Christmas in Feiramar

As a novelist, Christmas sometimes draws my thoughts back to writing about Christmas in some of the stories I have created. For those who have read The Halcyon Dislocation, this discussion may remind you of the scene in Chapters 15 when Dave Schuster and Al Gleeson and their companions stumble on New Jerusalem after a disastrous and fatal encounter with pony-sized wolf-like creatures that can communicate with each other and plan attacks.

Chapter 15

New Jerusalem

Although Glenn insisted he was fine and fit to travel, the others fashioned a stretcher for him, from two stout saplings and spare clothes from the packs of the dead. They sorted through the rest of the excess gear, took what they could carry, and buried the rest under a cairn of stones on the island.

When everything was ready, they started out, taking turns carrying Glenn and his pack on the stretcher. The terrain was difficult, and more than once the stretcher-bearers stumbled, almost tossing Glenn onto the ground. After the third stumble Glenn insisted vociferously that it was safer for him to walk. He walked for a short stretch when the terrain allowed but soon tired, so they fell to carrying him again. Their progress was agonizingly slow.

After a week of this, everyone was nearing the limits of their endurance. Their progress slowed further, and they were forced to make camp late in the afternoon when the stretcher-bearers were too tired to continue. Thankfully the weather was warmer again, bringing back a memory of the early fall. Although the trees were bare, in the sheltered glades fall had not yet been completely overwhelmed by winter. They still found plenty of potatoes, and the creek teemed with trout in the deep pools.

The eighth day after the attack, they encountered a barrier. As they climbed a low hill and cleared the trees, they saw a rock wall ahead, about 400 yards high. Although it was made of jumbled rock, it seemed regular and formed the arc of a ring that looked to be several miles in diameter. Directly in front of them was a cleft. At some time in the past, a section of this circular wall had shifted, leaving a narrow channel for the creek to enter.

They debated about the best course of action. The outside edge of this crater was so steep and broken up that it would have to be climbed. Finally Floyd announced they should look for an easy route through the barrier. Failing that, they would walk around it.

They descended from the hill and followed the creek into the barrier wall. On the north side of the creek, a narrow path skirted the edge of the canyon wall. Dave looked up and saw that the walls of the gorge leapt straight up. Already the steep sides cast deep shadows on the creek as it flowed over its stony bed, bubbling and boiling around boulders that had fallen from the heights. The canyon was not straight, but bent to the right. The path seemed too well trodden to be a game trail, so they proceeded with extra caution, Floyd and Al creeping ahead with their rifles. As they rounded a bastion of rock jutting into the creek from the north, the noisy creek became a pool.

They stopped short. Ahead of them a small wooden bridge had been built to cross a gap in the path.

“What do you think?” whispered Floyd.

“It looks like one of ours,” said Al, examining the ax cuts on the wood and the wooden spikes holding the timber together.

“They used ironwood for the spikes,” continued Al.

“Maybe there’s one of our lumber camps ahead,” said Dave hopefully, as he crept up from behind to join them.

They proceeded even more cautiously now. When they rounded a bend to the left, they were astonished to see an earth¬and¬rock dam, about thirty feet high, spanning the narrow gorge and holding back the water to form the long narrow pool they had encountered. They examined the dam wall but could not see where the water left the pool, although the sound of a waterfall could be heard as a muted roar.

Examining the dam in more detail, they saw that it was crowned with a wooden palisade. The path climbed up the north side of the gorge and then crossed a sheer wall of rock into the palisade’s rough wooden gate over a drawbridge. The drawbridge was drawn up.

Suddenly, a voice boomed from behind the palisade, “Who are you, and why do you disturb our tranquility?” Stunned, they did not answer immediately, so the voice shouted the question again.

“We are explorers sent out by the colony of Botany Bay. We have been attacked, and several of our members have been killed. We are in need of assistance,” shouted Floyd.

There was no response for some time. Finally, a head appeared above the wall of the palisade and said, “Approach the drawbridge so that we can have a look at you. Leave your weapons behind.”

