The Believers – Chapter 2

Gina Carterson relaxed in her chair as Donovan spoke. She looked around at the others that were meeting with her, a mixture of challenge and inquisitiveness in her eyes.  For a long moment, they were all silent.

Each of them sat on a large chair, but there was no table before them.  No one brought notes to these meetings, except for Donovan – who would soon be furiously scratching at his paper to keep track of what the others said.  Her three children sat nearest her- Troy to her right, looking proud and confident, and Joshua in the next chair.  Her younger son always looked out of place at these meetings, and Gina knew that it was by his own design.  He made it plain at every opportunity that he wanted nothing to do with the politics of the city.  He was a builder, a maker, and these meetings took time away from things he could be making.  On her left, her youngest child, Dana, sat with her legs folded on the chair beneath her, one hand in her lap and the other on the arm of the chair.  The girl’s eyes moved from one face to another with a penetrating gaze.  In looking at her, and knowing what thoughts moved behind those eyes, Gina again found herself slightly afraid for the health of her eldest son.  Troy was the one of her children who could best govern Carter’s Hill after her own death- he had a way of speaking that the people of the city almost believed- but Dana may or may not choose to tolerate his rule.

She coldly reminded herself that the girl’s mother had been the same way.  Their mother/daughter talks about being a ruling voice from behind the leader’s face were perhaps listened to, and perhaps ignored.  It bothered Gina that she couldn’t quite tell which.

And Casper Terreth was here, across the circle from her own place.  He looked intimidated, but he’d have to learn to get past that on his own.  She wanted him here, to learn from their councils, for even though his last mission had been a failure, she believed it had not been his fault entirely.  His experiences would make him stronger, she was certain.

Donovan put his notes down as he concluded his report.  “So at present, we have positive control of Riverbend, Bluefield, and Hammerhand.  This last one is especially valuable to us- part of our agreement with them is providing armor, which they are excellent at building.  Our soldiers will move into Windhill within three days, just as soon as we have the agreement signed.  Black Rock is giving us some trouble, but I believe we’ll be able to find something to change their reasoning.”

Dana cleared her throat.  “I’ve heard reports from Black Rock that they’re planning on building their own wall.  They’re trying to stall the talks with our people out as long as they can, hoping they can have a wall built that will keep us out, as well as the Turned.”

Donovan looked up at that.  Gina met his eyes, then looked over at her daughter.  “A new wall?”

“Out of the cement blocks that our friends in Tarense are making.  Apparently they took a fair-sized delivery in the early spring, and they’ve built one section outside their fences.  They figure they can have the entire wall finished within another two months.  After that, we would have a difficult time taking the village by force.”  Dana looked back at her mother.  “If we are going to need to take control of the place, we’ll need to do it soon.”

Joshua looked at his sister without any attempt to hide his contempt, but he didn’t speak.  Troy also kept his peace, but his expression was more intrigued.  Gina stood, and paced around the outside of the circle.  “Have any of you thought up a way we can deal with this situation?  Our position here depends on our control of the nearby villages.  Black Rock will not be the last village to build their own walls.  And if they succeed, word will spread quickly.  How do we keep this from happening?”

Dana spoke again.  “The simplest solution would be to intercept the materials before they reach Black Rock.  Or any other village that has similar plans.”  She leaned forward slightly, and folded her hands in her lap.  “The gypsy clans are doing most of the deliveries, along with their usual trade goods.  It would be easy to send a team out, disguised as bandits, to meet the travelers in the wild, and take possession of the goods.  Bandits attack all the time.  It won’t be anything new.  And besides,” she nodded to Troy, “if you like the idea Troy has brewing, we could put all those blocks to good use for ourselves.”

Gina’s expression turned to curiosity, her eyes shifting to where her eldest son sat.  Troy cleared his throat.  He hadn’t prepared his idea enough to share it with her, but apparently it was time to present it.  “Mother, for a while I’ve been toying with the idea of building a new city.  Perhaps now is the time to start a project of that sort.”

