Life and Times of a Priestess: Ch.3 : New Life In Dalos (Part 2 : Surrender To Foreigners)
(Part 2 : Surrender To Foreigners)
The people of the city heard the reports of the approaching war in surprise. Until now the war had been a distant story unfolding in far off places to the East and particularly in the city of Jumilos, from which terrible stories of human horror had emanated. Even the complacent citizens of Dalos had listened with revulsion and growing awareness to those stories, but they had never thought it would come to them. The soldiers of Pirion would deal with these problems, just as the priests and priestesses ministered to the needs of the people and as the teachers taught and the farmers grew. Life would go on in the Empire of the Goddess as it had been going on for centuries, in stability, contentment and personal pleasure. The people of Dalos, much as anywhere else in the Empire, as Danella had found, had known nothing different in all their lives or in the lives of their parents or their grandparents and their great-grandparents, and generations before. The peace of the Goddess seemed everlasting, and, allowing, as it did, for the deepest and most varied human desires to be given their fullest and most free expression, the people were largely happy and content within it, and looked no further without it.
But as war approached over some months it became evident that the soldiers of Pirion were not as capable of doing their duty as well as the other occupations of Pirion. It gradually became obvious to all but the most relaxed and contented Dalosians that Pirion was slowly losing the war, losing territory, and gradually being forced to give up its citizens to military duties, or as refugees, or as the conquered servants of the new Vanmarian nations from across the sea.
Danella was frightened. She had wanted to travel to Vanmar and see what it was like ever since the descriptions General Polad had given her. But the war had made that too difficult and dangerous. No boats went to that continent and land routes through Vanmarian occupied territory were blocked. Rail lines had been bombed and cut. So she had remained in this city of the Empire, Dalos, and watched in horror along with its population as the Vanmarians renewed their offensive and gradually pushed their front forward along the coast, and arrived outside the city. They laid siege to it and encircled it. As the Imperial Army lost ground they had retreated, leaving the city's own army to defend itself, swollen with the able bodied men and women of the city. Food supplies were running out and the only alternative became surrender to a superior force.
Vanmarians had made themselves a reputation for brutality on occasion, but it was becoming understood that some nations of the Vanmarian alliance were more brutal than others and that the goals of those nations varied. Some of them wished to acquire and annex the cities of the Empire, not to demolish them and their people. The army which surrounded Dalos was from Prancir, which Danella had learned was in the southwest of the continent of Vanmar. They were apparently suffering from a shortage of territory to house their large population and wished to expand their colonies on the shores of the Empire. The rumour and the hope among the people in Dalos was that these people came not to destroy but to build and to settle. If they were to be conquered it was better that it was by a nation with some standards of civilisation, even if Dalos were to suffer colonisation. The people of Dalos gave thanks that they were not faced by the armies of Vanmandria, in whose conquered territories complex racial theories determined the status or even survival of conquered peoples. In this region of the Empire, affected by the wars, the people were very familiar with the story of the conquest of the city of Jumilos early in the war, whose inhabitants had resisted the attackers for months. Finally the Vanmandrians had managed to invade the city itself and run amok through the city, killing most of the inhabitants, often torturing or playing cruelly with them along the way, letting only a few tortured souls free to tell the story.
Prancir was a once proud nation who had once nearly conquered the whole of Vanmar. For many years in the past they had ruled vast colonies abroad in a proud empire of their own. They apparently claimed to have ruled this part of the Empire of the Goddess before and were merely taking what belonged to them back. Dissension and wars in Vanmar had led them to lose power and the spread of the worship of the Goddess had taken their Empire from them. Prancir had been reduced to a mere kingdom, but its people had never forgotten their pride and in recent years they again styled themselves an Empire, although their Emperor ruled by the consent of a Parliament.
Danella, along with the other Priestesses in the city, had been trained to use a gun and to carry a short sword in order to help defend the city, and they wore tunics like men and any other protection they could find.
High Priestess Sreela entered the dormitory where Danella's unit had been resting after a wall shift. "The city has been surrendered," she announced, looking weary and despondent. "We are instructed to lay down our weapons in the road before the Prancirians enter the city. That is guns and swords."
