October 04, 2004

Chapter 9

Jacob had returned to the gate, and was listening with a group of farmers to the reading from the other side. Some of the farmers were discussing Numbers, a book they rarely read, debating the strength of its connection to their preferred New Testament books.

Meanwhile, Nathan's voice, growing hoarser with every verse, continued.

"And Israel vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities. And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities: and he called the name of the place Hormah."

Jacob shook his head. Waiting to get into the city had been difficult enough, but waiting to get out now seemed worse. The city had removed the previous group of raiders, sending them far away, but this time there was little sign the city was interested in the farmers' plight. They had let them in and closed the gate without any of the usual consultation, leaving Jacob to stew. They seemed to be watching, but their silence was troubling.

***

Helena left James well past the usual end of her shift. It was difficult to leave when there was so much going on, but for the moment it seemed quiet. The messenger had returned to the wagons at the bottom of the hill, and the wagons stayed there. Nathan's reading droned on, while the other raiders stood guard duty.

Inside the city, the farmers were busy. Children were playing in the snow and visiting the library in small, apparently organized groups. People were visiting the hospital, both to see the patients there and to use some of its more approachable facilities. The barn was busy with farmers tending their animals, and the corrals were overfull. People were visiting the meeting tent and departing regularly. The farmers at the front gate were listening and talking among themselves. The elders continued their meeting.

***

Matthew knocked on the door and the council returned to the room.

"Have you made a decision?" Margaret asked. "We're down to fifteen minutes."

Matthew, Alice, and William all nodded their heads. "We've decided to do things a little differently," said Alice.

Margaret frowned. "How differently?"

"Not that differently," said William. "We'd like the new leader to start with a declaration of principles at the beginning, and be bound by them afterward."

"We've never run by rules," said Margaret.

"The council and the leader together are the rules," said Catherine.

"We don't want to change how that system works," said Matthew. "We'd just like to ensure that the leader listens to the departments as well as the council. Starting out with a pronouncement and agreeing to be bound by it seems to fix problems we have now."

"Future leaders could change the principles if they wanted," said William. "The council and leader will still be the rules."

Alice held up a small set of notes. "The principles are pretty simple. Department heads can appeal beyond the leader to the council directly, and departments can coordinate separately from the leader when given permission to do so."

Margaret looked relieved, though several members of the council looked upset. Catherine was annoyed, Cornelius was frowning, and Denis was staring at the table, but Stephen was smiling.

"I think this will be a matter for the next council to take up," said Catherine.

"We've agreed to these rules now, and they're the only terms by which any of us will become leader," said Alice.

"Have you even picked a leader?" asked Catherine.

"Yes, we have," said William.

"Ten minutes," said Margaret. "I think we can accept these rules with the new leader."

"Does the council have to formally approve them, or should they be a decree of the new leader?" asked Stephen.

"I think the new leader should set the rules," said Catherine. "These can be announced at the investiture. The next council can decide how they want to handle this."

***

Keren was still sitting by her father's resting place, covered with blankets and praying, and accepting condolences as people stopped by to wish her. Over the course of the morning, more people gathered. The elders left their meeting tent and stood by the grave, and then nearly the entire community came to the grave, standing silently in the snow.

"He loved that farm and the woods near it," said Leah. "He was glad to watch the edges of the community, and kept a strict eye out for anything unusual."

"Ezra made visitors feel welcome," said Daniel. "I used to visit that farm regularly, and he and Ruth were always ready for visitors. They'd chosen to be on the edge, but they were always happy to see people stopping by."

Keren cried again as people praised her father and regretted his early end. Her friends gathered around her to comfort her, while others continued to remember Ezra.

"Ezra was among the bravest of us, and Ruth too. He knew the situation didn't look good, and he showed us just how bad it was, broadcasting that horrible scene to all of us," said Judith. "We miss him and we thank him, for his sacrifice that drove us to safety."

The crowd kept commenting on Ezra's skills and how they'd known him.

"He was a fine woodsman, a master of trees. He knew how to manage the forest for a steady stream of firewood and lumber, never taking more than he needed. I was still learning from him."

"I remember his smile and Ruth's smile on their wedding day. It was obvious that they'd found the right people to spend the rest of their lives with."

"When Ezra worked at the saw mill, we counted on him to manage the power. He managed the millrace, the dam, the wheel, and all the belts inside. If we were going to be low on power or stopped for repairs, he'd let us know. We never had to worry about surprises."

"Ezra helped out at the grist mill too. After the ice had broken our wheel, he was right over to help fix it."

"When Keren was born, we went over to visit Ezra and Ruth. Ezra was gracious with his visitors, kind to his wife and child, and accepted help when we offered it."

Light snow was falling on the crowd, clinging to their blankets and coats, but they stood and talked of Ezra, talking until the tributes reached a natural end.

***

In the city, flashing green lights summoned everyone to the central meeting room. The investiture of a leader was the only event where the entire population of the city gathered, their machinery stopped or slowed for the event. Even the hospital patients were usually wheeled into the auditorium.

James picked up the mobile monitor, watching it while he walked down the hall. The auditorium was getting crowded, but he and Helena had reserved seats, near the front with a bank of monitors for keeping an eye on the surface. The raiders seemed quiet and the funeral had absorbed the farmers, so he might get to see the ceremony.

As he looked around, he saw all the uniform colors at once. Red for those who dealt with the outside, green for the reactor and energy crews, brown for manufacturing, orange for food production, pink for doctors, silver for archivists, gold for child-rearing. There were as yet no council blue or leader purple uniforms in sight.

Posted by simonstl at October 4, 2004 09:10 PM
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