All eyes were upon him now.  The idea of expanding the city had been a bold one, a major break in tradition, and while it was going well, it was expensive.  The villages hadn’t organized their tax payments yet.  And more than half of the population of the city was still starving.  The city had been too successful, and had put off the expansion for too long.  But to abandon the place entirely?  Troy silenced his own doubts, then continued.

“This city wasn’t built to handle this many people, nor was it built to be easy to add on to.  These things would be difficult, if not impossible, for us to correct at this point.  But if we were to plan a new city, not far away from this one, we could design it in such way that it could house people more efficiently and be relatively easy to expand.  Our streets now are complete chaos- if we could just dismantle all the houses in a district and re-build them in an orderly way, there would be plenty of room- the only trouble would be sheltering those people in the meantime.  If we were to start from scratch, we could change all the things we see wrong with our city, organize all the things that were unplanned before.  And now, with these new materials, the cement blocks, we have a better reason than ever to build a new wall to keep the Turned out.  But why do it here?  Why not build it in a better location, with a better plan?”

Gina allowed herself a thin smile.  “It is a good suggestion, Troy, but even after seizing the blocks for the wall, it would be expensive.  We would need to build homes for all our citizens again.”

Troy shook his head.  “No, we should let them build their own homes.  We’d merely assign them a place within the walls to build it.  They could live here, as they have been, while building their new homes, and move over when they are completed.  And they would most likely organize themselves, with groups forming to build several houses as teams.  All we’ll need to do is keep them from building over the top of each other.  I’ve seen some of the proposals that Donovan’s office has been given lately; there is a group of 6 families that are requesting permission to build a single building that will hold all of them under one roof.  Apparently one of them got the idea from a book from one of the Ancient’s cities.”

Dana chuckled to herself.  “Don’t let his façade fool you, mother.  He’s got this whole thing planned out.”

Everyone around the circle laughed.  Troy smiled at his sister.

“I’ve shared the idea with her a few times in the past, and she has helped by pointing out problems that would need solving.  But she is right – I’ve thought about it a great deal, and especially now that we could build with a much stronger outer wall…”

Gina nodded, still smiling.  “Yes, but there is one aspect of your plan that I need to be enlightened on.  We have a growing amount of unrest in our population, and if we don’t act to stem it soon, they will eventually rise up against us.  How does your plan help us in that respect?”

Troy’s eyes fell to the floor.  “I had not made a connection between the two issues, mother.  But perhaps giving them a safer home, and the chance to build a better home-“

“All our issues are connected, and so all our plans must be connected.” She delivered the rebuke as gently as she could, but it needed to be clear.  “I am not opposed to your plan, Troy, but there needs to be some aspect of it that solidifies our control over the city.”

“Mother, if we make their lives better, they’ll respect us more, and work with us more than against us.  Isn’t that enough?  Do we need to see them as children to be corralled and controlled?”  Joshua made no effort to hide the criticism in his voice.

“We’ve had this talk before, Joshua,” she replied evenly.  “The people need to be led.  They need to have a strong authority to give order to their lives.  The world outside is too harsh for people on their own- we need to work together.  That means leadership.  While there are always those who resist, the majority will live better lives because of it.”

Everyone was quiet for a moment afterward.  Joshua had stifled his usual retort, but it was there in his eyes.  He didn’t understand how much he had been given because of their position, and how precarious it really was.  Dana caught her mother’s eye, and gave her a subtle wink.  She had an idea to share, but was waiting until it was just them.

*****

Joshua was the first to leave, wasting no time getting out of the meeting room. Donovan and Troy left together, discussing Troy’s plans and how they’d be implemented.  Dana and her mother turned their two chairs to face each other.  The light from the fire was dwindling, and Gina put another small log atop the cinders.  Then they both sat, only a meter apart.  Dana waited until she heard the outer door close behind Donovan before she spoke.  As she outlined her plan, Gina again found herself proud.  While Troy was a visionary, Dana seemed always able to make the future serve the needs of the family.