Al and Floyd gave their rifles to their companions and then walked up the steep switchback and approached the wall.

“I know you. You’re Al Gleeson, aren’t you?” said the voice. The face was hooded in shadow. “Gleeson, drop all your weapons and approach the drawbridge. The rest of you stay where you are.”

After getting Floyd’s agreement, Al gave his pack, sword, and knife belt to him. Then, holding his hands palm outward, he approached the wooden platform opposite the drawbridge. The drawbridge rumbled down, and the gate behind it opened. Al walked in, the gate closed, and the drawbridge was drawn up.

“Now what do we do?” Dave asked Floyd as he rejoined them by the pool, bringing Al’s equipment.

“We wait,” said Floyd.

“But what if they hold him hostage?” asked Tom.

“We wait!” said Floyd, ending the conversation. As if to emphasize his point, he broke out some food and passed it around to the others.

After about an hour, the drawbridge lowered again, and a young, fine-featured, buckskin-clad man came out. He had a friendly face and was sporting a thin scraggly beard. When he spoke, it was clear that his was the voice they had heard earlier.

“My name is Mark Forsyth,” he said, inclining his head courteously. “I’ve come to bid you welcome as guests. Your companion, Al Gleeson, is known to our bishop. Al has told us of your need and the perils you have encountered, and our bishop has asked me to extend to you the safety of our hearth, even though it’s not our custom to provide entry to strangers. Nevertheless, our rules require that you leave your weapons at the door. Will you comply with this request?”

“Strangers?” said Floyd, sounding exasperated. “You know us from Botany Bay. Even though I didn’t know your name until today, I recall seeing you in the settlement.”

“I also recognize you, of course,” said Forsyth. “But we are a religious community that values our privacy, and we fear the interference of Halcyon. You didn’t answer my question. Will you relinquish your weapons?”

“Can we speak to Al Gleeson?” asked Floyd.

“If you wish,” said Forsyth, seemingly untroubled by the request.

At a signal from Forsyth, Al came down and joined them on the path.

“They want us to give up our weapons,” said Floyd.

Al’s face was flushed and his eyes were hard, yet his words were calm and controlled. “These people are Dalyites, followers of Dalrymple,” said Al. “I believe them to be men of their word, and since they have extended hospitality to us, we need not fear any treachery. However, it’s very unusual for them to extend hospitality to strangers. Furthermore, they’re afraid of something, so I can’t guarantee how easy it will be for us to leave.”

“Are you all right? Are you sure?” asked Floyd.

“Yes, I’m sure, Floyd. I’m upset because I met a group I really didn’t want to meet—not because our company is in danger.”

Floyd put his hand on his chin and looked out over the pond at the palisade. Finally he said, “We’ll worry about that later. Glenn needs to rest in a safe place. All this jostling and lugging him about is killing him. Besides, I don’t think we could have carried him much farther. Let’s do it!”

They crossed the drawbridge and found themselves on a wide wooden platform. In the middle of the platform was a gap where they could see the sluice gate through which the water from the creek poured into the valley beyond. An arch constructed of huge stones formed the end of an underwater drain for the pond.

The sluice had been constructed with great care from cut stone. The stonework was old and well worn by the water plunging through the rock channel and falling another thirty feet to the valley floor. A large wooden tripod made of recently cut wood with pulleys and winches could be used to lower heavy wooden beams into specially made slots in the stone to reduce the flow through the underground channel.

“We have labored day and night to complete this dam and palisade,” Forsyth said. “It was a vision of the bishop’s. Now we are safe and can live in peace. If we are threatened, we simply shut the sluice gate, raise the level of the water, and the pond will flood all the way to the end of the gorge. The path will become submerged, and access will be very difficult.”

“Very well designed,” said Floyd, staring at the massive stones that made up the arch of the sluice and formed the slots for the sluice gate. Dave saw that Floyd had a puzzled look on his face. Dave was puzzled too.

