October 04, 2004

Chapter 5

After a few rounds of repairs, the last wagon came through the gate, and Jacob welcomed Miriam to the city. The snow was letting up and darkness was setting in, though campfires lit up the walls and buildings of the sanctuary.

"I don't know where they went," said Miriam.

"Don't know where who went? Are we missing people?" asked Jacob.

"The raiders. We'd heard reports of their scouts, but they never came close."

"Maybe the snow's held them back?"

"Or maybe they're too busy looting," said Miriam. "We brought a lot with us, but there are still a lot of animals and plenty of food down there."

They looked out the gate and down the road. A flickering light was moving in the darkness.

***

James had been watching the wagons come up the road and the farmers setting up their encampments. His orders were strict: close the gate when the farmers are in. He didn't want to risk locking out farmers, but he didn't want to leave the gate open to marauders, either.

The farmers were in, and it was time to close the gate. He looked at the hillside monitors one last time and saw a wagon straggling up the road. The latecomers had torches out, blurring the detail from the cameras. They were in a hurry, all too aware of the dangers in the valley.

He left the gate open for a few more minutes.

***

"Do we have everyone in, Miriam?" asked Jacob.

"Almost. We had a wagon break down, and put them aboard two other wagons. Three houses called in to say they'd take their chances out there. And Ezra's family, of course..."

"Keren's here, on another wagon."

"Yes, I saw her. Otherwise, I think everyone's accounted for."

"So how do we close the gate?"

***

James looked back at the doorway camera. Jacob and Miriam were talking to farmers, searching the walls. One man was pulling frantically on the guardhouse doorknob. A line of farmers formed across the gate opening, arms locked.

James closed the gate. The wagon kept coming up the hill.

***

"Someone's watching us," said Jacob. The line of farmers dispersed, heading back to their fires and families. "I need to go report this to the elders. Can you stay here and let me know anything that happens?"

"I can," said Miriam. "Where are we camping?"

"I think right here would be a good place for us."

***

The elders were sitting silently when Jacob arrived at their tent. He sat with them, waiting for one of them to speak. It stayed quiet a long time before Leah finally spoke. "Is everyone in the sanctuary?" she asked.

"Everyone is accounted for. They have a prisoner, and three houses chose to remain outside."

"Is the gate closed?"

"Yes."

"Have you heard from the guard, then?"

"No. Another wagon was coming. We linked arms across the entry, and the gate closed."

"Strange."

"Yes, very strange. We can't contact anyone from the city."

"And the wagon?"

"We don't know. They haven't contacted us by radio."

The elders returned to their silence. Jacob headed back to the gate.

***

"We have to choose a leader. All we're doing is talking."

"We still don't know what happened to Gregory."

"We're running out of time."

"Is Gregory's death an issue for this council, or an issue for the next leader and the next council?"

"His death is an issue for all of us," said Stephen.

"And what if we reward his murderer?" asked Catherine.

Margaret stood up. She told the council "By law this council dissolves tomorrow afternoon. We are required to choose a leader who is not of our number. That leader will then conduct an election for a new council."

"I'm not ready to look at candidates," said Catherine.

"When will you be ready?" asked Donald.

"When I've seen the medical report on Gregory."

"You should have that tonight. Why not review the list and hope that the candidates we find aren't implicated?"

Margaret handed Catherine a stack of lists. She took one and passed the pile around.

***

A light was growing on the other side of the gate. Jacob and Miriam couldn't see over the gate, but it looked like someone had built a fire. Every few minutes they heard shouting, and the dogs the farmers had brought barked back angrily.

***

From the control booth, James watched the wagon pull up to the gate. A man had gotten out. He tried the entry button as well, but nothing happened. James wasn't sure he should open the gate. After some shouting and pushing the button repeatedly, the man grew frustrated and called to the wagon. More men had come out, carrying a bound woman, a bound man, and guns. James electrified the outer fences.

While one group built a fire, the other men emptied the wagon. When they had finished, one of the men picked a coal out of the fire, walked up to the wagon and set it alight. When the wagon was completely engulfed, he held a cone to his mouth and started shouting over the wall.

***

"You shall perish in flames," shouted Nathan, "unless you join us now. Accept God's will, give up the evils of the city, burn it down, and join our army."

Inside the gate, Jacob and Miriam looked at each other and laughed. Many of the farmers had gathered near the gate to listen, though most were more solemn.

"Join us now, and your lives will be spared. Join us forever, and your souls will be spared. The men will fight for God, and the women will support the men. We shall rebuild the kingdom and the temple and live in God's covenant once more."

The farmers were silent.

"Join us or we will destroy you," said the voice, as a torch came flying over the wall, landing in the snow. The farmers backed up quickly, as more torches came over the wall.

"You are cowards, all of you, hiding behind a gate, unwilling to defend your neighbors, unwilling to join an army that fights for truth. You can hide behind that wall but you cannot hide from God."

More torches came over the wall.

"You won't come out to join us. Will you come out to save her?"

The farmers shrank back as Ruth screamed. Jacob was furious, but trapped behind the gate. They could do nothing but listen.

"Nothing? You do nothing? Neither the city nor the farm is willing to challenge us?"

The farmers heard a man's loud scream and then shouting among the raiders.

"You hide behind a violent fence, afraid to inflict harm yourselves. You are cowards and villains, afraid of the voice of the Lord. Give them what they deserve."

Another set of torches came over the wall. A shadow appeared at the top of the wall, supported at both ends. The ends shook, and the shadow fell. Ezra's body toppled over the gate and collapsed at its bottom. A girl, Keren, ran over to it weeping.

Nathan's voice spoke again. "So Joshua smote all the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs, and all their kings: he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded."

***

James had watched while Nathan was talking, but his orders were strict: close the gate, electrify the fence, do nothing else but watch. The raiders had attempted to scale the gate, but the shock from the fence quickly ended that plan. They'd used the ladders to push a body over the wall instead, and settled in for the night.

He could do no more. The raiders remained camped on the city's doorstep, tending their fire, guarding their hostage, and praying.

Posted by simonstl at October 4, 2004 09:05 PM
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