October 04, 2004

Chapter 7

The farmers woke up at dawn to the sound of Nathan reading scripture at them from the other side of the gate.

"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Command the children of Israel, that they put out of the camp every leper, and every one that hath an issue, and whosoever is defiled by the dead: Both male and female shall ye put out, without the camp shall ye put them; that they defile not their camps, in the midst whereof I dwell.

"And the children of Israel did so, and put them out without the camp: as the Lord spake unto Moses, so did the children of Israel. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,

"Speak unto the children of Israel, When a man or woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to do a trespass against the Lord, and that person be guilty..."

Jacob shook himself awake while Nathan read on. Waking up in a tent in the snow was already less pleasant than waking up in his house on a winter morning, and this reading wasn't helping. Nathan seemed intent on reading the entire book of Numbers to the farmers, though only those near the gate could hear.

A few looked curious, and sat to listen, but most were looking for friends, catching up on old news, and investigating their strange new camp.

***

The council reconvened that morning, bleary-eyed members coming back to their meeting room to continue the seemingly interminable process of selecting a leader. The council, as frequently happened, was divided into roughly equal factions, and conversation wasn't changing many opinions. That persistent division was much of why they relied on a single leader to listen to the council and choose a path of action.

Exhaustion wasn't helping them reach a compromise, and choosing a leader was a decision that would reverberate for a century or more. Margaret finally gave up on the discussion and called for a vote.

"We are running out of time," she said, "and we appear to have no hope of consensus. We need to reach a decision, even if some of us are made unhappy by it."

She passed out slips of paper. "Please write the name of your preferred candidate, followed by the name of your second-place candidate. If we don't have a winner in the first choices, we'll add the second choice votes and see if that helps."

The council members wrote their choices and passed the ballots back to Margaret, who counted the first choices.

"We have a 4-4-4 split on the first choices."

The council members groaned, and Margaret counted second-place votes.

"We have a 8-8-8 split if we include the second choices. There is no clear pattern to the voting, either."

"How much time do we have left?" asked Catherine.

"Two hours and twenty minutes," said Margaret. "Does anyone have any suggestions?"

"What happens if we don't make a decision?" asked Catherine.

"Nothing specific is provided in the law," said Margaret, raising the council's hopes, "except that we as the council will have failed in our prescribed duty. Given the situation at the surface, I would suggest this is a bad time to fail in our duty."

The council members' faces fell.

"Are there any further candidates we haven't properly considered?" asked Stephen.

His idea was unpopular. No one wanted to return to the biographies, and no additional strong candidates immediately sprang to mind.

"Should we interview the candidates?" asked Donald. "I understand that we don't normally let people know they're candidates, and there may not be time, or probably need, but something might come up in the conversation that would change minds..."

Stephen cut him off. "Maybe we should let the candidates decide."

"The candidates?" asked several members at the same time.

***

James arrived for the start of his shift. Helena was clearly fascinated by the strange drama around the gate.

"What's been going on up there?" asked James.

"The raiders seem to be reading something to our farmers about lepers, involving laws, barley, and oil."

"Reading? Lepers? That's odd."

"Some of the farmers are listening - it seems to be something they're familiar with. Here, listen."

Nathan's voice came over the speaker. "And on the eighth day he shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons, to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering, and make an atonement for him, for that he sinned by the dead, and shall hallow his head that same day."

James turned it down. "I'm not sure what it means. I wonder if the auto-transcriber can cope with people speaking so strangely."

Helena reassured him that it was working so far, and handed him a pile of reports. Not much had happened over the night. The raiders had stayed by the gate, close to the fire. At sunrise two of them had gone down to the road, then returned, while Nathan read through a megaphone to the farmers.

"Still only ten of them?"

"So far as I've seen, yes, just ten."

"I hope it stays that way. Any sign of more weapons?"

"Just the ones they had last night."

"Sounds like we may be able to take care of them easily. Much ado about not very much. I do wish I knew where they came from."

The red light started flashing. Someone else had reached the bottom of the road to the city. Three more wagons.

***

The elders' tent was busy. Jacob arrived as the hospital chaplain was leaving, having shared with the elders every detail he could remember of the past few days. After greeting the chaplain, Jacob stepped into the tent.

"Any news, Jacob?" asked Leah.

"God's Army is reading the book of Numbers at us this morning instead of the book of Joshua. I'm not sure that's an improvement."

"Has there been any more violence?"

"Not that I've heard. No more torches coming over the wall, or gunfire. They're close to the gate, though - we could hear them talking all night, but couldn't make out what they were saying."

"Any news from the city?"

"None. Still quiet. No sign of John, no news from them. All of their videoscreens have stayed dark, even the ones in the guardroom. Since everything else up here seems to work, I think John's suggestion that they're on some kind of retreat makes sense."

"We hope it's a brief retreat," said Leah.

***

The wagons stayed at the bottom of the hill while a messenger came up to the gate. James and Helena watched his progress up the road while the wagons at the bottom formed a small circle, prickling with gun barrels. The messenger walked up the road, peering into the woods as he went. Another man came down from the camp at the gate, met him, and brought him up to the camp. When he got there, he ducked into a tent. Nathan kept reading, but the rest of the raiders went into the tent.

Posted by simonstl at October 4, 2004 09:07 PM
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