35 – PILGRIMS
Over the centuries Christianity became thoroughly a “religion of the book”. Unlike relics which aged or were lost, the Word of God propagated like a living thing, with copies made to hand down to the next generation. This was safe for The Powers That Be. Bibles were copied by hand and cost more than a house. So they tended to be found only in the cathedrals, where they were physically chained to the lectern to prevent theft. Intellectually, the Bible was chained to the authority of the bishops, who fancied they to be the successors to the apostles and reserved to themselves the sole power to interpret scripture.
Yeshua fixed that by introducing to Earth a simple invention that had existed for centuries on Barbelo: The printing press. The intervention created Timeline Delta.
After that, cheap copies of the Bible, translated from Latin to the local vernacular, began to flood the market. This made a clean break from the monolithic Church possible. Christianity was democratized. When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to a church door in Germany he got the revolution well and truly started.
The Papal bull Decet Romanum Pontificem (It Pleases the Roman Pontiff) excommunicated Luther, who had attempted to reform Catholicism while remaining within the boundaries and sanction of the Church. Now he had no choice but to recant or go rogue. He decided upon the latter.
There were growing pains as the Reformation opened the way for parts of Europe to break free from Vatican control. Many heretics were burned alive at the stake. When Mastema heard of this he told the other Elohim, “I considered burning alive as a death penalty once but I rejected it. Too quick.”
Yeshua and Talishi took his point. Still, the thing had to proceed at its own pace. Erasmus wrote The Freedom of the Will and this was countered by Luther writing On the Bondage of the Will.
King Henry VIII grew tired of his wife and asked Rome to release him from the marriage. When the Pope refused, he took the whole country of England out of the Church and started his own national Church. Thomas Cranmer, the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, duly announced King Henry’s divorce to Catherine of Aragon. This established the central feature of the Reformation, that human will was ascendant over divine will.
After that it was like a dam had burst. John Knox founded the Scottish Presbyterian Church after a disagreement with Lutherans over the shared meal and church government. John Smyth founded the Baptist Church over the issue of infant baptism and church-state separation.
English translations of the Bible appeared, and the new Church of England, controlled now by Parliament, rejected certain books of the Old Testament that had been authored in Greek and had been accepted by Rome and the Eastern Church for centuries.
After the Church divided, it began to sub-divide again and again, over the smallest issues, such as whether women could wear slacks, or whether playing cards was a sin, or what color the hymnal had to be. Every new sect had their own doctrinal hobby horse to ride. For the Five Corners Free Congregation, it was cousin marriage.
El Shaddai never had a problem with cousins getting hitched. Milcah was married to her cousin, Nahor. They had a granddaughter named Rebecca, who later married Isaac, her first cousin once removed. Isaac instructed Jacob to marry a daughter of Rebecca’s brother. Jacob ended up marrying two of them, both first cousins, Rachel and Leah. Eleazar’s daughters married their first cousins. El Shaddai even commanded Zelophehad’s five daughters to marry their cousins so their inheritance would remain in the family.
It was precisely to prevent the accumulation of wealth in families (and thus threaten the temporal power of the Papacy) that Pope Gregory I made cousin-marriage forbidden for all Roman Catholics.
Before the Civil War, no American state banned cousin marriage. In the years following the war thirteen states did make it illegal. A map of the United States highlighting the states which ban cousin marriage looks like a map of the post-war journey of the Five Corners Free Congregation from Pennsylvania to the far Northwest.
American prohibitions against cousin marriages predate modern genetics. The USA is the only western country with cousin marriage restrictions. About twenty percent of all couples worldwide are first cousins. About eighty percent of all marriages historically have been between first cousins.
The incest taboo actually has an internal basis. Many animals including humans have evolved an aversion to mating very close within the bloodlines, like between brother and sister, or son and mother. But the further away a potential mate is from your own genetic inheritance, the less likely you will run across them in everyday life and have the opportunity to get with them. First cousins represent a sort of optimum point between genetic diversity and sexual availability.
All of these defenses (scriptural, historical, and anthropological) were first compiled by Elder Mark Lange of Five Corners Free Congregation, who was deeply in love with his cousin-wife Joanna Lange.
Elder Mark’s Church was mostly made up of Pennsylvania Dutch, which was a local corruption of “Pennsylvania Deutsche.” They were therefore German, and the assembly had roots in the Old German Baptist Brethren. These folks were pacifist farmers who dressed and lived simply, though not to the extremes of the Amish. They were called Dunkers because they baptized by dunking the convert in a local stream with complete immersion, three times just like Jesus did, in contrast to the sprinkling Lutherans, their pouring Mennonites, and even the “single dunk” Baptists.