There’s no way these Dalyites built this! This stonework is too old. They only built the wooden parts. Why are they so afraid? Do they know about the lupi? Is there some other danger we don’t know about?

Looking to the east, Dave could see they were in a crater about two miles in diameter. The southern half of the floor of the crater was dotted with small sections of tilled earth in a broad meadow. The northern half of the bowl, in contrast, was covered with trees and dense brush. The creek, which cascaded from the dam to the valley floor, made a broad loop north into the woods and then reappeared, winding through the meadow in broad sweeping curves, until it finally emptied into a lake at the southeastern end of the valley. The gorge was the only break in the circular crater wall. The lake had no apparent outlet.

Forsyth, seeing the direction of Dave’s gaze and seemingly reading his thoughts, said, “The creek leaves the crater by an underground channel and emerges on the other side of the crater wall, eventually emptying into Botany Bay.”

“Oh, so this is the same creek that empties into our bay!” said Floyd with excitement.

“We’re still about three days away, but yes,” said Forsyth. “We’ve searched through your packs and given you what you may keep. Your weapons will be stored here,” he said, indicating a small shed, “but now you must come and meet the bishop. He’ll welcome you and pronounce his judgment.”

That sounds ominous, thought Dave.

Forsyth led them down a switchback path at the back of the dam. The dam had been built atop a natural rockfall, which had partially blocked the creek.

They reached the meadow, crossed a sturdy bridge, and followed a well-traveled road to a tiny village, which was about a mile distant at the edge of the lake. The village consisted of only two buildings, a house-sized church, which the group identified by the large cross, which was attached to the outside, and a second, larger building. This larger building was constructed of cut stone but had a new roof made of turf. One side had a low addition with a separate entrance and a stone well, identifying it as the kitchen.

Approaching the two buildings, they saw that both were festooned with pine, cedar, and holly.

“Didn’t you realize today is Christmas Day?” asked Forsyth, noting their curious surprise.

“No!” said Floyd, astounded. “I’m afraid that because of the events of the last few weeks we’ve lost track of time.”

“Your arrival couldn’t have come at a more propitious time. We’ll be celebrating our Christmas feast today.”

They entered the large building adjacent to the church. The main room was square, with a big fireplace on the wall opposite the entrance. A Christmas tree, covered with strips of colored cloth and handmade wooden ornaments, reached nearly to the roof beams in the corner of the common room. An indefinable smell of Christmas in the air reminded Dave of his childhood, bringing with it a longing for family.

The two carrying Glenn’s stretcher placed it gently on a bench. Glenn seemed in good spirits and looked eagerly around the room.

Rough wooden furniture surrounded the fireplace. An elderly man with a shock of white hair, his hands behind his back, faced the cheerful fire. When he heard the group enter, he turned to face them, smiled, and approached them with his hands outstretched.

“Welcome to New Jerusalem, and merry Christmas,” he said warmly, shaking each hand in turn. Coming at last came to Al, he said, “Welcome home, Al. Will you give me your hand?

“I will not!” said Al with anger.

The bishop, with a flush rising on his cheeks, turned back to the others and said in a faltering voice, “As I said, I bid you welcome,” then lapsed into an awkward silence.

“New Jerusalem?” asked Dave.

“Pardon me?” said the bishop.

“You called this place New Jerusalem.”

“Yes. I know it’s a little pretentious,” said the bishop, breaking into a smile once more, “but that’s what we call our little community.” He indicated they were to take seats by the fire, and then gently dismissed Forsyth with, “Thank you, Mark.”

“My name is Dalrymple. By the grace of God I am the leader of this community. Before I tell you more about us, as a courtesy to me, your host, I would ask that you indulge me by answering a few questions about yourselves and what brought you here.”

