Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Chapter 16

Pulled back to the present I nodded.  “Yes, my community is … was … within a day’s ride from a large river called the Mississippi.  At one time it was much closer but during the Great War some of the bombs caused an earth shaker and the big river has since changed course several times eventually settling in a different pattern than it had before the war.” 

“And due to terrible circumstances you lost your parents and were placed into the care of other family and they migrated out of that area and that is how you’ve seen so much of this land.”

To myself I thought that was a polite way of saying it that allowed me to retain some dignity.  

“What was it like leaving your home and traveling to the Peaks?” 

I doubted he meant emotionally so I recounted what I remember of the beginning of the trip and then said, “Ages ago the land between the Mississippi River and the Peaks used to be a large prairie land.  There was nothing but tall grasses for as far as the eye could see but that was when the country of the US was young and people called pioneers travelled the land looking for a place to call a home of their own; similar to those today who seek a place where they can build a homestead or clan farm away from the corrupted lands and contaminated water.  Back then there were so many of these pioneers that they started congregating together in places so that the land could not hold them all.  Then cities were built in the prairie land to hold all the people.  The prairie lands were cross fenced creating large farms and cattle herds to feed all of the people of the large cities.  Long roads and highways called interstates were built to connect the cities and the cities became larger … and larger and larger.  There were so many people living in these cities that some people had to live outside them in places called suburbs and even many of those became crowded with people and became cities all of their own.  Most of us today cannot even imagine the number of people that used to live and work in these places in buildings made of metal and glass that stretched high into the sky.  Most of these cities are ruins and have been for over several generations but in the East there are still people living in what remains of similar places, but they are dark and terrible areas full of disease and deformities and depravities.  There are some missionaries that feel the call to go into such places but few return due to falling victim to those they would seek to help.  What little light they shed is often swallowed by the blackness of the hearts of the people that live there.” 

Returning to the migration I said, “The land between the Mississippi and the Peaks has in great part returned to what it once was but in some places the land is still so damaged by the remains of the old-cities and from the bombs of the Great War that they are called Corrupted and if you wish to retain your place amongst the living and the sane you avoid them.  I do not believe in ghosts and haunts but if such did exist, they would live in the Corrupteds.” 

I saw some of the children looking at each other the same way we had when the Brothers had told this history in our classes.  It was like a ghost story that caused you to shiver deliciously.  “Some of the roads from the time of the Great War and before still exist, even if it is just as hard-packed shadows on the earth.  Salvagers used these roads for generations and they became the barter routes.  These are the roads we traveled across the Plains on.  Then we came to the Peaks.” 

“The Peaks are really a combination of mountain ranges that once had names that meant something to people.  Today we lump them all together and call all of the ranges ‘The Peaks.’  I have travelled many roads through the Peaks and have seen evidence that there used to be many more roads and paths cut by the hands of man.  The Great War and the Year of the Quakes that happened shortly afterwards during the Era of Confusion destroyed many of these man-made passages and not a few of the natural ones as well.  I’ve seen what remains of the sea of ash that touches the western most foothills of the Peaks that was created when volcanoes joined the quakes.  I haven’t gone as far as the west coast of this land and have no desire to, though I’ve met and listened to traders that cover those difficult routes.  Huge chunks of land fell into the Cific Ocean during the Year of the Quakes and the maps left over from before the Great War no longer reflect how the coastlines really lie today.  It is a rough and rugged country full of desert and destruction the closer you get to the Cific these days, and some areas are uninhabitable by neither man nor beast.  Salt water from the Cific encroaches far inland via the old underground aqueducts allowing only the hardiest of plants and trees to survive.” 

A bell started ringing and all of the children groaned.  Ned smiled and reminded them, “It is time to go to your apprenticeships.  Now children, don’t dawdle or you will receive tallies.” 

After the children had filed out obediently although reluctantly and headed away, many of them stopping to ask if I would come back, Ned turned to me and said, “I know that you cannot stay but perhaps next time Gideon can bring himself to return to the Village you will grace our school with another lecture?” 

“Oh Sir, I wasn’t lecturing, merely answering your questions.” 

“Humility is a characteristic to be cultivated but do not let it blind you to the fact that you have a gift.  I’ve rarely seen the children as rapt as they were listening to you.” 

I just blinked as Ned was not a man that I could contradict no matter my personal feelings, he reminded me too much of the Brothers that had taught me back in my school days, days that I remembered with fondness and perhaps treasured all the more for the fact they had been cut short. 

I was happy to help clean the classroom and set it up for the next day and afterwards Ned showed me their library and map and document collection.  This is where Gid found me a short while later.  When I saw him I knew instinctively what he was going to ask.  “Do you feel well enough to travel?” 

“I’m not normally so weak as you witnessed me being.  It was just the ants.  I’ve slept the sick away so it will be as you say and as soon as you say.” 

“Good.  And don’t look all closed like that,” when he realized I had read his mood.  “The ones that count know my reasons and accept my leaving even if they don’t understand.  Those that don’t, or those that refuse to, well … it will just have to be that way.  Goodbyes have been said and Tad may be coming a bit sooner than summer if he can get away.  His father’s cousin is a trader and has sent word that he will be traveling through in the spring.  Tad may ride with him a while and see what comes of it.” 

“Lurna …” 

“… will have to learn to accept what she can’t change.” 

Ned stepped forward and said, “I will miss you … and your Yulee though we’ve only just met … but some are meant to stay and some are meant to go.  It isn’t like you are traveling to one of the coasts.  You aren’t even going to be a full day’s ride away.  I’ll speak with Lurna and try and bring her around.” 

