Jayden returned to the sleeping place for the builders of the mounds. He was glad that the days were now shorter. It meant soon his two-year service to 'The Sun' would end and he could return to his father's workshop. His only regret was that when he left, his sister, Javion, would take his place. If he could, he would gladly take her turn doing the backbreaking work of mound building.
The whispered word that was spreading through the builders was that 'The Sun' was very ill. With his death a 'New Sun' would rise to take his place. Jayden knew it would be one of the old man's male children, but which one was still a mystery. If he still lived with his parents he would surely know the answer. His father had a close relationship with the priests that resided atop the sacred mound with 'The Sun'.
"Did you hear?" Garva asked when Jayden sat down next to her at the fire. She looked as though she was ready to burst into tears or worse yet, run as far away from Cahokia City as possible.
"Did I hear what?" he questioned, uncertain what could have her so agitated.
"'The Sun' has requested that twelve maidens sacrifice not only their virginity, but also their lives, to serve him in the afterlife."
Garva's words shocked Jayden. Each year 'The Sun' demanded a maiden be taken to the top of the sacred mound. It was said that once 'The Sun' had satisfied himself with her she was passed from priest to priest until she produced a child. If that child was a girl, both mother and child were sacrificed. If a boy child was born, the woman would nurture him until he was taken by the priests to join their ranks.
If Flores, the girl who had been promised to him, had not denied the request of 'The Sun', it was possible she would still be alive. Instead, she had denied the request and, along with both of her parents, was banished from the city. Jayden had just begun his service to the mound builders when her remains had been found.
He could not help but wonder how many of the twelve maidens who would be taken to satisfy 'The Sun' were promised to others. If they were, the men would be like him, returning with no woman promised to them in marriage.
"'The Old Sun' has died! 'The New Sun' has risen to take his place!"
Jayden listened to the proclamation the crier repeated over and over again. As he did, he turned to glance at Garva. In her eyes, through the tears that ran down her cheeks, he saw terror.
"What if I am one of the maidens chosen for this?" she asked, her hands trembling and her shoulders shaking with heart-wrenching sobs.
"I do not think you have reason to be concerned. It is entirely possible that the maidens who are chosen have known of their fate since it was announced that 'The Old Sun' was ill. I can only pray that the sacrifices will be made quickly and with little pain to the young women who will be taken."
Before the darkness completely covered the city, word of the impending sacrifices had reached Jayden's ears. The twelve maidens had been taken to the wooden circle and with the dawning the first sacrifice would take place. All of Cahokia City was ordered to assemble at the wooden circle at dawn each day to witness the sacrifice. Once the first sacrifice was completed the people would engage in twelve days of celebration in which no work would be done. It would come as a welcome relief from the work they did on a daily basis, even if the circumstances were horrifying.
Jayden dreaded having to witness such a thing, but he knew disobedience could bring certain death to the offender. 'The Sun' was the manifestation of God on earth and to not show proper respect was punishable by either death at the hands of the priests, or banishment to face the fierce animals of the forest. Either way, life would end. Disobedience was not worth the chance he would be taking.
Sleep remained at bay for those in the sleeping quarters of the mound builders. Everybody was certain they knew one, if not more, of the maidens. As much as they all wished to avoid seeing the sacrifices, Jayden knew they all harbored the same fears as him. No one wanted to be accused of not following the instructions of 'The Sun'.
All around him Jayden heard comments on the lovely maidens who awaited sacrifice. There was very little about his life he did not relish, but sacrifice was the one thing he could not abide. Had he not lost Flores because of her refusal to sacrifice her virginity to 'The Sun'?
He looked around at those who were gathered. How many young men were suffering because the woman they had been promised to would lose not only her virginity but also her life over the next twelve days?