All of those other congregations were of course damned to eternal hell fire for their apostasy on the dunking issue.
Before Mark Lange became the Pastor of his own church, he was a simple parishioner in a Dunker church in Sharpsburg, Maryland, along Antietam Creek close to the place where it flows into the Potomac River. When General Robert E. Lee decided to invade the Union for the first time a copy of his Special Order Number 191 outlining his projected movements in Maryland and Pennsylvania was intercepted and placed in the hands of General McClellan, who rushed to intercept him at South Mountain. Three mountain passes fell to the men in blue after a day of fierce fighting. Lee was forced to withdraw back to the Potomac River at Sharpsburg.
Both armies concentrated their forces here over the next two days, exchanging occasional volleys of artillery fire. What followed was the bloodiest single day of battle in American history, with all of it happening within earshot of the Dunker Church. Eight thousand men fell in a cornfield across the road from the church. Four thousand men fell in the woods behind the church. Twelve thousand men fell in front of the church itself. Three thousand men fell at Burnside’s Bridge on Antietam Creek, whose clean water had been used by the Dunkers to bring converts to the Banquet of God, but now ran red with human blood.
A half mile from the church five thousand men fell in the sunken road, or the so-called Bloody Lane which the Rebels had occupied and fortified, but which became a giant open grave filed to the brim with bodies after the Union won through to one end of it.
Tactically the battle was a draw. Strategically it was a clear victory for the North when Lee withdrew his battered forces back into Virginia.
The pretty whitewashed little Dunker Church was riddled with bullet and shell holes, and had become structurally unsound. The Union Army turned it into a field hospital after the battle, and the Church filled with the screams and amputated limbs of wounded men. Blood smeared the interior walls.
Horrified by the battle, four of the families who formed the membership of the Dunker Church fled to the farms of their relatives near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where they had sent their horses when they first heard artillery two days before, knowing the Confederate Army had an insatiable penchant for stealing horses.
Other families remained behind and wintered over at their relatives farms around Sharpsburg. Eventually the original Dunker Church collapsed under its accumulated damage, and a new one was rebuilt.
In Gettysburg Mark Lange stepped up, and became the pastor of a new church which retained most of the doctrines of the Dunkers, but only performed marriages between first cousins.
Nine months later Marse Robert invaded the North again, and the horrible experience of the former Dunkers at Antietam repeated itself with a vast three day battle that proved to be the turning point of the war.
The parishioners began to think themselves cursed. Certainly they were unpopular with the rest of the people in Gettysburg. The cousin-marriage thing was considered outlandish.
Before they could be driven out of town, the members of the church volunteered to leave. They were anxious to get far away from the contending armies, and it was thought neighboring Ohio was much safer.
Soon after that, Pennsylvania made marriages between first cousins illegal, and after Mark Lange’s church started making many new converts Ohio followed suit. They were becoming almost as unpopular as the Mormons. The church pulled up stakes and crossed over into Kentucky.
The end of the war saw them crossing the Big Muddy. By 1866 they were moving into the Great Plains of the Nebraska Territory, and by 1867 they were over the Great Divide and entered the Washington Territory. Whittled down by disease, Indian raids, and bad luck, the group was reduced to just forty people when they reached the Stampede Pass crossing of the Cascade Range in the summer of 1868.
36 – FALLEN ANGEL
Bellon troops who had rallied to the aid of Rumbek from across the land of the Brown Beards had come to Rumbek along with the forces of the House of Antero. Already many of these were manning positions on the Nine Mile Wall to turn back the Gerash invaders.
But there in the sight of every man and woman under arms Demonstroke arrived from the east. The beast released from it’s left claw something like a star that fell from the sky burning like a torch, and it struck the ground near the center of the Nine Mile Wall with great violence, such that it dug a deep pit.
And Demonstroke released from its right claw another projectile that fell into this new pit, and there was a blast under the ground such as had not been seen on Barbelo since the fall of the asteroid that brought the second world flood, and never in living memory.
Then the bottom half of the Nine Mile Wall nigh to Rumbek blew straight out, and the masonry of the Wall above the blast collapsed in ruin, and in place of a sheer wall there was a ramp of sand, but many besieging Gerash troops also died, or were buried alive by the debris.
Lord Kirodiel paid no mind to his own casualties. He commanded his remaining generals to charge up that ramp with their divisions to the Magodon plateau above, and they immediately began to comply.
Then Demonstroke himself dropped from the sky and crashed to the battle plain behind the wall, and smoke rose from its black carcass like the smoke of a great furnace, and the orange sun was darkened by reason of the smoke.
