September 02, 2005

Chapter 17

After hearing Helena's story, Matthew called the full council back together. The story seemed ridiculous, but it fit with the Army of God's strange behavior so far. Matthew wasn't looking forward to explaining this to the council or figuring out how to react, but it seemed wiser to include the council in those decisions.

The council reconvened, most of its members looking worn from too many meetings running for too many hours. They took their seats, and Matthew introduced the problem.

"We know they're mad, but there seems to be a logic to their madness," he began. "Their behavior doesn't correspond to the practices of the farmers, but the farmers seem at least to know where it's coming from."

Helena showed the council the footage of the sacrifice, and then played back the recording of the meeting she'd had with the farmers in the hospital.

"What are the raiders doing now?" asked Stephen.

Helena switched the monitor back to the surveillance, showing a quiet camp at dusk, with campfires at both the top of the hill and the bottom. The bull was gone.

"Resting, perhaps," said Matthew. "But we can't be sure what they're planning in their tents and wagons."

"This story from the farmers is ridiculous," said Catherine. "Why should we believe their nonsense?"

"I can't imagine they'd make this up," replied Helena. "I asked them for an answer and they pulled one out of that Bible of their pretty quickly."

"Maybe they had discussed it previously," said Catherine. "Maybe they are trying to control our actions."

"For what purpose?" asked Stephen.

"I wish I knew," replied Catherine.

Everyone's eyes came to Matthew. "Even if this story is true - and I think it probably is - I'm not sure it means we need to change our usual plans. If this leads to further clues about their behavior, we may be able to choose our timing more carefully, or be slightly more prepared for an attack, but it doesn't seem likely that they can actually do anything to us."

"Maybe their God will help them," sneered Catherine.

"If their God helps them, there's probably not much we can do anyway," replied Matthew. "All right. Everyone can retire for the night, and we'll talk again tomorrow. Think about this latest madness, as we'll be laying our final plans tomorrow. Helena, can you stay a minute?"

The council members filed out, some laughing nervously, some bewildered.

When they'd all left, Matthew asked Helena, "What did they read to you again?"

"Levitican four-one, I think."


Back in his chambers - which he kept thinking of as Gregory's chambers - Matthew looked over the bookshelf, hunting for a Bible. He hadn't looked at one in years, not since he'd been promoted to coordinator, further away from the farmers. Gregory had a set - apparently different versions. Hoping it wouldn't matter which he chose, Matthew picked one off the shelf and took it to the table.

The paper was finer than he was used to, and there was an incredible number of pages packed into the binding. "Levitican, Levitican." He flipped to the front, looking for a table of contents, finally finding one amid the explanations and introductions. "Leviticus. Here we are."

He turned to Leviticus 4, and it read mostly like the farmer had said. Hoping for more, Matthew kept reading, but found himself lost in many more directions for repairing sins and trespasses. There were no signs of instructions for an attack, but Matthew suspected that he didn't really know how to read this book anyway.


Miriam rubbed her eyes. The monitors were mostly still. The Army of God was having a quiet night, their campfires burning down to embers, with only the occasional guard walking keeping vigil and lights in the central tent.

There was a knock on the door, and Jacob walked into the room. "I'm here to relieve you," he said. "You should rest."

"I should rest?" asked Miriam. "You're the one who's going to be out there facing the raiders. I'll just be sitting here quietly like a good little girl."

"Miriam -" Jacob started.

"It's true, isn't it? You and Isaac of all people, Isaac who's followed us for years, asking if he could join in, like it would somehow be fun."

"Miriam, it's not my choice."

"I know it's not your choice, but why? Did I do something wrong?"

"The council -"

"You've talked with them more than I have lately, Jacob. Have I made some horrible mistake? Don't they trust me?"

"They trust you, Miriam. They just - well, I think they meant what they said."

"I don't understand why that matters. I didn't choose -"

"But we are, Miriam. We're the people who handle these situations. No one else has, well, the skills."

"Except apparently Isaac. And if his skills are enough -"

"He took some initiative for once. It didn't work out, but I think it was enough for the council. I thought you liked him."

"I guess I should have gone riding instead of directing traffic."

Jacob looked at his sister and shook his head. "There's nothing we can do about this right now, Miriam. And if anything happens to me, they'll be relying on you all the time."

Miriam sat down again. "I suppose," she said. "I just don't know what to do with myself now. Watching the monitors and speculating about the Army of God just isn't very exciting."

"I think you're on to something with your thinking they're preparing to attack."

"It sort of makes sense," said Miriam, "but I can't figure out quite what they think they're doing. Reading Numbers at us, citing Deuteronomy when they captured Ruth. They have crosses on their wagons and on their tents. Don't they know that time of conquest passed long ago?"

"Maybe they only have a few books from the front of the Bible?" asked Jacob.

"Maybe they do," said Miriam. "But why the crosses then? Coincidence?"

"I don't know," replied Jacob. "They're bizarre, to say the least."

"So, what's next?"

"We have at least another day of waiting. Then I suppose we'll have to deal with prisoners."

"Wonderful. The Army of God as our guests."

"Disarmed, at least."

"Have the elders discussed how we're going to handle all of these people?"

"Yes, though it's a problem. We don't have much room right now, so we'll have to empty out part of the barn quickly once the raiders are captured. They're also concerned about talking with them."

"What, that we'll be too tempted to violence against them?"

"Well, yes, that, but also - they worry that their ideas might also be contagious."

"That's ridiculous," said Miriam. "They're crazy, and everyone can see that."

"Apparently there have been similar problems in the past. They said we've had to exile a few people because of it."

Miriam shook her head. "It's hard to imagine anyone listening to them, and hopefully the city will remove them quickly."

"A few days, probably. I think their first priority is capturing them, removing the problem in front of their gates. They want us to hold the prisoners after that."

"So they can minimize their own contact with them?"

"Probably. I don't think they want them in the city at all, but with the snow, we're not going anywhere for a while."

Miriam shook her head. The monitor still showed a dying campfire and a sleepy-looking sentry.

"You should rest, Miriam."

Miriam stood up, brushed herself off, and left the room. Jacob turned his attention to the monitor, watching for any clues the raiders might provide.

Posted by simon at September 2, 2005 07:46 PM
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