Seating himself facing the seven visitors, Dalrymple led the conversation to a discussion of their trip. Glenn obviously felt well enough to join in the conversation. Tactful, skillful, and thorough in his gentle interrogation, Dalrymple asked so many detailed questions it took the better part of an hour to get through them. At that point, two women came in with mashed potatoes and venison for lunch. One of the women left immediately, so they did not catch a glimpse of her face. The second woman served the meal. Though plainly dressed, she was exceedingly beautiful, and the travelers’ glances followed her every movement around the room.

Seeing the stretcher lying in the corner, the young woman interrupted the proceedings.

“Who is injured, if I may ask?” she queried.

“Let me introduce Sister Sonja. She is our village physician,” said Dalrymple. The men greeted her warmly.

“Glenn Thompson,” said Floyd. “He was bitten by a wolf.”

“A wolf? I’d better have a look at that right away. He should also have rabies vaccine and a Virostat.”

Sister Sonja approached Glenn, examined the crude bandage, and asked, “Can you walk?”

“I can try,” said Glenn plaintively.

“Then you’d better follow me.”

Glenn staggered as he rose, and Sonja grasped his arm to steady him. He had a pained expression on his face. However, just before he disappeared, he turned back to his companions and beamed from ear to ear. Resuming his look of pain born with fortitude and endurance, he slowly, painfully, limped on Sonja’s arm into a side hallway.

“I don’t think he’s going to be back anytime soon,” muttered Floyd, so that only Dave could hear.

After the two had left, Dalrymple returned to his questioning. Finally, when they had described how they had arrived at Dalrymple’s valley, Floyd took the initiative.

“We have told you our history since we left Botany Bay more than three months ago,” said Floyd. “Mark Forsyth told us that your colony is on Botany Creek and that you’re three days from the coast.”

“That’s correct,” said Dalrymple.

“In our turn then,” continued Floyd, “we’d like to know what you’re doing here, three days from the colony, in this secluded valley.”

“That’s a fair question,” said Dalrymple. “I was—or, I suppose, am—Professor of History at Halcyon. In addition to my academic responsibilities, I’m a person of strong religious convictions, perhaps what you would term a ‘fundamentalist,’ although I just think of myself as a sincere follower of Christ. I believe our western society—long before the dislocation—was wrong-headed and moving to disaster. I’ve long wished to set up a small community, sheltered from the headlong rush to social and moral oblivion, but in our twenty-first century that dream seemed impossible to fulfill. My specialty was seventeenth century English history. I wanted to do what the Puritans did in coming to America—to set up a society, under God, free from the decay and manipulation of our modern age. Unfortunately, there really was no ‘America’ for me, until the dislocation.

“In the first few weeks, I felt I ought to help O’Reilly get Halcyon on its feet, and perhaps I thought I could set up my society within the confines of Halcyon itself. However, as a faculty member I saw Blackmore positioning himself to take over, and God made it clear to me that Blackmore would tolerate people like me on paper, but behind the scenes he’d make every effort to drive us slowly to spiritual extinction. Under him it would become impossible for us to maintain our belief system. His people would slowly grind it out of us. If they didn’t succeed with me, then they would certainly educate our faith out of our children.

“As a consequence, as soon as I could, I volunteered for Botany Bay. The people you see here came with me. At first we settled in Botany Bay, but as soon as I saw the Happy Berry users, I knew that big trouble was brewing on the mainland as well. In the Bible, 1 Corinthians, chapter 6, verse 12, the apostle Paul says, ‘All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.’” Dalrymple quoted the verse from memory without pausing.

“We are forbidden anything that enslaves. My brothers and my sisters and I take that warning quite literally. We knew it applied to Happy Berries. I knew we had to leave, and so I looked for a way to get us out of town. Happy Berries only grow within a few miles of the coast, so I searched inland to keep my people away from the temptation. At first I volunteered for one of the lumber camps up Botany Creek, but the men of my community and I searched and prayed constantly for a place of seclusion, a sela¬hammahlekoth, or ‘rock of escape,’ if you like, such as the Bible’s King David found in the wilderness of Judah.