And the dragon rose again out of the smoke glittering with black armor as smooth as glass, and its teeth were rockets which were loosed against men, and the sound of its wings were like a great waterfall. And Demonstroke had a flexible tail like a scorpion, and there was a gun in that tail which could kill men with rounds as thick as a thumb.
Demonstroke came among the ordered ranks of the allied families like a storm, killing men at will, and scattered them in disorder before they could make a counter-charge down the ramp in the Nine Mile Wall.
When Khondiel saw this she held Talishi’s hand, and squeezed it, and Talishi said to her, “Alas, our enemy Mastema is come.” And Talishi knew the dragon had the power to snatch her victory away when she was on the cusp of attaining it, and that was reason enough to summon her own avatar, but she found that neither victory nor defeat meant anything to her now.
A new thing had come to dominate Talishi’s consciousness. When she looked upon Khondiel she saw her anew, as though gazing upon her for the very first time. Talishi found that Khondiel had suddenly become the most important thing in creation to her, and she was desperate to get Khondiel away from the field of battle.
A living star had fallen in love with a planet-dweller.
Demonstroke lighted near Lord Kirodiel on the battle plain, and Joy dismounted the beast. She came before the Gerash Patriarch, and bowed deeply. After she paid obeisance they both witnessed the avatar of El Shaddai landing on the plateau of Magodon close to them, and Kirodiel said to Joy, “Your orders are to destroy the avatar of El Shaddai immediately!”
“Yes, my Lord!” Joy bowed her head in acknowledgement and ran back toward the waiting dragon.
Khondiel guessed the time was very short now. She said, “Speak plainly to me now, Talishi. What do you want me to do?”
And Talishi said, “My avatar will take you far away from this place. I want you to go. No, I need you to go. Something happened to me just now. Khondiel, you…are now the most important thing in heaven or Barbelo to me.”
But Khondiel said, “If I leave in your avatar, House Bellon and House Antero will have no defense against the dragon. Forget about me, Talishi!”
And Talishi recalled Khondiel’s own words at the Battle of Salem, when she saw her naked in a cage and Talishi told Khondiel to forget about her, and Talishi repeated them here for Khondiel now, tearfully, “Don’t you know by now that’s the one thing I can never do?”
And Khondiel open wept, because for the first time she knew her undying love for Talishi was truly being reciprocated at last. Yet they were mostly tears of happiness.
Talishi told her, “All those things I preached to everyone about love were so much straw, because I didn’t know what love meant until now, neither as Talishi nor as El Shaddai, neither as human nor living star.”
Khondiel still wanted to protest, but she could see the dragon starting to rise above the battle plain, and she could see that Talishi desperately needed her to do this thing. So she kissed Talishi and climbed inside the avatar of Binah like she had done several times before.
Then the avatar of Binah immediately leaped in to the sky with fire and smoke and noise, and Khondiel felt herself to be too heavy to move, and once again she was deeply terrified, which was an extraordinary thing, for Khondiel led the Fallen Angels. But her terror was not rooted in her own safety, but that the love that had been acknowledged by Talishi would never take root and flourish. Such a good thing! And it wasn’t going to happen. No. Khondiel of a surety knew that now.
Demonstroke lumbered into the sky after her and smote the avatar of El Shaddai with a fearsome white flame from the heart of the orange sun that poured from its open mouth, and the avatar was destroyed, which was no small feat, for it had been made in the belly of Sol. And Princess Khondiel, riding inside, instantly died and was lost forever to Talishi.
Mastema felt the fold-line that had linked El Shaddai to the avatar retract through the fold-door that he kept open in Canterwood, never to return again.
In that very moment Talishi knew Khondiel was dead, and the world seemed to turn empty and gray to Talishi. She refused to speak a word until long afterwards, for she was utterly lost in her grief. In a daze, Talishi fell in among the forces of House Antero as they returned to the west, fighting with the stragglers of Bellon a rear-guard action against Kirodiel.
And when Joy returned to her master Kirodiel he praised her for removing the thorn of El Shaddai’s ancient avatar from Barbelo, but he also lamented, “There remains a second avatar in the Land of Menkal called the Ark of the Covenant, and it would be no difficult thing for El Shaddai to enlarge his link with that avatar, and cause the seed of one or more avatars to pass through it and unwrap, and thus attempt to hinder me yet again.”
And Joy was astonished, because she discerned that Kirodiel did not know a thing that she was free to reveal. She said to him, “It may please the Lord to learn that since the conception of Bat-El, El Shaddai is no longer free to construct an avatar within her body, nor may Bat-El construct an avatar within hers, for the life of both Elohim share a single sun, and to build an avatar now would kill one or the other.”
