January 30, 2006

Chapter 39

The sun rose to a frigid morning. A few birds flew near the barn, pecking for bits of scattered grain, while a few farmers added logs to their dwindled fires. More snow had fallen overnight, and it was still piling deeper along the paths and among the tents.

Isaac poked his head out of his tent and quickly ducked back inside. He'd meant to be awake hours before, but no one had roused him. He put his clothes and his warmest coat on, and got into his boots.

The path to the barn was clear, and there was plenty of activity inside. Four city guards were watching as breakfast was served, with farmers bringing food to every cell.

"Good morning, Isaac," said Caleb. "We thought we'd let you rest a bit today. Don't worry - everything's taken care of. Food, blankets, slops."

Isaac paused. "Great," he said. "I probably could have slept some more -"

"But you didn't," interrupted Caleb. "We'd have gotten you up at some point, but you're here now, and that's great. We need to start planning lunch."

Isaac nodded. "Anything unusual happen overnight?"

"Just the usual prayers and Bible-reading, and there hasn't even been much of that. All things considered, it's been fairly quiet. Well, except for the city guards changing shifts every hour."

"I'll just look around a bit, then meet with the cooks and get some breakfast."

"I'm going to get some rest myself," said Caleb, moving toward the door.

Isaac walked through the cells. Women and children were eating as families and talking, while the men seemed to be eating their food while reviewing their Bible. Isaac came to Jethro's cell.

"Good morning, Jethro."

"Good morning, Isaac. I had an idea for you last night."

"Really? What's that?"

"Think about the book of Isaiah."

"All right -"

"Think about the book of Isaiah without Jerusalem."

Isaac turned white. "But it's all about Jerusalem... I'll think about it, Jethro. I'll think about it."


"How long?" asked Matthew.

"We're looking at five days, probably," said Anthony.

"Five days?" asked Catherine. Council members were shaking their heads.

"It could be longer, unfortunately," replied Anthony. "Based on reports from other cities, it seems likely that the storm is just starting to build. It will be at least four days before it stops snowing, and then we'll have a fair amount of work to do before we're ready to fly."

"How much work?"

"It depends on how much snow actually falls. Probably one meter, but it could be two or even three this time. We already have half a meter, maybe more."

"Thank you, Anthony," said Matthew.

"We should warn the farmers to be ready," said Stephen. "We still have direct access to the barn, but they could get cut off from their tents and supplies."

"Andrew can take care of that," said Matthew. "I'm mostly concerned about the drain of having our guards up there for so long."

"Could we have more shifts, but shorter?"

"We don't have enough people trained in weaponry for that."

"We don't seem to have enough people for anything new at the moment," said Matthew.


Jacob decided it was time to go for a walk. He hadn't really been out and about since he woke up in the hospital, and maybe people seeing him more would let them stare at him less. He put his arm in the coat and wrapped the rest around his cast, buttoning it and hoping it would stay closed.

The view from the window in the hall was enchanting and forbidding at the same time. Dim sunlight illuminated flakes falling to earth, piling up deeper.

Abner was on the radio in the reception area of the hospital, and motioned for Jacob to pause. "Yes, yes, I'll let everyone here know," he said, before disconnecting.

"Lots of snow on the way, Jacob - lots."

"How much?"

"They aren't sure, but at least a meter, maybe a few."

Jacob shook his head. The last storm that size had struck while he was a boy, and he remembered walking back and forth through the passage between his house and the woodshed endless times to keep the fire going while his parents worked on digging out the house. Their barn doors had been blocked, and a drift on one side kept much of it closed until spring.

"Is there room for everyone inside?" asked Jacob.

"Not comfortably," replied Abner. "More than half of us left, but since the barn is full, and the hospital's close to full..."


Caleb was leading the readers out in the snow, as they compacted snow into large bricks and built it into extensions on the front of the hospital and the barn, with a long passageway between the two and another to the library. James had sent a bin of shovels to the surface, and everyone seemed to have found a favorite.

"I'm sorry I can't help," said Jacob, walking out in the snow, pointing to his arm.

"You'll help soon enough," said Caleb, pulling him aside. "We have a small problem."

"We have a large problem, if snow keeps falling like this."

"Well, yes," said Caleb, "but it looks like John will be stuck here for a while. Gideon and Sarah finally left last night - he told them to go - but he's pretty much a mess. He offered to help shovel, but I don't think he's ready to be with people again."

"Might it do him some good?"

"It might, but I'm more worried about the effect he'll have on the rest of us. Not everyone's seen his transformation, and some of those who have - well, let's just say I suspect we'll be hearing about the city's magic for a few years to come."

"Magic? That's strange. The city's definitely not magic."

"Not everyone has spent as much time with the city as you have, and I don't think anyone's ever seen anything like it."

"I haven't, no. John looks a lot younger, but he still, well, still looks old. Not quite like the city people, who never really seem to age. Some of that may be grief, of course."

"Between John's reappearance and the number of guards the city sent up yesterday, there's a lot of murmuring about the city. I think a few of us have already forgotten what the raiders had in store for us."

"And the elders?"

"They know about the situation, but I don't think any of them have seen John. They'll have to make decisions about him soon enough."

"Where is he now?"


Jacob walked into the library, knocking the snow off his coat and shoes. None of the usual city staff were around, and it seemed completely empty, though beautifully warm. No one was sitting at the tables, but Jacob stopped to watch the snow falling through the windows, wondering how the snow might fall any harder.

He heard a stirring behind some shelves, and found John reading. He had a whole stack of books in front of him, and was flipping through the one in front of him at high speed.

"Looking for something?" asked Jacob.

John looked up, his eyes red and weary. "Nothing I can find," he said. "It doesn't sound like anyone else has gotten much younger suddenly, at least no one discussed here."

"You're looking well."

"Rachel didn't seem to think so."

Jacob looked down.

"And I'm not sure what anyone else thinks."

"I think a lot of people are confused."

"That's fair," said John. "I'm confused too."

Posted by simon at January 30, 2006 07:13 PM | TrackBack
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