The Believers – Chapter 6

The plans Troy presented were much more detailed this time, Gina noted with pride. She listened to him explain to her and Dana how everything would work.  This was also one of the rare meetings that Joshua took an active part in, since they were discussing the building of something.   The walls would provide shelter from the weather for guards that were on duty. Troy showed them where the different sections of the city would be and how they would be accessed.  He’d divided the city into six sections, not blindly trusting the strength of the cement blocks.  And while many doors would open from one section to another, they could also be quickly closed in an emergency.  And in the center of the city, their own homes would be built on the highest part of the rise in the land.  It was at this point in his explanation that the door opened, and one of Donovan’s men entered with a nervous look on his face.  The glare he received from Gina confirmed his fear, but nevertheless he crossed the room to whisper something to her advisor.  Donovan’s face darkened, then he straightened and gave his man an order.  The servant was more than happy to leave to obey the order.

“Ma’am, I beg your pardon, but we have a report from the leader of the team that was sent to Silverlake.  Apparently, the team’s captain was the only one to return.”

Her frustration at the interruption vanished, and her eyebrows rose.  She turned her attention back to the door as it opened, and an armored soldier entered the room, with his helmet under one arm.  He was dirty from the road, and looked exhausted, but anxious to deliver his report.  He lowered his head in deference.  Donovan motioned for him to begin.

“Sir, we assaulted Silverlake the same as any other place we were sent to.”  He spoke more to Donovan than to the ruling family.  “But instead of being faced with their normal fighters, another group came out to meet us.  There were twenty of us, and only ten of them, so I thought it would be no trouble, but…”  He paused, clearly embarrassed to be the one who’d led such a failed mission.

“Go on,” Donovan said.  “We’ll need to know as much as we can if we’re to adequately plan our next assault on the place.”

The captain nodded.  “Yes, sir.  They were dressed in black, no armor that I could see, but their weapons were long spears with a strange, curved blade on the end.  They dismounted the men that charged on horseback, and when we tried to move in on foot, they outfought us in a way I’ve never seen before.  One of them must have been in his 60th year, and he killed two of my men with his bare hands… while they were in armor!  Sir, I’ve never seen anything like it.  I’ve never seen anyone fight like that.  I can’t even describe it.”

Donovan looked to his mistress’ face.  The confusion in his face was mixed with caution, whereas her face showed more impatience than anything else.  Donovan turned back to his captain.  His first instinct was concern for his soldier.  “Go get some food and rest, captain.  We’ll be calling you back in when we start planning the next assault.  We’ll be sending you along with them, no matter who leads it.  Your knowledge of the place will be valuable.  And try to remember as much as you can about the way they fought- we’ll try to prepare the soldiers we send to fight these people.”  The captain bowed, then bowed again to the ruling family, then took his leave.

Gina began pacing.  Her face was angular and severe, but now looked hawk-like with her anger.  Troy and Dana stood near the plans for the new city, keeping silent.  Nothing was said for a long moment.  Finally, Dana broke the silence.

“Mother, we need to send an overwhelming force.  When word of this defeat spreads- and it will- it will encourage more of these villagers to resist us.  More soldiers, and more people, will get killed.”

Joshua looked over at her, and the scorn was fresh in his eyes.  “Did it ever occur to you to just leave those people in peace?  How many soldiers would that cost?”

Dana’s eyes reflected his scorn.  “You have no idea what you’ve been given-”  She was about to continue, but her mother’s hand rose in the air, signaling them to be silent.

“Donovan, I want you to assemble a force that will over-run that city.  We won’t have much time before their wall is complete, so it’ll need to happen as quickly as possible.  Estimate three of our soldiers for each of their defenders.  This needs to be an unmistakable message.”

Joshua rose from his place at the table and headed toward the door.  Troy called after him, and began to follow him, but again their mother’s hand rose into the air, motioning for him to stay.

“Your brother doesn’t hold the same perspective on this city that we do, and there’s little chance of us changing his mind,” she said quietly.  “Donovan, how long will it take to prepare for another assault?”