Then Kirodiel was literally rubbing his hands in glee. “The Ark of the Covenant is the only remaining avatar of El Shaddai, and if we destroy it, neither El Shaddai nor Bat-El shall have the means to antagonize me on Barbelo again!”
37 – ITHURIEL The ancient world war on Barbelo united the Middle Land under House Gerash and brought House Bellon under their direct rule. House Antero became tributary to the Empire of Mastema while House Sala, at the recommendation of Lady Talishi, radically decentralized themselves over their entire land to become a uniquely undesirable target. Only the Black Beards of House Larund remained defiant and vulnerable to assault from the avatar of Mastema.
But Mastema learned to his great consternation that the more he assailed House Larund, the greater their impetus to resist. He realized his attacks were only stoking the fires of a relentless technological advance as the Black Beards focused on solving the problem of stopping the air attacks. So Mastema relented and took his avatar out of the equation. The pace of innovation among House Larund cooled to smouldering embers, but never truly went out.
In time the pre-space faring inhabitants of Barbelo developed an elaborate Techno Age culture which began under House Larund and spread gradually to the other lands along the equatorial belt of the planet. The so-called Techno War broke out some forty years later, abruptly ending the three centuries of the Long Peace. Houses Sala and Larund fought Houses Gerash and Bellon head-to-head, with House Antero caught in the middle as the objective and the Red Beard lands as the primary battle ground.
The Techno War began as a brutal “railroad war” accompanied by hostile action between self-propelled wooden and iron steam ships on the various rivers and seas of Barbelo. Mass production using standardized parts rapidly equipped both sides with arms and war materiel.
In terms of weaponry Family Larund and their Gold Beard allies had a clear qualitative edge, but a temporary superiority of defensive weapons technology over offensive weaponry soon brought movement to a complete standstill. As the conflict dragged on, the introduction of chemical warfare and rapid-fire weapons made the battle fronts intolerable. A generation of young men on both sides were chewed up like so much paper in a shredder.
Analog computers were developed to aid in the direction of cannon fire and Barbelo ran into a rut where the digital electronics paradigm never occurred to them. Telephone and wireless radio were developed for more effective command and control of the battlefield. Eventually submarines preying on supply ships ultimately decided the war in favor of the Empire of Mastema.
Since Barbelo was a highly militarized society, there was little in the way of civilian applications driving the advance of technology. Barbelo never experienced a golden age of radio and television, nor did they ever construct a global computer network. The film industry of 20th Century Earth would have been considered a decadent waste of time. Human creativity on Barbelo tended to be expressed solely through printed literature and live performances. Science progressed solely as a spin-off of military research.
New weapons were developed to keep a second and far worse industrialized civil war from breaking out between the families. This process reached a pinnacle when nuclear technology was developed, as well as rockets capable of delivering them to any point on the planet. After that, there was no possibility of the Gerash patriarch (the human extension of the Eloah named Mastema) being unseated from the throne by a direct assault.
But this was a temporary victory at best. For the way had been cleared that led to Mastema’s ultimate doom as a living sun. It was now only a matter of time and a matter of who Mastema would take down with him. And so matters stood when the Academy at Canterwood in the land of Haaretz was established.
“You had a good mix going with that class, Rabbi,” young Edgar Shybear told Yeshua Bat-El after all the other children in the class had already been sent home. “So your over-reaction to the tree house thing has me puzzled.”
“And your willing participation in the tree house thing has me puzzled,” Yeshua replied. “You are an extraordinarily intelligent member of the B’nei Elohim. At Taurus City you had unfettered access to images in the Swarm. Certainly there can be nothing of basic human anatomy that remains a mystery to you.”
“You are absolutely correct, Rabbi, and yet the investigation was something undertaken by the whole class. Should I have absented myself and damaged our group dynamic?”
“Rather, you should have argued that the inquiry not proceed at all.”
“But why, Rabbi? I have never detected a Puritanical streak in you, despite what might have been retrojected upon you by your alleged followers on Earth.”
“There is a thing you don’t know about Hope,” Yeshua said, “a thing that not even Hope knows about herself, and it is important that she doesn’t learn that thing just yet. But no, I am not a Puritan. Your inquiry in the tree house would have been commendable under any other circumstances.”
“Can you tell me what this mysterious thing is that you withhold from Hope, Rabbi?”
“I cannot do so, but the fact that you still have not sorted it out tells me we might still be able to salvage something from the Hope project. Your mother will arrive soon to take you home to Taurus.”
“Actually, Rabbi, I have decided I will not go home,” Edgar declared.