*****

The two figures walked through the armory, speaking in quiet but friendly tones.  The elder of the two wore long, flowing grey robes with a black shirt showing underneath.  His hair was a uniform grey, his eyes a sparkling green.  His hands remained clasped behind him, his body completely relaxed.  His young companion looked to be almost a man, but not quite- his face still held a youthfulness that hadn’t been completely driven away.  His arms and hands were muscular and powerful, an adaptation to a life of hard work and the occupation of swinging a smithing hammer.  He’d long since removed the sleeves from his shirt, for even though the winter had been cold, he’d spent much of it at the forge.

“I’m not saying ‘no’, Symon,” the younger man said.  “I’m saying not right now.  I’m going out with Lincoln and his troupe.”  He paused for a moment as they continued walking, and shrugged.  “Traveling with them has given me a desire to see more of the world.  Besides, I’ve been making armor non-stop all winter.  It’d be nice to have a break.”

Symon took the answer gracefully.  “I have been blessed to meet you, Jameson, and you have worked hard over the winter.  I guess I fear for your safety in the days ahead.  You are valuable to me, to all of us, and not just for your skills.  The developments of last summer and fall are going to begin bearing fruit soon, and no one can tell what will happen.”

Jameson nodded.  He had plenty of his own fears and doubts, but after being on the move for most of the previous summer, he had felt a wanderlust like never before eating at him all winter long.  And above all, he knew where Lincoln and the other families were going.  He owed them his help, he was certain.  He owed them that, at the very least.

*****

The guard at the front gate had been doubled, even during the day, ever since the three survivors had come from Starhill.  They had been lucky to make it; they were exhausted, sunburned, and had made it thru the gates less than an hour before full sunset.  Their horses had almost collapsed from the run.  The tale they had told was hard to believe, but no gypsy caravans had come down that road since.  The guards were relaxed, but tensed every time they saw travelers on the road.  Logic told them an attack would not come from the road, but still…

The group of travelers arrived in the village, pairs and trios clustered together, but still quite obviously a cohesive group.  As the two in the lead approached the gate, the guards silently agreed that while they did not come to the village to make trouble, they were not to be underestimated.  The group crowded the open court just outside, then dismounted and led their horses inside.

Saia leaned her head toward Dresten as they approached the guards.  “You’re not going to blurt out where we’re from again, are you?”

He smirked back at her.  “Not right here, to the guards, but I plan to tell the council, yes.  We should be honest about who we are, and why we’re doing this.  They’ll be suspicious otherwise, don’t you think?”

Saia looked at the guards.  “They’re suspicious already.  And the last place we stopped instructed us to leave when you told them.”

Dresten nodded.  “And for the village before, knowing where we came from sealed their agreement.  They were grateful enough to provide us with horses, and they didn’t have to.”

Saia couldn’t disagree.  Their group of 10 travelers was in an odd and awkward position, and finding their way out in the rest of the world would be complicated and difficult.  Added to that was their suspicion that the Order would try to kill any and all of them on sight.  Anything else would be a surprise, after what they’d done to the Compound that they’d all called home for most of their life.

One of the guards stepped into their path as they reached the gate.  “What business have you here?”

*****

Dresten smiled at the village councilors, shaking his head. “No, we are not trying to sell a service to you.  We simply offer our help to your people- in particular, your fighters.  We have all we need to survive, and we’ll pay for the food we eat.  You have plenty of experience with the Turned, but fighting against people is something different.  Bandit gangs come and go, but do your fighters know how to keep the Order from destroying your fences?”

He stood forward from the rest of the group, but curious villagers had gathered all around them, and watched from a prudent distance as he spoke with the village council.

One of the councilors met Dresten’s gaze.  “Are you trying to frighten us with the Believers?”

