“Gid, these aren’t my clothes.” The woman named Justine that had tended me when I’d first had the allergic reaction had come by since she was in the area playing midwife. She checked me over then pronounced me fit to live but to avoid too much excitement for another day or two.
Gid smiled and said, “Sure they are. Heather told me so.” I just continued to look at him and he sighed. “They’re yours. I didn’t pay coin for them. They’re Heather’s, or were, and now she gifted them to you. She was once nearly as thin as you but the last two babes have turned her a bit … um … wider in places than she used to be. Her husband comes from a small family and the few females in it are even broader than she is. She wants the clothes to go to someone who’ll get some use from them and appreciate the work she put into them.”
Embarrassed but appreciative of the pretty clothes now that he’d explained I said, “I … yes … yes tell her I’m … I’m grateful.”
“I’ll leave a note for Ned to give to her as she is off to Yellow Rock for a few days to help her sister in law deal with the clean-up of a kitchen fire so we won’t be seeing her before we leave.” He insisted on helping me to tie a bodice that had a geometric pattern embroidered around the edges. When he was through “helping” he said, “There’s a morning meal in that basket as well. It’s early but Ned is already at the school.” He sighed in aggravation. “There’s been some confusion and I need to go collect some of the things we purchased from here and there. Justine said you could travel but she didn’t want you around if there is going to be another fight and there’s libel to be if I find out Lurna or any of the others had a hand in it.”
“I’m sorry Gid.”
“No reason for you to be sorry. But if you’ve an interest in it, Ned said you might like to come to the school and wait for me there. You’re as fond of books as he is and there’s also maps and other things in the school that you might enjoy looking at to pass the time.”
So it was settled.
“Ned, thanks for giving me a safe place to stash Yulee.”
I didn’t say a word but Mr. Ned said, “You stash things Gideon, not people. I am more than happy to have Yulee as my guest while you conduct your business.”
Gid did not contradict him but did grin. “Thank you either way Ned.”
Gid left quickly and Ned escorted me into the building showing me around as he went. Then we stepped into the main classroom area. “The children will likely appear curious but they will behave or I will know why not.” He hadn’t bothered to keep his voice down and a lot of eyes that had been openly staring in my direction suddenly changed direction to look at the large boards on four sides of the room.
Each wall was devoted to a different academic level. The center of the large room contained a raised dais with a podium. The children sat on stools. Lessons they did facing their board but they could turn and face the podium for lectures.
“My dear, I must confess to an ulterior motive.” I kept my face carefully blank while he continued. “Our conversation – what time there was for it – revealed you have an extensive knowledge of history and geography. Would you mind helping me with today’s lesson?”
“Of … of course Sir, though I’m not sure what I can do to be of service.”
He smiled. “Quite easily my dear, I would like you to give independent verification to what I have been trying to instill in the children. If they only hear it from me then they are by rights going to have some concerns about the veracity of facts. By hearing it from another person raised outside of the village I hope they will see that I’m not merely discussing theories but actual events and places.”
I could see the logic to the exercise but I still hesitated, nevertheless I said, “I will do my best.”
“Very good.” Turning to the children he said, “Attend, and I want every eye and ear open.”
The children responded quickly and suddenly I felt all their eyes boring into me. I did my best to ignore the sensation but it wasn’t easy.
Ned said, “The children all know that we live on the continent that was once called North America. Are you agreed that it was once called that?”
“It is still called that by most though it sounds different in parts of the land. Some of the people from the far north call it amérique du nord and as many of you probably have heard from some of your neighbors in this land they call it América del Norte.”
“Very good. And this continent was once broken down into three countries.”
“Yes, Canada to our north, Mexico to our south, and the land we are on was called the United States of America or USA or just US for short. All three were ethnically and racially diverse but the US had the greatest diversity of races and cultures. That was one of the greatest strengths, and the greatest weakness, of the country and played a role in what happened during the Great War.”
