Behold the Lamb

Some of them were born with no heads, some of them had their front legs fused together, some were curved inwards as tightly as young ferns, unable to straighten their backs. Thus they emerged from the darkness of the womb. A sickness had come unseen upon their mothers and now they were dragged forth broken, misshapen, dying or already dead. The labours were long and hard. The small things thrashed and fought us, fighting for their lives. Blood and more blood, the smell of it, mingled with straw and those cries they make so very like those of a human child. Not one was whole and unblemished. It broke your heart after all that. What lay at last in the circle of light on the barn floor was unspeakable. Those that were still moving we struck down. Then built a bonfire behind the barn…

         What had we done? What sin to be expiated by this hidden holocaust of innocence? We would ask Sirin. We went to her house with gifts in our hands, we had so little to give – a few fragments of bread, an empty cup, a turtle dove. The father took the things from us, then led us into the small hut where she slept. She lay in a pile of rabbitskins, the place warm and flickering with firelight. The child sat up and rubbed her eyes. Looked slowly from one face to another and another, remembering us, telling our names in her soft voice to God. Then put her hands together and prayed, we could not tell the words. The mother gave her something to drink, and her eyes rolled back into her head. She began to tremble and the mother held her, but she gently pushed her away, then stood in the centre of the room. We pressed forward, eager to catch whatever words she might utter now. Her lips parted several times without a sound. Her eyes were open, as black as two gleaming purple plums. She stood with her arms out, her small thin body formed a cross, swayed gently from side to side.

         ‘He is coming’ she said. ‘The Lamb of God, He is coming! Oh!’ Though she spoke softly, there was something in her voice that made us shudder. ‘He will take away the sins of the world…’ She would have fallen now, but the mother stepped forward in time to catch her in her arms. The child’s eyes were closed now, she was breathing heavily. We looked from one to another, knew not what to say. Suddenly her eyes flew open. ‘He comes to judge the living and the dead,’ she said, with great clarity, then fell back upon the bed of rabbitskins, little flecks of foam upon her lips. The mother motioned us to go.

         We stood huddled together in the snow, uncertain as sheep. Then, above our heads, a star appeared, blazing so brightly it lit the hills and the valleys on every side. We walked back to the barn, bathed in its unearthly light. And there we found one more lamb had been born; we had thought the ewes all delivered but we had missed this last.  The youngest boy had brought it out safely all on his own. It was already standing on small thin legs, swaying gently from side to side, one whole and perfect lamb.

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