“Of the kind you’re suggesting?  At least two weeks, maybe longer.  I can’t honestly say.  In order to get soldiers we’d trust with keeping this quiet, which is what I’m presuming you want-” he paused, and she nodded.  “We’ll have to wait until several other teams return from their assignments.  The, uh, hunting teams check in regularly, but not every day, and sometimes not every week.  Getting word out to them, then getting them all back here and equipped… perhaps two weeks if we’re lucky.  Then we’d have to divide them into groups, and stage their approach.  We can’t have them travel together, really, because they’d need somewhere to stay, and no one village near Silverlake has enough room for a force of that size to bed down for the night.  Many don’t even have an inn for travelers to stay at.  But if we covered it as being temporary reinforcements, sent to help train local defenses and protect the villages while their own walls are being built…”  He thought for a moment, then shook his head.  “No, the best places to stay will be in Riverbend, Windhill, and Bluefield, and their walls are complete.”  He shrugged.  “Well, if this will happen with any amount of speed, they’ll only need to be in those villages for one night, then ride on their destination the next day.”

“What if Silverlake has completed their wall?” Troy asked.

“If they follow the same kinds of design we’ve seen, they’ll mount the door to swing outward.  In that case, we put the iron hooks in the door, and have the horses pull them out.  If they mount the doors inside, we can break the door down.  Of course, if we don’t care to keep the city, we can just set fire to the door- or throw fire right over the wall.”  Donovan shrugged again.  “History gives us several examples of how to deal with this sort of situation.  We only need to choose one.”

Gina’s eyes were locked on her daughter’s.  Donovan again found himself wishing he knew what they were thinking when they communicated like that.

“Choose one, Donovan.  Make sure the men are prepared for everything and anything this time.  The last attack assumed a lot of things, and that’s why it failed.  This attack must not.”

*****

The sound of ringing hammers was something that never ceased in the village of Hammerhand. Garret wasn’t entirely sure whether or not he had missed that sound, but he had certainly missed the place.  Almost everything was the same as when he left it, except that it all looked smaller.  He had been ten years old when his family had moved to Carter’s Hill.  Now he was 24, and had been sent here to protect his childhood home.  Although he wasn’t in command of the entire unit, he was a senior man, shown respect and deference by the other soldiers and asked his advice by the captain.  His knowledge of the village had helped everyone get along better, even though almost all the old village defenders were now in Carter’s Hill for re-training.  He knew the people weren’t entirely happy about the deal they’d struck with the leaders of the big city, but the new wall they had protecting them was definitely worth it.

And now that the village was safer, they had more field-workers coming from the big city.  There was only so much space for plants outside Carter’s Hill, only so much need for workers.  Many of the poorer people were electing to be moved out here to Hammerhand, as well as Bluefield and Riverbend.  The fields around the smaller villages hadn’t been used to their full potential before- but now, with the extra help, the harvest would be spectacular.

And perhaps, for the first time in a long, long time, everyone in Carter’s Hill would have enough to eat.  That, Garret had to keep telling himself, would be worth the burden of extra oversight from the soldiers.

He would never be completely comfortable with his orders, and he had known it upon hearing them.  But no one said this job was supposed to be easy.  His knowledge of the village, his rapport with the people, had been only one of the reasons for his assignment here.  But he also knew who would be the most out-spoken critics of the arrangement with Carter’s Hill.  He knew who would cause trouble.  In the minds of his superiors, he knew this was just as important.  His presence there, in the uniform of soldiers from Carter’s Hill, would tell those troublemakers and dissenters that at least one of the people guarding them knew who they were, and what was on their mind.  That knowledge alone would keep their mouths in check.

“Keep a close eye on the fields.  Make sure the field-workers don’t stray too close to the woods- the Turned may be closer than they think.”  Those had been his official orders.  Protect the people from the dangers that lay between the trees.  That sounded so much better than the implied orders, the real orders;

Make sure no one organizes opposition while working in the outer fields.  Make sure they don’t try to escape into the trees.

Which was ridiculous, he knew.  Where would they go once they crossed the tree-line?  If they were lucky, they’d be able to make it on foot to another village.  But the distance wasn’t the problem- it never had been.  The problem was the darker parts of the forest, where the shadows were deep enough for the Turned to pass the day.  Stumbling across the walking dead on the other side of the tree line wasn’t just a hazard, it was nearly a certainty.  Every night there would be a swarm of them at the walls and gates- thousands of them- and they had to pass the days somewhere.  So why even an implied order that the workers be made to stay?

The people who had come from Carter’s Hill applied themselves to their field work with a will he hadn’t seen elsewhere.  These were people who knew hunger all too well, and knew they’d been given a chance to rid themselves of it, and maybe their friends back home, too.  They all wanted something better, and now knew what they had to do to achieve it.  Garret smiled, watching them work, knowing how much better fed his people- both here and in the big city- would be.