“I followed Botany Creek, ranging farther and farther with each attempt. Finally, I found it ended at the edge of a steep rock wall in a lake. I was about to turn back when it struck me that there were no streams flowing into this small lake, only Botany Creek flowing out. It was then that I decided to climb the crater wall and saw the valley of New Jerusalem.

“We’ve been here since the summer, and we’ve worked day and night to bring our colony into being. Our plan is to maintain our independence, to prevent contamination from the poison that is Halcyon, and especially to keep Halcyon away from our children.”

“Where does that leave us?” asked Floyd.

“I knew Al Gleeson through our meetings at Halcyon.” He turned to look at Al. “He’s a good and honorable man who speaks the truth, and on that basis I’ve chosen to trust you. If you come to believe what we believe and seek to escape Halcyon as we do, we’ll offer to let you stay as members of our community. On the other hand, if you can’t do that, we’ll ask of you a solemn oath, that you’ll keep our location a secret when you return to Halcyon.”

The interview had come to an end. Dalrymple called to a young man walking through the hall; spoke to him quietly, and then addressed his guests.

“We have three double rooms in the bachelor quarters,” said Dalrymple. “Mr. Linder, please divide up your companions.”

Floyd and Al conferred, and then Floyd divided the six remaining explorers into groups of two, pairing Dave with Al. Preparing to leave, Dave had just moved to pick up their gear when he heard Dalrymple ask to speak to Al. Dave overheard their conversation as he rearranged their gear.

“I’m truly sorry about your brother,” said Dalrymple.

“It had been more than a year-and-a-half since Thomas left your group,” said Al, anger permeating his voice. “And my parents hadn’t heard from him since he disappeared. Do you know why he left you, and left us?”

“No, I can’t say that I do,” said Dalrymple quietly.

“When we joined the Dalyites, you convinced us to abandon our friends because they were a bad influence. You cut us off from our family for the same reason. After we’d severed all these relationships, he and I did what you said because you were our spiritual leader. But we’re not stupid. Even the naïve, like Thomas and I, can eventually see the truth. You were manipulating us. I saw it first. When I left the Dalyites, my relationship to him, the closest friend I had, was also severed. He wouldn’t even talk to me. Then when he finally left, he didn’t just leave you, but he left his friends, his family, and his faith. And now he’s gone because of you and your cursed manipulation.”

Dave was so drawn to the conversation that he gave up all pretense of repacking their gear and stared at Dalrymple whose face was a study in profound regret. “I am sorry. Forgive me,” Dalrymple implored Al.

Al turned to join Dave and walked away. At the entrance to the hallway, he turned back to Dalrymple, who stood by the fire, a look of pain on his face. Al made as if to speak, but thought better of it, and walked down the hallway, saying, “Come on, Dave.”

They found one of the young men, who showed them their quarters at the west end of the building. The mattresses on the stone floor were made of straw. There was no other furniture in the room.

When they had opened up their packs and made themselves at home, Dave said, “Maybe it’s none of my business, but I couldn’t help overhearing your interchange with Dalrymple back in the hall.”

“You’re right,” said Al. “It isn’t any of your business.”

“You’re right, of course,” retorted Dave. “I’m not a Christian, but I thought you folks are supposed to forgive when someone asks you. Am I wrong about that?”

Al turned red but said nothing, continuing to unpack his knapsack. Finally he put the pack aside and turned to face Dave. “No, Dave, you’re not wrong. But you do not know what you’re asking. My brother—”

“I’m not really asking anything. I just thought that forgiveness was one of the things Christians were supposed to extend to others. Here Dalrymple asks for forgiveness as prettily as one can imagine, and you say no? I guess I don’t understand the finer points of Christianity very well.”

Al collapsed onto his straw mattress and put his head into his hands.

Dave, worried that he had said too much, went out for a while. He looked at the building. The stonework was old and made of the same stone that formed the walls of the crater, but the wood beams and roof were new. There’s no way they could have built these big structures in the short time they’ve been here. They must have found the stone shells and finished them off!

