those entrails?” asked the boy of no one in particular.
Harris couldn’t look anymore. He turned and moved several strides away, very close to being sick. “Who has been doing this - for how long - why?” He looked toward the palace, mentally searching his childhood memories for possible answers.
Daniella touched his arm in sympathy. “We can’t leave it like this. What should we do?”
Harris was shaking as if he was very cold. “Destroy it all, smash every stone to rubble unusable for any building and burn every piece of wood. If I can bring myself to touch the statue, I’ll see if I can’t clean it up somehow.”
Daniella nodded. “Are you all right? You’re shaking.”
“I’ll be fine; I’ve just never seen anything like that before. It’s . . . it’s vile.”
Hardening his resolve and steeling his nerves to face it again, Harris took his cloak off and handed it to the boy just before entering the little building.
The boy’s eyes widened with astonishment as his hand brushed Harris’s and he said, “Get everyone out of the courtyard. Everyone!”
Makkovik and the boy headed for the palace, while Daniella ran for the stables to get the horses and their handlers inside as well.
Inside the shrine, Harris stood in front of the statue. He bowed his head and touched his sword hand to the stone that rested between his eyebrows. “Mother, forgive us for this desecration. Cleanse this place if You will, for we need Your presence among us. Or take it back to Your womb, and I will build another. Your grace and guidance is vital to the core of us.” He allowed himself to sink deep into meditation, while a view of all the shrines he had ever visited marched across his mind, accompanied by all of the feelings and emotions he had felt at each one.
Lost in the Mother’s tender embrace, Harris was unaware of the changes going on around him. The little building and its small statue with its grisly decorations, even the floor underneath it all, dissolved into dust and blew away on the cold wind that whipped through the courtyard without quite touching him. Then the ground began to tremble, not hard enough to break the windows of the palace, but enough to get everyone’s attention.
All who watched, saw a large circle of rock grow up out of the ground around Harris. The striations were a wonder to behold. Every color the Earth had to offer was displayed in thick or thin streaks somewhere on the surface of the stone. When the shaking finally stopped, there was a large stone dome where the old shrine had stood.