The families often worked together; a husband and wife would work areas near to each other, and the children would help with minor tasks.  It worked out very efficiently, and was practiced throughout the fields.  So neither Garret nor the other soldiers stationed in the fields noticed how closely they were being watched by two of the families near the northern tree line.  They had been going about their work quietly, and even the children had been reserved, doing what tasks they were assigned without anything to say to their new neighbors.  They were waiting for a signal, and watching the guards for their chance.

The two things happened together.  Far enough away from the guards for them to do anything, even if they’d noticed, the two families suddenly set down their tools, gathered up the smaller children, then skittered to the trees, where they’d seen the man beckoning them to follow him.  They’d been told what to expect, so they didn’t even flinch when they saw his blood-shot eyes.

*****

Ilyana’s toes curled downward into the dirt, gripping the earth and rooting her to it.  Her hands were up at the level of her throat and eyes, palms turned upward as if she was presenting a gift or expressing a profound idea.  Her muscles were at a state of simultaneous relaxation and tension.  Her eyes locked on the young man facing her, in a similar position, but with his hands closed.

An ancient wise man had once said, “It is a great mistake to anticipate the outcome of an encounter.”  For some reason that advice was easier to keep in mind when you were fighting for your life, she noticed.  When you had to kill or be killed, it was easier to let nature take its course, as the old saying had advised.  The yearly tournament made it much harder to keep the thought of winning out of your mind.  Perhaps it was the knowledge that death, while probably watching, would keep his distance from these fights.

The matches were set up to go slower this year.  Since the Order was under a much greater threat, having many of its best fighters exhausted or lightly wounded at any given time was a risk that had to be minimized.  Instead of being a nearly marathon event, every entrant would fight only one match per day.  This had the interesting side-effect of not exhausting the final contenders as the days wore on.  Every match was preceded by a full night of rest and recuperation.  This meant the fights were far more energetic.

This match would be intense, but she knew her opponent.  While older and larger than she, he wasn’t quite as adept with seizing and controlling.  He’d won his previous two matches by knock-outs, but he’d have more trouble with her.  And she turned out to be correct- within fifteen seconds, he’d made his mistake.  His left arm had been allowed to stray out too far as he turned to throw a kick at her.  It hadn’t been meant to hit her, just to move her backward as he moved in for the ‘kill’.  Instead of catching the kick to throw him down, she caught the extended arm, gripped the wrist at just the right point- her hand was just big enough for positive control- and moved behind him, pressing the fingers of her free hand down into the muscles of his shoulders, right at the base of his neck.  It took only a moment to find the nerve/vein crossing and exploit it.  He tried to flex the muscle to protect himself, but it was too late.  The combination of the two pressure points she held on the wrist and the one she’d pressed on his shoulder sent an impossible shock of pain.  It didn’t knock him unconscious, but stunned him hard enough and long enough for her to win the fight.  Turning his arm over quickly and forcing him downward to the ground, she had control over his entire body while gripping only his wrist.  She only had to apply real pressure one time before he began slapping his free hand on the ground, signaling his surrender.

Those who were watching the fight applauded politely, and began to disperse.  Some headed toward other matches, others prepared for matches of their own.  Ilyana took the small copper medallion from the instructor who had governed the fight, bowed to him and to her opponent, then began to head back into the village.  Several of the field-workers had paused in their work to watch the match, but quickly went back to work as she approached.  The Order has made it plain that a short break to observe a match was acceptable- again, they were taking the opportunity to show their training and skill at fighting.  The effect was powerful- not one of the workers had attempted to fight back.  Ilyana smiled at those she made eye contact with as she passed, and they smiled back at her.  In her elation at winning the match, she had almost not seen the figure watching her from the trees.

The matches were held out in the fields, just as their practices were.  This particular match had been held within 20 meters of the tree-line, and someone had been watching from the trees.

They were dressed like she was, like they all were – loose-fitting black clothing that was otherwise non-descript.  It was a woman, but larger than anyone Ilyana had ever seen.  Her shoulders were broad, her arms larger than normal.  Women and men alike were almost always in excellent physical condition in the Order, but this woman was different.  Ilyana could tell the woman was very different from this distance, but couldn’t figure out why.  The figure turned, and moved deeper among the trees.  Ilyana did not follow.