“I will be grateful if you can.  Verna said the same thing.  I don’t want to hurt Lurna, she’s been a mother to me.  I just can’t do this her way any longer.” 

“Then go and may God watch over you and bless you in this life you’ve chosen.” 

It wasn’t quite mid-day when we headed off.  I kept watching to see if Gid was covering up his sorrow but reality was that the closer to the gate we rode, the lighter the day seemed to ride on his shoulders.  And once we were outside the gate and heading away from the communities and towards the foothills he actually stopped to take a deep breath and smiled. 

“We’re free Yulee,” he said grinning at me. 


Looking at me closely he said, “I’ve come to know that sound.  It means there are words behind your lips you are keeping there.” 

“I …” 

“Is it you prefer the village?” he asked cautiously.  “You seem to have enjoyed spending time at the school with Ned.”

I shook my head. 

“Then what is it?” 

Are a moment to gird my courage I asked, “Are … are you sure that there wasn’t something I could have done to make this better?  I … I …” 

“Back to the Lurna business are we?  Look, it is what it is.  I’m sorry it came to this but I’m a man.  I have the right to have some say over my own future.  On top of that, being hemmed in by the village and the people in it never has brought me any pleasure.  Yes, living outside the wall has some dangers to it.  There’s wild animals, bandits and raiders, we’ll be on our own if there’s some problem or other, and we won’t just be able to run to the shops when there’s something missing or something broken.  To me the risks are still better than the alternative.  I need my space and the chance for a little privacy now and again; or at least privacy from prying little eyes forever rudely in my business.  The parting was inevitable.” 


“Now look here Yulee¸ this isn’t the Darks.  I’m not out to gather a harem of women, lead a cult, or be a war lord.  I don’t want to travel all over salvaging or bartering.  Nor am I an archaeologist or a philosopher that is drawn to digging into all of the old-cities and outlying areas of the spoiled zones looking for old tech or other scraps of by gone days to examine and ponder over.  I don’t want to move to the east where they are building warehouses where they can produce goods on a grand scale.  I just want my piece of ground and peace to live on it my way.” 

After some consideration I said, “That sounds like something other than family issues.” 

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.  Yes, Lurna is a painful thorn in my side at times but she isn’t the only thing I need to be free of.  The village is just too full, too congested.  There are just too many rules to follow all the time.  I understand the need for rules when you’ve got that many people living in that small a space but there seems to be as many rules as people lately and they are starting to run at cross purposes to one another.  I want to live free Yulee, or at least give it a good try.” 

“Then it shall be as you say.” 

“Good,” he said and for a moment we both watched the careful plodding of the oxen that pulled the wagon.  Then Gid told me, “Grab that basket under your feet.  Apparently you managed to impress Lolly – she’s one of the older girls and trust me, she’s hard to impress.  She fixed us a basket lunch and sent along a few things that you might need in another basket that is back in the wagon.  She got the idea after listening to Sabrina ring a peel over Lurna’s head about how her step daughter had nearly the same trick played on her last Founding Day and how the boys had promised not to do something like that again.  Sabrina has been complaining of the boys longer than any of us and she’s threatened to kidnap them and send them to her husband who is a logger.  She said he’d work the boys so hard they’d have no time for mischief unless they wanted to end up dead.  Lurna is upset because she knows that Sabrina will do it too, and damn the consequences, rather than see the boys completely ruined.  She values Father’s memory too much to see any of his offspring go to rack and ruin.  She also got into it with Vaniece and told her that she wasn’t being a proper wife to Jace and that she’d better get over her airs and graces and get to work before Jace grew tired of her and set her aside.” 


He nodded, “Yeah, and there’s a chest of cloth buried in the wagon someplace.  Sabrina and Heather both stormed the family coffers and picked some yardage and some thread they said you’ll find useful.” 

I felt somewhat overwhelmed so kept quiet so as not to deter Gid’s high spirits.  As we entered the forest I heard a strange sound and realized it was coming from the back under the tarp.  I twisted around to look but the tarp was securely tied down. Gid snickered, “You’ve taken forever to notice.” 


“Aren’t you the least curious?” 

“Curiosity killed the cat.” 

“Well, you’re no cat you’re my woman.  So do you wish to know what you hear or not?” 

“Yes please.” 


Having no expectations of that on top of all the other that Gid had already spoken of I said, “Ex … excuse me?” 

He snickered again.  “I learned today that not all of the family feels as Lurna does and most of them decided if I was going to do this crazy thing they’d at least send me on my way well provisioned.   I thought it would be a year or two before I could afford it, but apparently they believe that with a woman of my own I may make it after all.” 

Since that told me no more than I had known before I waited.  He snickered again and said, “We have chickens, geese, ducks, and quail to keep us in eggs until cold weather sets in.  And that snuffling noise you hear is the pup I was promised that was sired by Roof.  If he manages to grow into his paws he’ll be even bigger than his sire.  It will be a job feeding him until he is big enough to catch his own.  And there’s a furball in there to help with any mice or vermin that want to enter the cabin.” 


“Cat.  Sabrina’s house cat just had a litter a couple of months back and her whole line have been champion mousers and much sought after.  And luckily the cat is dog tolerant because the pup wouldn’t stop whining until the furball climbed into the cage with him.  They’ve given each other tongue baths so I doubt there will be any fighting between them.  Now pull out one of those pasties, I’m starving.”


1 comment:

  1. Can never get enough of your story's Kathy thanks.