“And why not?”
“Nothing less than self-preservation, Rabbi. When my father died Jill saved him with the Purple Cable. Jill essentially became my father. But now when I see Mike with Jill, or Chayn with Jill, or Mike with Chayn, or the three of them all together they just creep me out. All of their movements are coordinated. They finish each other’s sentences. I’ve thought about it and thought about it, and every time I do I come to the inescapable conclusion that my father’s personality is like the flu and he’s spreading to take over all the B’nei Elohim.”
“I completely understand,” said Yeshua. “And if you can accept it, Edgar, you were not the first to discern these problems. The Hope project is actually intended to address that very thing. But I see you are not convinced, so I will only ask, where will you go?”
“East, Rabbi. Up the Wall of God and beyond to the lands of House Larund at first. After that, it’s up for grabs.”
“But you do not know the secret way up the Wall, Edgar.”
“I’ll figure it out, Rabbi. Everyone tells me how clever I am.”
“Then I will not hinder you in any way. I would only ask that you would accept a new name from me, so that I can follow your subsequent career. I have no doubt you will have a very large impact on things going forward.”
“And you will say nothing to my mother when she arrives, Rabbi?”
“Robyn will know only that you are no longer to be found, and when she probes the future she will not mark the passage of a son named Edgar. But only if you accept a new name.”
“Then choose an new name for me, Rabbi, and I will accept it with gratitude.”
“Edgar Shybear, henceforth you are Ithuriel, which means Brilliant One of God. Go in peace with my blessing, but go quickly, for Robyn will soon arrive expecting you to return with her to Taurus.”
38 – RETREAT
Talishi stumbled west with the defeated forces of House Antero, Bellon and a regiment of Fallen Angels for days before she shook off her own self-pity over the loss of her precious Khondiel and realized there were injured people around her who needed the knowledge and skills of a healer. So she began to carry her own freight long before reaching the first major Antero city of Jelaket. As Talishi walked without the benefit of riding in her avatar or even on horseback she learned directly in the muscles of her legs and in the soles of her feet what a large planet Barbelo truly was.
Baron Bayard Sala told his serving wench Aliwe Halil to walk close to Lady Talishi and that her smallest whims were to be taken as direct commands. The two women seemed to quickly develop a language of their own and spoke of many things that were incomprehensible to the Baron when he happened to catch a word or two, tales of swarms and moons, of things called micros and other things called macros. And after Aliwe’s first words with her the Baron and soon everyone else noticed that Talishi had begun to smile again and seemed to shed all vestiges of her grief at last.
The forces of House Antero had horses, yet they used them only as beasts of burden to carry supplies, and walked beside their horses that they might stay and protect Talishi. Baron Priam Antero had fallen in battle, but King Brogan and Count Berek yet lived.
None of the House of Larund walked with them save Lady Irus, for her husband Count Raddai had also fallen at Nine Mile Wall, yet Lady Irus never showed the level of grief that had afflicted Talishi with the loss of Khondiel. For Irus and her husband had freely come to aid the Brown Beards, and when she saw Raddai consumed by the fire of the dragon her heart was salved against the pain of losing him with the pride of knowing he fell after a most valiant stand.
At Jelaket the ranks of the stragglers began to thin, but the rest pressed on across the heart of the West Lands to the Antero capital of Vaska. As they drew near the subjects of King Brogan sent trains of supplies to aid their march, including many horses, for Jelaket had none, having sent nearly off of them with the forces that had come to aid Rumbek.
In Vaska when King Brogan and Count Berek had been welcomed home by the people of the city, Talishi was bid by the king to stay and rest for as long as she would like. But Brogan lamented the faithlessness of his daughter Keri, which had brought all of this grief.
“Or so Mastema would have you believe, Your Highness,” said Talishi. “Mastema takes pleasure in turning the things we love against us, King Brogan. In time the shame you feel over your daughter will be transformed into anger against Mastema. And after that, perhaps your anger will be transformed once more, but into pity. For Mastema is well embarked on a path toward his own dissolution and is indeed to be pitied. Great has been his fall heretofore, and greater still the depths he has yet to fall. Mastema might succeed in gaining direct control of all of Barbelo one day, but the one who controls the world, whatever it is, will not be of the Elohim or anything like us.”
“Then what do you council for House Antero?” the King asked.
“House Antero is unfortunately in a most precarious position, for there exists no natural barrier except distance between your city of Jelaket and fallen Elketz in Magodon. Next year Lord Kirodiel will arrive demanding tribute. He will begin to build garrisons throughout your land and Demonstroke will darken your skies to protect them. Behind him will be the combined might of House Gerash and House Bellon in a newly-doubled army of Mastema. You have no hope of succeeding if you offer resistance. So I council that you do not resist. Pay the tribute. Aid Kirodiel in building his garrisons, as he will demand.”