*****

Tower Hill had been a regular stop of Marlena’s for many years. Most of the time, the scattered villages that dotted the countryside were mainly the same.  Each had a different specialty, different things they could produce or grow locally or an artisan or craftsman whose work could not be reproduced elsewhere.  But from a distance, they were more or less identical.  Perhaps a local oddity would distinguish them in some small way.  On the whole, it was hard to tell which village you were approaching from the way they looked.  Tower Hill was named after the impressive rise that the city was built on- the slope was daunting, even if it had done little to stop the Turned over the years.  She’d been here lots of times, even though she didn’t go inside the perimeter for fear of frightening the local people out of trading with Lincoln and the others.  But watching from this distance, it was clear that it was very different now.

The most obvious change was what the people there were wearing.  Even from the treeline, she and Xeren could see that almost everyone was wearing only black or white.  The field workers were in white clothing- dirty from their work in the soil, but it had started as white- and several of the people at work within the perimeter fence were dressed the same, but everyone else seemed to be dressed in either black or clothes that were black and had faded to dark grey.

“Look at them at work in the field,” Xeren said.  “I’ve seen a lot of farmers at work, and none of them have been so disciplined as this.”  Marlena agreed- they moved with purpose from one task to another, from one area to the next.  No one was resting, not even stopping to catch their breath.

Marlena shook her head.  Then it occurred to her what was strange about the village itself; everyone there was at work on something.

“There’s no one playing,” she said to Xeren, quietly even though no one else was nearby.  “Usually there’s children playing around in the square, or in the inner fields somewhere.  I see people smaller than others, and they might be children, but they’re working as hard as the adults are.”

Xeren nodded.  “Look at these two, closest to us.  They can’t have more than 13 years behind them.”

The voice that spoke next shocked the two of them so greatly, they almost didn’t comprehend what was said;

“The Order teaches great self-discipline at a very early age.”

Marlena spun to locate the source of the voice, and located her quickly.  5 meters behind them, and walking toward them, was a woman with a face she recognized from the previous summer.  The woman who had tracked her and Jameson, who had confronted him in Tarense, and then kissed him hard on the mouth even though she knew he was Immune, and would infect her.  She had to be Immune herself, or she’d have been dead soon after.  But Marlena hadn’t felt her approach.  She glanced at Xeren, and the expression told her that neither of them had.

The woman looked past them, into the field.  She wore grey, loose fitting clothes, but when she came closer they looked as if they’d started as black, and lost their color over time and wear.  “When I was here last, they had just taken this village,” she said.  She took a deep breath, then let it out, sharply.  “It looks as if they’ve moved most of the original people.”

Marlena held her gaze on the woman, her entire body tense.  The woman’s eyes were the same light-blue they had been before, but the whites of her eyes were red now.  But why couldn’t Marlena sense her presence?  She could feel the Infection turn its attention toward normal people, and she could sense the Infection in someone who was Immune, but with this woman there was nothing.  It made Marlena slightly nervous, even if she didn’t show it.

“Mar, what is it?” Xeren asked, catching her companion’s reaction.

The woman was between them now, looking out of the forest and toward the fields.  “She’s only seen me three times before, and I’ve been a threat two of those times.”  She nodded toward the village.  “I used to be one of them.”

“One of the Believers?” Xeren repeated, taking a half step backward.  “What do you mean, used to be?”
The woman ignored the question.  “They took Starhill first, then Carved Rock, Withered River, and now Tower Hill.  They take the villagers who survive back to Starhill, and their own people are here, working in the fields here.  Four groups of travelers have gone into the gates of these cities, thinking it was the same as last year.  Their goods have been taken, and their people enslaved.”  She took another deep breath.  “This is how the Order plans to rebuild.”
She spoke for another fifteen minutes, evenly and quietly, and Marlena and Xeren absorbed every word.  When she finished, the two of them headed back to the road Lincoln’s caravan was travelling, running in a measured but hurried pace.  Svetlana stayed, watching the village for a long time before moving off.

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5 Responses to “The Believers – Chapter 6”

  1. I want more on this series…It can’t just end like that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Thanks! Glad you’re enjoying it… there’s lots more coming! I try to post new material each week, but I’m adding chapters to Assault on Lone Star as well… There’s at least a half-dozen more installments of The Believers. Then… I gotta figure out what happens in book 3… mwahahaha!

  2. Will there be romance between Jameson and marlena????

    • Not sure – there isn’t any hint of it through the first two books, but there might be in the third. I’ve tossed the idea around, but it didn’t seem realistic for those two to go that direction at any point. This might change in the third story. I’ve only got the basic ideas for what might happen there, so we’ll see!

  3. well i hope something happens between them.. 🙂

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