This was frequently his favourite time of the day, as the air cooled from the sun’s peak and the smells of evening flowers began to waft on the breeze across the yellow stone of the square. A blackbird called in a nearby garden, and he smiled to himself, as always pleased by the similarities between the bird’s plumage and his own black robes.
He opened the door of his place of work and went inside. The dark coolness enveloped him like a deep, secret pool, and he gave thanks to the magnificent deity who had chosen him. He appreciated how lucky he was, every day. When he saw the ordinary folk of this region, when he realised that he could have been one of them, with a hovel to live in and a few poor fields to farm, with probably 12 or 15 children born to his wife and perhaps four of them living to adulthood to helping with the grazing beasts and the crops…
He was thankful again now as he trod quietly over the age-smoothed stone slabs, and as he opened the lid of a chest to remove the holy accoutrements lying in the finely carved box.
He took the items and laid them out on the table next to the altar. Then he began lighting candles and torches around the altar. He continued his preparations as his congregation began to arrive, the murmured conversation of the faithful rising to the rafters far above.
Finally he was ready, and outside the sun was just dipping behind the tallest mountain. He had timed it perfectly as always. The door opened, and the celebrants were brought in, their white robes forming a startling contrast against the dark clothing worn by everyone else.
The small group halted just before the altar and the escorts stood back a little, just far enough that they could still intervene if the service didn’t quite go according to plan.
But it would be fine, as always, he could tell. The celebrants were thoroughly sedated – still upright but without any fear. And his knives were very sharp.