“You should be frightened of them enough without us coming here,” he replied.  “Their sole purpose in life is to help the Turned to kill every man, woman, and child they find.”

A cold look crossed her eyes, and the councilor took a deep breath before speaking again.  “Be cautious of what you tell us about them.  I’ve seen them attack before.”  After a pause, and a questioning look, she continued.  “My home was attacked by them when I was 17.  My mother and I were the only two that survived.”

Dresten nodded, slowly, his eyes downcast.  “I’m very sorry to hear that.”  His eyes came up, and met hers again.  “But it means that you are the best person to describe to your friends what these people can do.  You don’t need me to do it.  Tell us about that night.”

Another deep breath, then she continued.  “There were 8 of them, and 25 fighters against them.  They cut through the fighters like they were harvesting grain.  They had weapons I had never seen, before or since- a long pole with a blade attached to it.  They just peeled the armor right off of our people.”

Dresten nodded.  “The polearms.  They’re built only for fighting someone in armor – they have almost no other use.  Please continue.”

“Three of them were burned,” the councilor continued, “but the other five cut holes in our fences.  Then they just left.  They ran back out across the fields, and disappeared into the trees on the other side not long before the Turned moved toward us.”

“That’s what they do,” Dresten said.  “They believe that the Turned are part of the Creator’s plan to put an end to human life.  While your fighters spend their days practicing to fight the Turned, these men and women spend their days practicing to fight you.  Your armor is no defense against them unless you know better how to fight them.  And that is what my friends and I can teach you.”

The eldest of the councilors spoke again.  “And how did you become an expert on defending against the Believers?”

Dresten paused for a moment.  “I won’t deceive you.  My friends and I were once part of the Order, ourselves.”  He paused again.  “If you wish us to leave your village because of this, I would not blame you.  But if you will accept our help, we can teach you how to stop them from opening your fences to the Turned.”

The council had taken a collective step back.  The young woman who had told her tale now turned to look at the crowd around her.  She called a name, then beckoned someone forward.

Out of the crowd, and elderly couple stepped forward, supporting a young woman who carried her toddler child.  She came forward cautiously, eyeing the new arrivals suspiciously.  She was not subtle about her attempt to keep a distance from them.

“Lara, tell them about Starhill,” the councilor said.  “Tell them what happened.”

The young woman was silent for a long time, then she said, “You dress the same way they did.  Are you coming here next?”  Her voice was a mixture of timid and challenging.  She wouldn’t meet Dresten’s eyes.

Dresten slowly pushed his robes away from his left side, detaching his sword and scabbard from his belt, and setting it on the ground.  The rest of his group followed his lead.

“You were attacked by the Order?” he asked.  “We left them when we found we were being used, deceived.  What the Order stands for is a lie, but most of them won’t see it.  We are trying now to help people like you defend yourselves against them.”  He took a slow step forward, away from his weapon.  “Please tell me what happened, and how you escaped.”

“It happened first thing in the morning.  Most of our fighters were heading to sleep.  My husband and I got on horses the moment they were spotted.  The guards wanted to close us inside, but we got away in time.  There were dozens of them, maybe as many as a hundred.  They came out of the trees, crossing our fields and attacking the soldiers instead of the fences.  Before we entered the forest, we could see them pushing through the gate and taking the whole village.”

Dresten was confused.  He looked back to Saia and Idzac, but they didn’t understand it any better than he had.  Was it the Order, or another group trying to look like them?  What other group would do so?  No bandit clan he’d heard of had more than a dozen members.  If it was the Order, why would they attack in the morning?  Something had changed dramatically, and the village she spoke of was close.  He and the others wouldn’t be able to stay in this place long.

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3 Responses to “The Believers – Chapter 2”

  1. Brenda Russell Says:

    This book just gets better and better with each chapter…

  2. this is fantastic writing, I am totally hooked.

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