“And the honor of the Red Beards will never be retrieved again.”
“Yes, King Brogan, that is true. But in return, you will preserve the lives of your people and the lives of House Larund beyond yours. You will find that the Law of Mastema has prepared the White Beards to assail any resistance until it breaks, but after it breaks this law flounders, and when presented by no resistance at all, the death culture it fosters slips into the inactivity of confusion, which is why I was not pursued after the war. You see, the one thing Mastema cannot teach the people to do is to simply live. So lay down your self-respect, King Brogan, and live, that you may know a deeper victory over your foe.”
“It will be made so. And yet, Lady Talishi, there remain tokens of the shame of House Antero I can no longer bear to have in my keeping.” The King unrolled a rich black cloth on his table so Talishi could behold the glittering broken shards of Dragonthorn. “Take these far away from my kingdom, I beg you.”
“It will be as you say, King Brogan.” And Talishi committed the relics to the keeping of Aliwe.
After a month in the house of the king, Talishi and her dwindling group rode to Gerazan to winter over. Then together with Aliwe, Lady Irus, Baron Bayard, and a brigade of Fallen Angels, Talishi crossed the ice bridge that led from the far west of the West Lands to the far east of the East Lands. They were almost precisely on the other side of Barbelo from Mastema’s capital city in the center of the Middle Lands. For all their journey they were never assailed by Demonstroke as Talishi often feared they would be. Mastema had essentially forgotten all about Talishi.
Bereft once more of horses, the party spent the entire (albeit short) planting season on the move, so Talishi knew nothing but bitter white cold for the better part of a year. But harvest time was unusually warm, almost hot, and she was in good spirits as they came down off from the ice to the outskirts of Belen. Here was the very source of the River Bandar, emerging from the face of a melting glacier. Every hour or so, a portion of the ice melted, releasing a boulder, sometimes the size of a house, into the vale below. But the stream was too wild to survive in a raft. The journey, by necessity, remained by foot, parallel to the river.
At length, Talishi’s group arrived in the city of Locotin in the center of the Black Beard lands. They had come to the end of their walking travels. Lady Irus commissioned a barge and floated with Talishi down the River Bandar to the capital city of Peshast, where the people marveled to see the wife of Count Raddai returning from a battle beyond the end of the world.
The Black Beard commitment to the war had been relatively meager, so King Garand bore no resentment to Talishi. And Talishi said to the King, “Of the three houses that remain opposed to Mastema, House Larund has the best disposition. You have flown in the avatar of El Shaddai, King Garand, so you know Barbelo is in the shape of a ball, and the lands of House Larund are furthest from the Middle Lands. On the west you are protected by a great natural wall. On the east are two ice bridges and a friendly House. I do not think you will be subject to invasion, but for a time, I believe you might face raids from the dragon controlled by Joy. Therefore I council that you convert all the dwellings in the land of the Black Beards into houses of stone.”
“Certainly Demonstroke will be able to flatten even these,” the King objected.
Talishi replied, “What you say is true, King Garand, nothing can withstand a direct assault from the dragon, not even the fabled Nine Mile Wall was proof against it. Yet your cities as they are presently constructed are little more than so much stacked dry timber to be kindled by Demonstroke in a single strike. Why make it easy for Joy?”
“Your council is good, Lady Talishi. You have traveled far. I offer a wing of the castle to be a home for yourself and your Fallen Angels, if you would abide here in Peshast. Many of our people have assigned their loyalties to El Shaddai rather than Mastema, and here you would have much to teach and do. Your reputation as a healer is well-known.”
“I thank you deeply for your offer, King Garand, and indeed I will avail myself of it for a little while. Peshast will not be my final home. I have summoned a B’nei Elohim named Victoria to come to our aid, and I must wait here until she arrives.”
Baron Bayard was bid to stay in Peshast as well. This had been his home when his mother Queen Aurra had exiled him in punishment for his taste in women of low station. And the baron’s servant girl Aliwe was fully occupied, but more often than not her task was simply trying to keep Bayard’s hands away from her slender body.
YNP08 Hell Bent (17)
39 – AMBUSH
The People led by Shy Bear lived at the only place the herds of migrating elk and antelope could cross the Green River. Upstream the river was too swift, downstream it rushed between sheer walls of sandstone three hundred feet high. When a herd was halfway across, Shy Bear would strike, taking one or two of them according to the needs of the People, and often it would be done in such a stealthy way the rest of the herd would barely notice.