When Dave returned, Al seemed in better spirits and actually thanked him for speaking up. That evening the whole community of thirty people held a Christmas feast. The ten men and twenty women from New Jerusalem, amongst them five married couples, set the feast on long roughhewn tables. For the main course a whole roasted buck was carried in on a spit from the cookhouse. Rough clay pitchers filled with a delicious juice made from wild raspberries graced the table. Finally, a cake made from acorn flour and honey was served. When everyone had eaten their fill and could eat no more, they sang Christmas carols by heart. Several of the men had guitars, and one played the violin. After caroling the revelers  moved tables and chairs aside and exchanged gifts. Somehow, gifts for the travelers appeared amongst those under the tree. Dave received a small leather pouch, cunningly crafted and embroidered. Finally, the evening ended in a square dance, played by the fiddler and called by Dalrymple. Even Glenn took part in the festivities, until he began to boast about his square dancing ability, upon which Sonja sent him to his room. The evening couldn’t have been more delightful for the travelers. They had not seen a woman for three months, and dancing with one was sheer delight.

It was very late when the six companions turned in to bed. Al seemed like he needed to talk. “Dave, you were right to admonish me about forgiveness today. I owe you an explanation,” said Al. “You see, when I first came to Halcyon, I joined the Dalyites. Dalrymple was an enthusiastic, devoted man, full of religious conviction. He believed in complete and utter separation from the world. By that, he meant from everyone else in the world. Separation was much more important than interaction. I bought into what he said and only made friends with other Dalyites. But as I grew in my own Christian convictions, I realized there was a great deal of social manipulation involved in keeping us in line. We had no freedom. We had no opportunity to decide for ourselves. All questions, even legitimate ones, were taken as a sign of rebellion and apostasy. Finally I left the group, and that estranged my older brother, Thomas.”

“I don’t get it,” said Dave. “If you’ve seen the light, so to speak, and you’ve recognized that Christianity is maintained by manipulation and social pressure, why do you still follow it?” Al smiled ruefully. “ I suppose at first I did almost abandon everything, or at least I tried to abandon everything. But you know, I knew deep down inside that there was something real there. I couldn’t just abandon my beliefs. The author G.K. Chesterton once said that, ‘the best case against Christianity is Christians.’ I think that’s true, but just because someone gets it wrong doesn’t mean the whole thing is wrong. One thing I did learn though is that freedom is oh so important. You must let people ask the hard questions about their faith: about pain, about injustice. Let them face up to all of the people who sneer at God; let them face up to their best arguments. Only as you work through that in freedom, can you arrive at a place where faith is genuine.”

“Do you think this is going to be a problem for us?” asked Dave. “Will Dalrymple try to keep us here against our wishes so he can control us?”

“No, I do not think so. Dalrymple doesn’t lie, and he’s not treacherous. He’ll keep his word.”

“Maybe he’s changed,” ventured Dave.

“Has he changed?” asked Al. “I think he’s doing it again with this colony. That’s why he wants to stay away from Halcyon; he wants complete control over these people’s lives. In his mind, I think, his control is benevolent, but it’s still control.”

Dave chose not to respond. He was tired and wanted to sleep. But the sounds of Al’s restless tossing and turning told him his friend still had plenty on his mind.

__________

Al tossed and turned, but could not get to sleep. Dave’s breathing already had the cadence of a man sinking into deep sleep. Al thoughts kept returning to Dave’s rebuke.

I know Dave’s right. But what am I to do, Lord?

Reluctantly reaching a decision, Al finally got up and went to the main hall. The fire was still burning merrily. As he approached the blaze, he saw Dalrymple dozing in a chair. Al was about to tiptoe out again when Dalrymple awoke.

“Albert,” he said, “I’m afraid I was thinking and fell asleep.”

“I came to apologize,” said Al. He swallowed hard. “No, that’s not quite right. I actually came to ask for forgiveness.”

“Forgiveness?”

“Yes,” continued Al. “You asked me to forgive you, and I was rude and uncharitable.”