Ned nodded. “Yes, we have studied the various causes and actions during the Great War using original documents that have been salvaged from that time period. Both the school and community libraries have a very good collection that I highly recommend that you see when time permits. However, there is a time immediately following the Great War that isn’t as well documented.”
Gathering my thoughts and reviewing what I’d been taught I said, “It is called different things but the two most common terms that I know of for that era are the Dark Days or the Era of Confusion. The Great War was only the beginning of humanity’s descent into the dark. The bombs and battles of the Great War destroyed much of the infrastructure of the leading countries of the world. There were assassinations that took out heads of state leaving chaos behind for those that had become dependent on social systems that had been in place to provide their housing, food, healers, and education. Unlike today where only the feeble and very young are helped by community and church charity, large numbers of people of all types demanded the government take care of them because they refused to be responsible for themselves and when they didn’t get what they expected or wanted, they became like the raiders we have today and destroyed anything in their path. Many countries became like wagons careening madly down a mountain trail with no driver to try and check the horses’ mad dash to the precipice. And just like that scenario, you had some countries that survived out of luck, some did go over the precipice, and some had brave men ride up and jump on to try and save what they could from the wagon by turning it in a new direction. You also had bad men who jumped into the wagon to toss off what they could steal, never meaning to save the wagon and horses at all.”
Ned agreed by saying, “An apt analogy. What happened here in North America?”
I shrugged, “All of the above.”
“The countries of North America, unlike many of those in places called Eastern and Western Europe which were on the other side of the large body of water called the Lantic Ocean, were large and covered a huge number of square miles. The diversity I mentioned before was also a factor though less so towards the south than in the US and Canada. The countries began to lose their … hmmm … their cohesiveness. They became more like territories loosely bound together by memory and tradition than one single country united under a ruling body called a government with the same ideals as the people under them. Problems arose however when these individual territories tried to continue living in the manner they had when they had been part of one large country. Not every territory had the same number and type of resources. Some territories had too many people, some had too few. Some territories could protect themselves better because they had better armies and tools to equip their armies with. They started to fight and squabble amongst themselves even while the Great War still raged around the world. The unity that once existed was gone. And without unity the people became even more vulnerable. Wars were being fought on two or three or more fronts at one time.”
“And into this came who?”
Again I gathered my thoughts. This was important and it had been drilled into my head from the time I was old enough to hear a bedtime story. “History has come to call them the Brotherhood – definitely different from the Brothers and Sisters we have today – but in the beginning they were primarily people whose only uniting factor was religion. They came from many different countries with different ethnicities and different cultures. In ages long gone these same people had tried before to unite the world under their religion, only to call it uniting is a misnomer. It was either accept and convert – or die. In fact for most infractions they believed death was the only solution. They believed a theocracy was the only way to rule and their religious books the only law. Anything outside of their ‘only’ view was considered heresy and again death was the only remedy to restore order and balance.”
Continuing I said, “These people were united behind someone claiming to be their savior. In the end the man was destroyed by his own people when they discovered he was a charlatan set up by one sect of their religion to put them in power above the other sects but by that time it didn’t matter. They had established military and religious footholds in most of the countries around the world. They were on their way to fulfilling one of their prophecies.”
I stopped remembering the stories of bloodshed and horror that had been gathered from that time period. Ned prompted, “But we don’t live with such a system today.”
“No,” I said quietly but firmly. “Because of The Church.”
“Yes. The Brotherhood had assumed that people would simply submit or they would kill them and get them out of the way. However, even though they had a great many on their side, there was also a significant underground movement fighting against them. No matter what they did they could not completely eradicate the two religions which were their antithesis. In the US, and in fact in most of this part of the world, the primary belief system was a monotheism … we believed in one God and only one God … the Supreme Creator of All. There may have been many different ceremonies for honoring Him but at the pinnacle of each was always the overriding belief in Him and His Word. The Brotherhood despised this and those that believed in the One True God rather than in the Brotherhood’s laws and prophets. They hated the light that The Church shined on the hypocrisy of the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood claimed to be a people of peace and yet almost every law, every religious text, was rife with violence. Definitions and practices and beliefs were not absolutes that applied to everyone but were flexible depending on the prophet that was speaking and their ultimate goal. Anything was allowable in the pursuit of world conquest and domination so long as it was being done against someone who wasn’t one of the Brotherhood. Even within the Brotherhood there were elites and they would often fight each other. Their system was confusing; there were always exceptions to their laws as well, loopholes found for those with enough money, power, or influence.”