For years the People lived this way, in perfect harmony with the herds. But one day they saw the first wagon trains of white skins use the ford at the river. The white skins used their fire sticks to drop some of the animals merely to clear the way and did not even take the animals for food.
Fair enough, thought Shy Bear, there is plenty for all. But as more years went by the herds got thinner, and many of the People remembered the fire sticks. One year no large game animals were seen at all. The People had to scratch a living from small game, or from scrawny solitary black-tail deer they chanced upon. Some of the hunters murmured openly, recalling with glowing fondness that time before Shy Bear gathered them together as the People, forgetting that it was a time when they eked out their existence as unwanted stragglers.
The army of the whites set up an outpost six land miles (and twelve river miles) away called Fort Shiprock, named for an unusual rock outcropping at the very end of the gorge. Captain John Smalley commanded the fort, and despite his bitter hatred for the dead-end post he had been assigned, Smalley maintained good relations with Chief Shy Bear, who somehow spoke excellent English. He considered the People to be relatively peaceful, but contacts were limited because the People were so poor they had almost nothing to trade. “This fort isn’t exactly a charity outfit,” he was often heard to say.
One fall the Northern Raiders paid their last visit to the People. When Shy Bear confronted them he used a gradually tightening squeeze so the black spear of wind emerged from the Golden Gift at a visible rate. The enemy saw that it was Chief Shy Bear’s magic which absorbed arrows fired at him. They saw it was Chief Shy Bear’s magic that sliced their leader in half, and the horse he rode in on. Shy Bear knew the Raiders operated like pack animals with no stomach for sticking around once they lost their own Chief. And sure enough they fled into the mountains, never to return to the river ford at the foot of End Dome claimed by the People.
The following year the People saw a bizarre sight coming from the south: Eight white skins rode mounted on horses, cracking whips, two on Point, two on Flank, and two on Drag, a cook with his own wagon in the rear and a man out front picking the way. These men were driving possibly five hundred animals that were bulkier than any game animal. They drove their animals over the small islets dotting the ford without even the basic courtesy of offering the People one or two head as a toll. This was the first cattle drive ever to use the Green River ford to cross from the open pastures in the White River Valley to the small town of Issaquah less than a day’s ride to the north, where they could be barged over lake and stream to Seattle.
When about half of their herd was across the ford, Shy Bear sent some of his hunters in to raise general calumny with whoops and hollers and a few well-placed arrows. Meanwhile, he found a good position to take out one of the animals. He was anxious to give the People a taste of the succulent beef he had once eaten in Barbele. Unfortunately the whites fought back fiercely with small fire sticks they could hold in one hand even while their horse was at a full gallop. Two good hunters from among the People were killed. Chief Shy Bear pulled his men back to the safety of End Dome hill, and from there he continued to watch the scene below.
Seven of the men and most of the cattle were across the river. The leader of the party of whites was a Mr. Paul Morrison. He remained on the near side of the river with only about thirty cows. Morrison yelled, “Boys, take what you got and try to make it to town. I’m gonna take this bunch over to Fort Shiprock and see if we can get some help with our red skin problem.”
At the debouchment of the Green River Gorge Captain John Smalley woke up from his midmorning nap and ducked outside the fort stockade to see what was making an infernal racket and a horrible smell. When Paul Morrison saw him he took off his hat and said, “Twenty-eight free range cows for the United States Army Cavalry, sir, compliments of their owner, yours truly, Paul Morrison.” This was indeed the way things were done out west in those days, palms greased with money and goods in return for other favors.
“Well, the Cavalry is much obliged, Mr. Morrison,” came the reply. “I’m Captain John Smalley, commanding Fort Shiprock here. And if there’s ever a favor we could do for you in return, please don’t hesitate to ask.”
“There is the trifling matter of the red skins up there at the Green River ford. Sneaky bastards ambushed us when we were halfway across.”
Captain Smalley took his pipe out in his hand and squinted in disbelief. His handlebar mustache danced as he asked, “Northern Raiders?”
Morrison shook his head. “Wrong markings. I figure these are locals.”
The Captain put his pipe back in his mouth. “That can’t be right. The local Indians are real peaceful. Their chief is smart as a whip and even speaks good American.”
“These Indians didn’t look like the kind to give up, Captain. We had to kill some of ‘em. They’re probably harassing the rest of my herd right now on the north bank. If you hurry you can catch them before sunset.”
Captain Smalley agreed with a sigh, and he gave the appropriate orders to gear up the fort for action. A bugle call was soon heard. Two hours thereafter about forty mounted soldiers crossed the little tributaries and limesilt islets of the ford, accompanied by Morrison.