“In that case, I forgive you from the bottom of my heart,” said Dalrymple.

“And I also forgive you,” said Al.

“Well, that’s done!” said Dalrymple. “I know you’ll be happy here.”

“I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding,” said Al. “I don’t think this is the place for me, and I’ll need to leave at some point.”

Dalrymple’s face betrayed his disappointment. “Of course!” he said.

“I’m quite tired,” said Al. “I’ll think I’ll head off to bed.” With that he returned to his room and slept soundly.

__________

The days passed swiftly. The people in the valley appeared to have a degree of joy and happiness not encountered in the frenetic culture of Halcyon. Dave and the other explorers raised a new log building next to “city hall,” as they called their residence. This new building was to be a library to house the colony’s precious books and would eventually become a schoolhouse. The companions helped wherever they could, some cutting lumber in the forest and floating it down the creek to the building site, others raising log cabins for the married couples near their farm plots.

Glenn spent many days in a special room reserved for the sick, adjacent to the unmarried women’s quarters. He received no end of good-natured ribbing for this. Sister Sonja watched over him with unceasing care. When he had recovered sufficiently, they could often be seen going for walks together in the meadow or along the shore of the lake.

“What’s with Glenn?” asked Dave. “He didn’t seem all that sick, yet he’s still being looked after.”

“Perhaps he’s become addicted to the medicine,” said Al.

“Perhaps he’s finally found a woman that meets his criteria,” said Floyd.

“I don’t know,” said Dave. “Sister Sonja doesn’t strike me as a person who meets Glenn’s criteria. She has ideas of her own, and she’s no slouch. She’s much too rigid for him.”

“Why do you say that?” asked Al. “Do you really think Glenn knew what he was looking for? I think men rarely speak greater nonsense than when they try to describe the woman they claim is the woman of their dreams!”

“Thus saith the seer who acknowledgeth he knoweth nothing about women!” said Dave solemnly.

Al laughed. “Touché!”

Two weeks later, as they were retrieving lumber that had floated down the creek, the men were told that Dalrymple wanted to see them immediately. They left their work, cleaned up, and hurried over to city hall. Dalrymple was waiting for them. A young man in travel-stained garments was also there, surrounded by many from the village.

“Gentlemen, please sit down,” said Dalrymple. “Jared here has just returned from a trading trip to Botany Bay, and he has some disturbing news.” Dalrymple also sat down, and gestured to Jared to begin.

“Bishop Dalrymple, brothers, sisters, and guests,” began Jared formally with his hands clasped behind his back. “As many of you know, I was sent south with two of our brothers to Botany Bay to trade some of our baskets, weapons, and leather goods for medicine from Halcyon.

“We made the raft trip down the creek without major incident. After we’d finished our trading, we were searching for a buyer of the raft when trouble started.”

“What kind of trouble?” interrupted Floyd.

“It became apparent soon after we reached Botany Bay, that there had been a great deal of trouble with Happy Berry users. Some of these people who’d been using the berries for more than six months had begun to change. Many of them had become so unruly that they’d been driven out of town or locked up in one of the log buildings until Governor O’Reilly could get some help from Halcyon. He’d run out of the medicine they use to control the addiction.”

“Sedovarin!” said Dave under his breath.

“You said they’d begun to change,” said Floyd. “Did you see them?”

Jared shuffled his feet and looked uncomfortable. “I’m ashamed to say it,” resumed Jared. “I was curious and wanted to see these fellows I had heard about in the town. I saw them in their makeshift prison. They were terrible to behold. At one moment they growled and spat like cornered animals, yet at another they spoke like men. The whites of their eyes had become yellow¬red from the berries, and they seem to have a constant supply of adrenaline¬charged strength that’s beyond ordinary men. They’d leap up the side of their wooden cage with a strength I wouldn’t have thought possible.”

