Manjeet closed his eyes, blinded by the torches that lit the Temple as if it were daylight. The guard behind him pushed him forward and he moved again, trying to adjust the light after days spent in the dark.
A hostile whisper accompanied his walk, and the stone eyes of the Goddess seemed to pierce him. The ropes tying his wrists behind his back were too tight and his hands were getting numb.
"Sinner!" an old woman hissed as he passed. Manjeet wanted to scream. I haven't done anything! I'm innocent!
Still more insults flew at him. The altar was only a few paces away now, the statue of the Goddess looming over them all. Manjeet stopped and the guard forced him to kneel in front of Puddra, the Supreme Judge and leader of the community. The High Priestess Chandra stood at Puddra's right and stared at Manjeet through half closed eyes. Still, he could feel her lust, and he shivered, his head hung in front of the two most powerful persons of the underground city that had given him birth.
"The trial begins," the herald announced, and the crowd of white clothes fell silent. Puddra stood up like the king he wasn't and stepped towards Manjeet. His black hair was hidden under his white turban, and he caressed his well trimmed black beard, thoughtful, before speaking. Manjeet dared to look at him, silently pleading for mercy.
Puddra crossed his arms across his chest, staring at the young man kneeling in front of him.
"The accusation is not light," the Judge said. "Manjeet has done dirty deeds outside our community. He had already been admonished for trying to corrupt Neha, the Virgin Seeress…"
Manjeet lowered his eyes. Ah, Neha. He saw her again in his mind's eye, beautiful and pure. She was younger than him, but her visions had consecrated her to the Goddess since childhood. For months he had loved her without telling her, realizing she was no longer a child. And one day he had dared to speak, to tell her what he felt, brushing his lips against hers… then the Goddess had punished him: lightning had struck him, leaving him half-dead and scarred for life on his left shoulder. But the Goddess had kept him alive and by simply looking at him, everyone was reminded of his sin.