Mara’s 12th birthday arrived. It was a beautiful day. The temperatures had warmed after our cold season. The leaves on the trees were budding and springtime flowers were in full bloom. I helped dress Mara in a beautiful white dress made from the finest silk and cloth available. The dress was made especially made for this occasion by our finest dressmaker. Fresh flowers adorned her beautifully plaited hair. Mara looked so beautiful in her dress, and so queen-like. My heart was sad as to what would take place that day, but so proud for her beauty. This day, Mara had an uncommon look of determination in her eyes, unlike the sadness that I usually saw.
Because this was such an important day for our city and the communities around us, people came from all over to participate and witness the events. Our gods would be appeased today and this was most significant for all our communities. Even the King and Queen came to join in the celebration.
The day started with a procession with Mara atop a high carriage for all to see. Everyone cheered for her. Many extravagant gifts were brought for her (which Gideon would take for himself). Gideon and I were also dressed in the finest of clothes, made by the best clothiers specifically for this occasion. Gideon ensured that we looked the part of the parents of a goddess. We were greeted by many dignitaries, including the king and queen. They bowed to us as they showed their appreciation for Mara’s sacrifice. They reminded us that we would be richly blessed by the gods. In my mind, I wondered how they could know that.
We hosted an elaborate feast with the best and riches foods and wines. Many entertainers including musicians, dancers, and musicians enhanced the celebratory mood. Everyone seemed to relish in the entertainment available to them.
Something in all the wealth, luxury, and extravagance seemed hollow to me. Something did not feel right. It did not feel right and appropriate that I should lose my daughter. I was told from the time Mara was born that I would not lose a daughter but giving the greatest gift I could ever give to the gods; Mara was born for this very purpose. Because of Mara, our abundant way of life would be preserved.
During the feast, in a rare alone moment, Mara confided in me and shared with me that an angel of the true God came to her in the night and instructed her not to be afraid. The true God would be with her and comfort her, and bring her home to him. She pleased with me not to be sad or afraid because I would be taken care of. Gideon then sat down next to Mara, we quickly changed the subject, however our eyes met with a clear understanding that my daughter knew something that I needed to learn more about.
My heart just about failed me. I somehow had to maintain my composure. I always thought something was not right about our gods, but now I knew. Now what was could I do?
After the feast, Gideon, Mara, and I led the procession to our temple. Then came the king and queen, our other children, followed by my parents, Gideon’s parents, then most of the banquet attendees. After arriving at the temple, Mara was offered wine with a strong relaxing drug, but she refused it. She humbly laid herself down on the alter, looked at me, this time with an even greater determination in her eyes. She looked up and stared as if she was looking at someone. Then Mara smiled.
The priest who would make the sacrifice, witnessed Mara’s expression and shouted for all to hear that she was looking at the gods and smiling at them. He proclaimed that the gods were very satisfied with Mara’s sacrifice, and with Gideon and me as her parents. Those watching cheered at the proclamation! He then performed the sacrifice while the onlookers continue to cheer. Her heart was held high for all to see and then put in a special orate vase made of gold to be given to the gods.
I was devastated. My beautiful, sweet Mara. But, even with the devastation I felt, I could not cry. I had to continue to appear as if I were celebrating with Gideon. I was so ready to go to my bedchamber and be alone to cry and to grieve the death of my daughter, but had to wait and pretend to enjoy the celebrations.
My mother came to me, put her arms around me and told me how proud she was of me and Mara. She assured me that I had just done the highest service for our people that I could ever do. I hugged her back and thanked her for her words. After all, she knew exactly what it was like to sacrifice a daughter. Did she ever feel like I felt? Did she have regrets? Her actions and words appeared that she had no regrets, but did I see a slight bit of sadness or regret in her eyes? I would probably never know.
The celebration continued through the day and into the night. Many people came to congratulate Gideon and me. They assured us that the Gods would bless us and take care of us. How could the death of a beautiful daughter be worthy of congratulations? How I craved to be alone.
During the events of the day, I noticed one man who seemed very familiar to me, but I could not place his face. He did not seem to share the same celebratory mood as the rest of the people. In fact, after Mara was sacrificed, I noticed a tear falling from his eye. Who was this person? Why was he at our celebrations? Why did he not celebrate like everyone else?
Finally, late into the night everyone returned to their homes. After checking on my children, I retired to my bedchamber, expecting to be alone like I usually was. Tonight, Gideon came to be with me. Oh, how I resented that. I needed to be alone. I was tired of faking my happiness. I needed to grieve! I told Gideon that I didn’t feel well; that did not stop him. He said that we needed to celebrate the sacrifice of our daughter and forced himself on me. I pretended, again, to enjoy myself but my heart was dying. As the sun’s light began to lighten the eastern sky, Gideon left. Finally, I was alone. My handmaid came in to see if I needed anything; I asked her to bring me some food, then I wanted to be left alone. I informed her that I needed time to worship our gods.
It was not long until food was brought, but I could not eat much. I was finally along and it was time for me to grieve. And oh, how I grieved. I cried and cried. I cried for hours. My dear Mara. In the midst of my grieving, my dear sweet Mara came to me. At first, I thought I was hallucinating from the wine I had the day before (even though I did not have much). Mara sweetly assured me that this was a real vision. She told me that she was happy and finally free of what she endured during her life. She implored me to listen to the prophets and I would be saved. She wanted me to find happiness and if I listened to the prophets I would find true happiness. She told me that the prophets will teach me about the true and living God and that He would help me. Then, she was gone. I cried for her to come back, but she did not.
Shortly after my vision, my youngest son Shule, 6-years old, knocked on my door. I quickly dried my eyes and let him in. He asked me why Mara had to be sacrificed. He loved his sister. They looked very much alike as Gideon was the father to both of them. Of all my children, Mara and Shule were the closest, despite the age difference.
Tears came to his eyes; I could see that he felt very sad. I offered the explanation that I was expected to give him, how Mara was born to be a goddess and that giving her life would help assure that we had food to eat and toys to play with. Shule did not seem satisfied. He told me that he thought something was wrong with that.
Again, I wished to tell him of my vision of Mara, but did not dare; I feared that he would tell the wrong person. He was only six years old and I did not think he would understand the kind of trouble we would both be in if anyone knew of my inner conflict. However, I had a feeling that at some point in time that I would be able to confide in him.
I hugged Shule and told him how much I loved him then we cried together. He was surprised that I was crying. He thought I was happy about Mara’s sacrifice. I lied to him, that even though I was happy, that like him, I missed her, but we can still be happy about what she did. Then Shule whispered to me that we could not tell anyone that we cried together and that we missed Mara. What a wise little boy! He possessed wisdom beyond his years.
(To be continued…)