A Grim Fairy Tale – THE NOVICE
Once upon a time in a city carved out of the Central American jungles, a novice priest of the Feathered Serpent sat on a stone bench in the High Priest’s ante chamber, waiting for the High Priest to finish with a sacrifice.
The novice rehearsed in his mind what he was going to say to the High Priest. Suddenly, the door opened, and the usher – resplendent in his brightly feathered robes – came out and beckoned the novice into the audience chamber. The High Priest was standing at the window, looking down at the bustling metropolis.
“Praise the Feathered Serpent,” the novice intoned.
The High Priest looked away from the window and barely acknowledged the salutation.
“Please sit down,” the High Priest said. He gestured to a stone bench by the wall. Both novice and High Priest sat down together.
“How long have you been a novice here at the temple?” the High Priest asked.
“Two years, Excellency.”
“Two years. I talked to the faculty about you. They tell me that you are a good student. Hard working and spiritually gifted.”
“Thank you, Excellency.”
“So what went wrong out there today?”
The novice expected the question, but not the bluntness of its delivery. He swallowed hard before answering.
“I have no excuse, Excellency.”
“I’m not looking for excuses. I want an explanation. You’ve been here two years. You’ve probably assisted in hundreds of sacrifices. Today was your first unassisted solo. So what went wrong?”
“I really don’t know, sir. Everything was going fine. I recited the prayer, made the first incision and reached into the prisoner’s chest cavity. I felt the Feathered Serpent watching over and guiding me, I swear. I’m sure the crowd felt it too. I found myself holding the beating heart up high, showing it to the crowd. It was glorious.”
“And then…” The High Priest prompted.
“And then the heart just slipped out of my hand and went flying. I think it hit someone in the head.”
The novice sat silent in his shame and disgrace. But then, to his utter amazement and relief, the High Priest laughed.
“You know,” the High Priest said. “many in the crowd hope that the priest performing the sacrifice will slip up.”
“You really think so?”
“It’s human nature. Heck, its cheap entertainment. The peasants even wager on it.”
“Yes. We tried to stop it once, but we gave up. I’m sure the betting was rather heavy on your first solo.”
“And I am thoroughly ashamed -”
“Don’t be. It happens to the best of us. I know.”
“To you?” the novice asked.
“No, but it happened to my great and noble predecessor.”
“Sure. I was there. The old coot hadn’t performed a sacrifice for over ten years, you know, being busy with administrative duties. But it was the Feast of the Flatulent Twins and he decided to do it himself. I’ll never forget it. There he was – on the sacrificial platform at the top of the pyramid – he made the cut, reached into the chest cavity, pulled out the heart, and lifted it up – still beating – to show it to the crowd below on the steps. And then, pop! It shot out his hand and up into the air. You never saw an old man move so fast. He tried to catch it with his other hand, but that heart shot into the air again. This went on for about five grabs when he finally missed and the heart plopped onto the steps in front of him. Talk about embarrassing.”
“It’s hard to believe.”
“Believe it. But the next day it was forgotten, and my old master served as high priest for another ten years, and even performed – successfully – a sacrifice or two. And that’s my point. Don’t let this little mistake shake your confidence. When you fall off of a llama what do you do? You get right back up on that llama and ride it!”
“You have potential, young man. You might even have my job one day.”
“Oh, no, I’m not -”
“Sure you are. Don’t tell me you haven’t thought about it. Anyway. There’s an opening for tonight’s sacrifice. Interested?”
“Yes, of course!”
“That’s the spirit.”
But it happened again. The Novice slipped at the evening sacrifice and the heart went flying.And the novice was banished from the priesthood forever.
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