“On our final day, a band of these ‘renegades,’ as the townspeople called them, that had been hiding in the woods and living off the land to the south raided the town for food and broke the other renegades out of prison. It seemed to me that many of the townspeople that had a grudge against O’Reilly also took part in the rioting even though they’d not been using Happy Berries for long. When the violence started, we fled in panic, leaving the area as quickly as possible. We hurried back to warn our brothers and sisters that God’s judgment has begun to fall on Halcyon.”

“But this is not a judgment of God,” said Dave, exasperated. “This is their own stupid fault for not listening to Uncle Charlie, I mean Governor O’Reilly!”

“O’Reilly is your uncle!” blurted Dalrymple.

“What are you going to do?” asked Floyd, turning to Dalrymple.

“Do?” answered Dalrymple. “We’ll stay to our purpose. We’ll build a refuge here for those who, at God’s leading, come here and want to obey His law.”

“But what about those people in Botany Bay?” asked Al.

“Albert, you know better that anyone here,” said Dalrymple, “that the people of Botany Bay are experiencing natural justice. They’ve disobeyed the law by using Happy Berries, which led to their enslavement. Now their earlier decisions are coming home to cause them grief and trouble. They have sown, and the crop is coming in. They’ve made their bed, and now they must sleep in it.”

“But where’s the grace in this?” asked Al. “Shouldn’t we, as God’s people, help them even if they’ve brought this upon themselves? Aren’t there innocents among the guilty?”

“That’s why I called you here,” said Dalrymple, “The time of decision has come. You must now decide to join our family and promise to obey our laws and our leadership, or you must leave, taking an oath never to reveal our location to others. Which will it be?”

Floyd stood up. “I’m going back!” he said. “Who’s coming with me?”

He looked around. Al stood up immediately, followed by Dave. Dwight, Stan, and Tom stood up more slowly. Glenn averted his eyes.

“All right!” said Dalrymple, reaching for a Bible. He administered an oath, which was repeated by the six in unison, and then they left to pack up their things.

Dave had to get some answers from Glenn, so he stayed behind.

“Let’s go for a walk,” Dave said to Glenn.

As they walked Dave asked, “Are you going or staying?”

“I’m staying,” said Glenn.

“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” asked Dave. “These people here are not at all like you. Whatever happened to the Glenn philosophy of ‘live life to the fullest’? How are you going to do that here?”

Glenn answered slowly, “Dave, I don’t rightly know myself. I know that I’m in love with Sonja—”

“So that’s it!” exclaimed Dave.

“No, wait a minute,” interrupted Glenn in turn. “I know what you think, but it’s not like that. I love Sonja, but I’m not at all sure she loves me.”

“I care about you, Glenn, and I know how you think, and I just don’t want you throwing your life away because you have your hormones up about this woman. Dalrymple isn’t going to let you leave if you stay after today. Furthermore, remember the woman of your dreams who was going to satisfy your every whim and desire? Well, Sonja doesn’t fit the bill. Sonja has a mind of her own, and her religion is more important to her than you are. You’re making a big mistake.”

“Dave,” said Glenn, “everything I said and believed back then was nonsense. I see that now. You’re absolutely right; Sonja loves her God more than she cares about me. Even when she cares for me, she does it out of kindness, since she doesn’t need me at all. But she’s a woman of character, and she’s worth going after. Even if I never win her and I’m left with this ache in my chest, it’ll have been worth it. I’m not worthy of her, but I have to try to be worthy of her. I’ve never been surer of anything in my life. I’m going to try to win her. I already know I’ll probably fail. I can’t let this go by without at least trying.”

What’s happened to Glenn? Has he gone mad?

There was nothing more to be said. Dave just shook his head in disbelief.

If you’re interested in finding out more about The Halcyon Dislocation or Peter’s other books, follow this link.

About Peter Kazmaier

Lover of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Author of the SF series THE HALCYON CYCLE. I frequently re-read my favourite books. http://tinyurl.com/p46woa4

Posted on December 23, 2019, in Peter Kazmaier, The Halcyon Cycle, The Halcyon Dislocation and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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