“First people fell so far they were nearly destroyed. Then they reached a level where they weren’t just miserable but recognized what was causing their misery and how it had come to have power over them. Then came repentance. It wasn’t just about being sorry, it was a turning away from what caused their misery … turning from the dark to the light. The Church became the banner these repentant people gathered under. They were still persecuted but that only caused their Faith to become stronger. This infuriated the Brotherhood. And this is what brought about the fall of the Brotherhood.”
“How so?” Ned asked.
The room was quiet and all the students were listening. “They underestimated the Faithful. The Brotherhood had become so corrupted by their own human desire for power and control, subjugation and sexual immorality that they couldn’t seem to grasp why, no matter what they did, more and more people left the Brotherhood and turned to The Church. The more The Church was persecuted, the more people opened their eyes and turned towards the Light. They too would seek out how a people so viciously put upon could not only survive but begin to flourish. Battles began to be fought openly. The Brotherhood had overwhelming numbers, the odds should have favored them, yet time and time and time again The Church would win by miraculous means or intervention. It took years but eventually the Brotherhood was no more. Oh, there are still enclaves here and there, but they are small and keep to themselves because people have very long memories … at least for some things. For almost five decades the people of North America lived in relative peace. Everyone was focused on recovering, rebuilding, making the land fruitful again. The Great War and then the Brotherhood had laid waste to so much. Worldwide trade and communication was for all intents and purposes nonexistent although the rare contact was made and documented though today even that no longer exists. Death by disease was rampant. Starvation was a daily concern for everyone and the earth’s weather patterns had been affected by weapons released during battles. Fresh water was difficult to come by. There was a lot of work to keep everyone busy, focused, and out of trouble.”
“Why don’t we still have a large Church network today? Why instead has the territorial militias and their outposts replaced the Church’s protectorates?”
“Because we are human. That’s no excuse, far from it, but it is a recognition of the state that we all live in. The Church, as a body and certain individuals within the body, grew arrogant. Some misused their privilege to accrue power they had no business having. Then the power was misused to hurt people. In some places it became as bad as it had been under the Brotherhood fifty and sixty years earlier. There was a backlash as people turned their back on The Church never realizing that it was men and not The Church that was turning their back on them. God had not forgotten, men had forgotten.
Then some salvagers broke into a building that should have been left buried and forgotten. In their greed and thirst for power they had opened Pandora’s Box and many new ills were literally visited upon the world on the wind. We still live with many of those mutated plagues today. My father’s entire village fell to one such plague. He was the only living soul – a babe of only a few weeks old – that still remained alive when missionaries from our village went through the area. He was taken to our community church and there he grew up.”
Shaking my head. “It was that time of so many plagues and other illnesses that cemented many people’s understanding that we had made a mockery of the chance we had been given. In retrospect those that still followed the church realized we had forged a golden calf, put it before the Lord our God. We’d been so close and we threw it all away. So now our world, and the people in it, is destined to walk in darkness for a while longer. For how long no one knows. When we children would ask the Brothers and Sisters of our Church we were told not to focus so much on how long, but to learn the lessons God put before us, to learn to appreciate what we were gifted with despite the condition of the world, and to let God decide how long we are to walk this path in the wilderness.”
I fell silent thinking of lessons and wondering if I appreciated the chance that Gid’s purchase of me offered. Ned allowed me to be contemplative. I guess it served his purpose to impress on the children our history. Then he asked, “What of the world today? You’ve seen a great deal more of it than even the elders of the Village of Riverside have and some of them are widely travelled. I understand you originally come from a place far to the east of the Peaks.”