"We should keep our swords hidden at least, in case they do not honour their commitments," suggested one of the Priestesses, a mature, strong looking woman whom Danella had met in worship only a day or two before.
"No," said Sreela, "We are at their mercy and there is nothing we can do now. Resistance would be futile. They could kill us all. Better to do what they want and hope they do not kill us."
And so they agreed to take the weapons out. Certain priestesses gathered up the weapons and took them outside into the road. Soon they returned.
"Now we wait," said Sreela, "And see what will become of us.. I have been told that the Prancirians will respect our lives unless we resist, but no promises have been made as to how we will live. The surrender is unconditional otherwise."
Few of the priestesses were hopeful of the future. It was best to hope that the people of the city would be allowed to live in the normal way. But everyone knew the Vanmarians lived differently. How else would they have started this awful war, and made good lives into wasted ones? Some priestesses went into each others arms for a final act of communion before the Prancirians arrived. Would they be allowed to worship in the future? No one knew. Sexual communion was for some of them a way of taking their minds off the awful reality. Most however had worshipped much in recent days and were in no mood for it now. Most suspected that they might be forced to minister to the Prancirian soldiers when they came, although they wondered whether the Prancirians would allow that.
As one or two priestesses were beginning to climax in what they possibly thought might be their final pleasure, the sounds of the Prancirians could be heard in the road. Danella looked out of the window, as did most of the priestesses. She could see the homes and dorms across the road. Some of them were damaged from the bombardments of the last months. Some inhabitants, men and women, stood in silent pallid groups observing the road as a Prancirian troop came into view. The Prancirians themselves were the ones making the noise. They sang a song with rough, coarse voices, but the tune was rousing.
Danella liked music. She had always enjoyed it when musicians came to play at the temple in Shanla. She had a hunger for it. The opportunities for priestesses to play instruments were many, but she had never bothered to learn. She had learned the chants for certain ceremonies and knew the words to many popular songs. This was a strong tune which she had never heard before, but even in defeat it encouraged her. She saw in it a sign of hope. If the Prancirians liked music maybe they were more humane than everyone thought. Vanmarians never came to the Empire. At any rate Danella had never seen or heard of any, so perhaps the people of Pirion did not really understand them. Maybe now as conquerors they would not be as destructive as they had been as attackers. She felt curiosity amidst her fear. Her desire to see the rest of the world, and to travel amongst these strange peoples, was rekindled. It was that desire which had brought her to Dalos in the hope that if the war was stopped she might take ship to Vanmar or travel across land into Vanmarian territories.
The uniforms of the Prancirians were blue. They did not wear the tunics of the Empire but coats which trailed down below the waist, and trousers, most of which were white although muddied by life in the trenches and stockades they had built around the city. On their heads they wore peaked hats which must give them some defence from the weather if not from bullets, but looked more decorative than for any other purpose. They marched in strict formation five abreast, in a way the soldiers of the Empire did not. Danella could imagine they were more disciplined than the soldiers of the Empire, for whom that kind of performance was thought to be unnecessary to the art of warfare. They looked dirty and war weary, but there was the spark of victory about them. They looked proud and victorious. That they came singing and marching must be a comfort to the people of the city. They were not so far treating the inhabitants as cattle to be rounded up or as targets to be attacked and humiliated.
Maybe they merely wanted to show their presence before they began to manage the city in their own way. Maybe they sought to take up positions which they believed to be the key to the control of the city. At the head of the troop a soldier carried a flag. The flag of Prancir. Blue and white in a simple barred design. They revered their flag in a way the people of the Empire revered their Goddess, she had heard. The Imperial soldiers also carried flags occasionally, but these were mainly to do with communication in battle. The Imperial flags showed the white skin of the naked Goddess on a red background.
Danella wondered what these men were like, who could be persuaded to travel across the sea to kill for their masters, who could lay siege to a happy, peaceful city and bombard it for months. She presumed they were forced to do this by their leaders. Surely no man would fight such a war by choice. She felt anger towards them, but she could not see them as evil. They looked like ordinary men.
"What do we do now?" asked some of the Priestesses.
"Wait, what else can we do?" replied High Priestess Sreela. "We will receive our instructions soon, doubtless."