October 04, 2004

Chapter 1

The raiders crept out of the woods near dawn, ten men. Ezra knew they weren't friends - no one in his community carried guns openly. He woke his wife and daughter, warned them of the danger, and went to meet his visitors.

The knock on the door came soon enough. Ezra pushed the share button and answered the door.

"Who is it?"

"God's Army, here for you and yours," a man answered.

"I don't believe God has an army," replied Ezra.

The door flew open, and three men came in, all carrying guns and knives. Ezra's wife stood beside him, pale but determined not to show fear.

"Of course God has an army, and we're the army. Our leaders listen to God nightly. We do God's will."

"And what would that will be?" asked Ezra.

"God plans to prosper us, that we might gather his army. You can join, or you can die."

"I'm not joining any army," said Ezra.

The man raised his pistol and shot Ezra in the head.

"That's what we do to heathens and infidels, right, Nathan?"

"So right, Uriah. Especially when there's a pretty woman nearby. What's your name, ma'am?"

"Ruth."

"Read her God's will, Uriah."

Uriah hunted through his pockets for a piece of paper and read it to Ruth:

"When thou goest forth to war against thine enemies, and the Lord thy God hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast taken them captive,
And seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldst have her to thy wife;

"Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house, and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails;

"And she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife.

"And it shall be, if thou have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money, thou shalt not make merchandise of her, because thou hast humbled her."

Nathan smiled. "I have humbled you, Ruth." Uriah kept a gun pointed at her while Nathan tied her hands and feet, then touched her cheek.

There was a shot from outside.

"What's going on out there?" bellowed Uriah.

"Someone got away," was the reply.

"Don't let them get away - chase them!"

Clouds dimmed the sunrise as it started to snow.

***

John had heard the whole exchange - all of them did. The share button broadcast whatever happened in the room to the whole community, turning on their radios and alerting them to a problem.

John paused for a moment to remember Ezra, who he'd met briefly a few times, and pray for Ruth in her captivity and Keren in her flight.

There was a knock on his door, and his son Gideon entered the room.

"We're packing, father."

"Good. I don't know what to do."

"I thought we'd bring you, like we did last time. You can stay in the wagon."

"I don't suppose I have much choice. They don't want me there, but I don't suppose God's Army has much better to offer."

"No, they definitely don't. I wonder who they are this time?"

John just shook his head.

***

Jacob played back the recording, listening for any clues about "God's Army." He couldn't tell whether they really were an army, or whether it was just a small group of desperate men with religious pretensions. They did seem to know their Bible, if not parts he would have chosen, and appeared to work as a group.

Miriam came into the room, signaling for him to take off his headphones. "We're all ready to go. It sounds like everyone is moving quickly."

"I hate leaving the house to whoever wants to come by."

"I know, Jacob, but I think we'll have enough to do without worrying about the house."

"I hate leaving Ezra out there unburied and Ruth in the hands of this 'Army.'"

"That's a harder problem. But maybe we have a month to rescue Ruth?"

"Maybe. I don't trust these people to live up to the scripture they quote, though."

"All we can do is hope, and get people to safety."

"You're right as usual, Miriam. At least Keren got away."

"She did?"

"Yes, she's on a wagon heading in right now. Judah reported that just before you came in."

"Does she know?"

"He didn't tell me, but I suspect she does."

Jacob started packing up the radio to load it in the wagon. "We should get to the city quickly," he said. "We need sanctuary, but we also need their help."

***

Jacob and Miriam reached the bottom of the hill quickly. They lived close to the city, and didn't have much to pack. Wagons were coming on all three of the roads that met there, preparing to climb the hill to the city gates.

"I'll stay down here," said Miriam.

"Are you sure?" asked Jacob.

"Yes, I'm sure. They'll need you at the city, and I can keep people moving smoothly here."

"What about the raiders?"

"If they come, I know these woods well. And there'll be plenty of wagons here, so I doubt they'll be as eager."

"I think they've figured out that we don't fight back."

"Yes, probably. But we don't, and that's that."

"Are you certain you want to stay here?"

"Yes, I'm certain. I'll come up with the last wagon."

Jacob went into the wagon and pulled out some food for her and spare batteries for the radio. The snow swirled while Miriam talked to people, getting them ready to go up to the city.

"Jacob will lead you. It's not a market day, but he knows the way and the guard."

Jacob handed Miriam the supplies and batteries and headed back to the wagon as the horses pulled slowly up the frozen road.

***

Gideon drove the second wagon behind Jacob. John was in the back, well-wrapped in blankets, and Gideon's wife Sarah was tending him. The snow kept falling, but the road was clear enough, and the horses seemed content. The forests along the road were quiet, though he watched and listened for any signs of trouble.

They halted in front of the gates. Jacob was out of his wagon, pushing the entry button and looking for the guard. Gideon got out of his wagon and blocked the wheels, then walked over to Jacob.

"Is there anyone here?" Gideon asked.

"Not that I can find. The entry button is normally lit, but it's dark and nothing seems to happen."

"What about the hospital? Can you contact the chaplain?"

"Not until we get inside the gate, no."

Gideon remembered his father in the wagon, and pulled Jacob aside. "Can we talk?" he asked.

Jacob came with him. "What do you need?"

"I don't need anything, but thought you should know John is in my wagon. Could the city be closed because of that?"

Jacob thought for a minute. "I don't think so. He's been here before, and the city knew it then, though we didn't tell him."

Gideon looked relieved. "I don't think you told us, either."

"The city people... well, it wasn't quite a privilege they normally extend exiles, but under the circumstances, they felt it was better to let him in, so long as he stayed in the wagon. The guard knew John was here before I did."

"Maybe they've changed their minds?"

"If they changed their minds, I think they'd have told us. I don't think they'd turn off the lights and hide behind the walls. It's not like we're a threat to them, and I doubt very much that John's a threat to them."

"He's a threat to no one at this point."

***

Jacob tried the button again. Nothing happened - no sound, no light, no guard opening a hatch. He pulled out the radio.

"Miriam?"

"Yes, Jacob?"

"We have a problem."

"What kind of problem?"

"The gate's closed and no one's answering."

Miriam paused for a moment.

"Should I keep sending people up there?"

"I don't think we have any choice, and hopefully this is temporary."

"All right - there are lots of wagons on their way up, and I can see more coming."

"That's good, I think. And Miriam?"

"Yes, Jacob?"

"Could you ask the elders to come forward to the gate when they get here? We may have some decisions to make."

"I'll let them know. Five have gone up so far, and I suspect they'll come find you anyway."

"I hope so."

***

The raiders had made Ruth cook them dinner, then set a guard and gone to sleep. The guard made her clean up after them, then tied her hands again and faced her into the corner, kneeling. She wept until she fell asleep.

***

Jacob left the elders, walked over to Gideon's wagon, and knocked on the side. Sarah looked out.

"Is John awake? I need to talk with him."

Posted by simonstl at October 4, 2004 08:51 PM
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