They found a small group of the People’s hunters rendering a fallen cow down for steaks. Smalley recognized the battle dress of Chief Shy Bear and steered a course for his little group. Presently he and his men formed a circle around the chief and a handful of his hunters. Smalley told another officer, Lieutenant Lambert Wells, to take most of the unit toward Issaquah to engage the rest of the Indians, and hand-picked four soldiers to stay behind with him. As the lieutenant rode off with his thirty-four men, Smalley and Morrison moved closer to Chief Shy Bear while the four soldiers supporting the Captain orbited them all at a stately trot. “God damn it Chief, you know better than to start acting like the Northern Raiders.”
“What are you going to do to him?” Morrison asked.
“Take him into custody for cattle rustling. That’ll have to do. The rest of these red fellows here were just following orders. They got families to feed. I’m going to let them go so they can pick themselves a new chief.”
Shy Bear understood perfectly what Smalley wanted to do to him, and he decided not to go peacefully. He had the Golden Gift in his hand and he pointed it right at Smalley. The black shaft leaped out with its hideous sucking sound and sliced the head of Smalley’s horse clean off. And then Smalley himself was rendered in two. That black line remained there, drinking in light and air, while five more orbiting horses and men ran right into it, including Paul Morrison.
After that Shy Bear used the Golden Gift to get rid of the bodies of the men and the horses he had slain, but he knew the killing range of the Golden Gift was not longer than a spear. Against a troop of whites armed with firesticks he would be helpless. They would kill him, and his warriors, and no doubt all of the women and children and old men in the camp of the People as well in retribution for killing the white chief. There were rumors of such an atrocity happening before at Little Mashel River. Then the army of the whites would have the Golden Gift. Shy Bear needed to think fast.
The bulk of the cavalry from Fort Shiprock under Lieutenant Welles followed the hoofprints of Morrison’s herd north until they found the bodies of the warriors of the People slain along the way, intercepted by the horse-mounted warriors of another band, probably Northern Raiders. Welles detached a squad to escort Morrison to his herd and then followed these tracks.
Lt. Welles with his thirty cavalrymen rode hell-for-leather west after the Northern Raiders and reached the banks of the Green River upstream from End Dome at the place where the river plunged into the Cascade Mountains through a narrow valley.
Welles pushed his men and horses to exhaustion as they rode up the banks of the dwindling river, more often than not trotting through the water itself. Welles thought they were drawing ever nearer to their prey, but they were chasing a phantom, and as dusk settled in the cavalry itself became the prey. A rock slide of curious origin cut off their advance, and another rock slide cut off any escape. Then arrows sang out from hidden nooks among the boulders along the cliffs, answered by gun-fire as the cavalry shot wildly at any perceived movement.
The battle seemed to go too easy for the Northern Raiders, and they suspected treachery, but in truth the warriors were fighting in land they knew intimately while Welles, his other men and all their horses were in no condition to put up much of a fight. Only the five men detached by Smalley to escort Morrison back to his herd ever made it back to Fort Shiprock alive.
A few weeks later a cable arrived from the War Department for the senior man, a sergeant, to break up the fort and cart the essentials away to Fort Lawton in Seattle by army draft horses. They never found Shy Bear.
Chief Shy Bear hit upon the idea of going back to Haaretz for a short time, at least until Smalley’s force stopped looking for him. But at the Sacred Pond he encountered a train of sixteen wagons and forty white skins, and Shy Bear marveled that so many people were converging in this area at once. The settler party, which Chief Shy Bear smelled before he saw, were the die-hards of the Five Corners Free Congregation. Chief Shy Bear thought it was getting so crowded it wasn’t a respectable wilderness anymore.
The women among these settlers were crying and the men were wringing their hands, for one of their little girls had slipped under the waters of the little pond and her body had yet been found despite many attempts to try to reach it. Shy Bear walked forward slowly into their encampment with empty hands so they could see he carried no weapon. The Golden Gift was tied to his belt and it did not look like any weapon they knew.
“I am Shy Bear, Chief of the People. Do not fear for your daughter Inge. She is safe in the Land of the Spirits and soon she will appear again.”
Mark Lange pointed a gun at Shy Bear and pulled back the hammer. “How do you know her name? And how do you know she will come back to us safe?”
And that was Inge Lange’s cue to pop out of the water, three years older than when she went in, only three hours before, but she was not nearly as old as the close schoolyard friend she barely recognized standing there waiting for him. “Shy Bear, you look different!” she exclaimed, to her father’s utter confusion.