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World’s End
Book One of The Seed Mother

Chapter Nineteen: Maturity

At the ten year celebration of the founding of Falling Spring and Mumbros territory, all of the founders were feted with a week-long feast on the commons between the boarding house for singles and the mill pond. There, where Moira, Ellen, and Joel had held their first picnic, a large pavilion had been constructed, open all around but with wind screens and a small raised platform at one end. Homemade tables and chairs had been set up to hold a fluctuating crowd, and the celebration featured mountains of food, homemade fireworks, music, and dancing, with a few rousing speeches thrown in for good measure. The week of festivities worked itself up to a final day of praises honoring the first family and others who had made notable contributions to the community.

After all the speeches had been offered and a dozen or more toasts raised, the children and betweens were freed to regroup on the lawn in front of the singles house, where the frequent work parties were organized on ordinary days, and the youngsters began several games at once, the aims of which seemed chiefly to be to fall into giggling piles at intervals.

While some older folks elected to retire for the evening, most of the adults settled into small clumps at various tables and told stories, shared ideas and rested from their busy schedules. It was, after all, the season of planting plants and seedlings, readying the vegetable beds, and tilling the lower fields. Every year the rising population demanded more attention to food crops, while commerce demanded higher production of trade goods, including the increasing variety of products they had learned to make from the hemp plant. But not this week. By turns, the founders had told their stories of how this place came to be – the sacrifices, the threats, and the joys of meeting new arrivals. Even the various new animal arrivals were celebrated.

At a quiet corner of the dais, Moira and Ellen relaxed over yet another glass of wine and watched the younger ones at play. But they both looked preoccupied and each continued to scan the crowd uneasily.

“Do you feel that?” Ellen finally asked.

Moira nodded, her face drawn from listening intently. “Something’s not right. But I can’t quite get a grip on it. Some kind of trouble. Not a threat, at least not in the usual sense.”

“Not quite here, but not a long way off, either,” Ellen added.

Moira roused herself. “I think I’ll have a stroll down to the gate and see if there’s something or somebody incoming who’s in distress. I’m sure there’s a watch, but with all this ruckus going on they may be distracted by the festivities.”

“Don’t be long, or I’ll worry,” Ellen said, giving Moira’s arm a squeeze.

Moira turned and smiled. She nodded toward the children at play. “I’ll take one of those little rabbits with me,” she said. “If it’s something important, I’ll send ‘em back on the run.” As she walked away, Ellen watched her relaxed, confident stride and noticed some others watching and smiling. The ten years seemed to have gone by in an instant, but it was an instant filled with a wealth of memories. And in all of them, Moira was always the first one willing to take on any task without fear and without failing.

“I don’t have to ask what she’d risk for this place, or even if she’d kill for it, or for me,” she thought, watching her disappear into the night. “She already has.”

She felt more than heard someone approach and looked up to smile at Joel.

“They’re sure making a fuss over us all,” he said softly, smiling back. “It’s a little embarrassing for me, because I was just a kid when the really hard work was done.”

“It’s embarrassing for all of us, Joel,” she said. “We were all just doing what we had to do to live. That’s still going on, so we shouldn’t be singled out just for getting here first.”

“Well, it was Moira who made it possible,” he said. “I still get chills when I think about those times.”

Ellen nodded. “Me too,” she said. We’d have died if she hadn’t stepped in.”

“Or worse,” Joel said, his tone bitter.

“Speaking of stepping in,” Ellen said as a thought struck her. “I hear you’re thinking of stepping out on us.”

He shook his head vigorously. “Not for a good long while,” he said. “Not to worry. I’m nowhere near being finished with my house, and there’s at least another couple years, maybe more, on getting those singles cabins finished. Moira and Glen want them strung all the way up the hill. By the time that’s finished, I’ll be way into the advanced tracking program that Glen is offering. I’m not going out there until I’m ready. And I’d like those who’re thinking of going with me to be ready as well. We’ve got to tackle that Northern Edge someday. But the kinds of tales coming out of that place make me shudder to think about it. I wouldn’t go if anyone else could come up with a map of that coast. But nobody has so far.”

Ellen nodded agreement, and they each wandered off into their own thoughts. Joel was humming a tune faintly, and she recognized the sound of distant strings. Someone at the far end of the pavillion near the open fireplace had brought out a guitar, and another picked up a flute. Old Mr. Langston was gone but both of his grandsons had learned his music, and they both reached for their fiddles and began to play. After a moment Joel stood, went across to the players and joined in on his penny whistle. Ellen was drawn to the soft, melancholy music and moved her chair to sit closer. She had almost drifted off to sleep when her eight-year-old son Ranier padded up softly. He was out of breath from running.

“Mama, Moira said you’re to grab Alice and come up to the keep right away. A family has come in and they’re all sick with something. Toby’s brought a wagon, and they’re going to try to get them up there without letting anybody else near them. She said tell you she doesn’t know what it is, but it’s bad.”

Ellen thanked him and told him to go wash his hands and to not say anything to the others. Looking across the room, she spied Alice deep in conversation with her mate. Trying to be discreet, she hurried over and placed a hand on Alice’s arm.

“We need you up top,” she said in a low voice. When Alice nodded and made to continue her conversation, Ellen leaned closer. “I’m sorry. It can’t wait.”

When they got to the wide road leading to the keep, Toby was coming down and offered them a ride, but Ellen refused. “Take that rig down to the river and give it a good scrub. And you too,” she ordered as he hurried away.

At first glance, it appeared to be influenza but of a kind not seen by anyone among the caregivers. Fever, cough, and stomach upset were to be expected. But the diarrhea was uncontrollable, and of the family of six, one child died in the middle of that first night. The grandfather was too weak from vomiting to take in anything, even water, and he succumbed the next afternoon. The remaining two children and their parents, dosed with endless water containing all the natural remedies available, began to stabilize but not to improve. On the evening of the second day, Annie came in from a wildcrafting expedition with Tish, her arms loaded with greenery to be analyzed. She was surprised to have such an abundance of company in the not often so busy infirmary next to her lab. After stowing her supplies she came back to have a look. She was beginning to look more like her actual advanced age but was still sharp mentally.

She felt one fevered brow and then another, then turned to Moira, who had been standing watch over the patients almost nonstop and who filled her in on the details. “You need to get some rest, sweetie,” Annie said. “You don’t look much better than them. I don’t suppose you collected any stool samples for me to check?”

“They’re in the lab waiting for you. But I’m not leaving until we figure this thing out. Moira said. “It doesn’t make any sense for the diarrhea to continue this long.”

“True. It’s almost like they have more than one thing,” Annie observed. “Did you have a chance to ask any of them if they’ve been around anyone with similar symptoms?”

“No. So far they’ve all been too out of it.”

But as she spoke, the older woman raised her head slightly and asked for water.

“Do you feel up to answering some questions?” Moira asked as she brought a cup and held the woman’s head up so she could drink.

“If you think it will help,” was the weak reply.

“It might. We’re still trying to figure out what’s the matter with you.”

“We thought it was just a cold or a bit of the flu,” the woman said. “There was a lot of sickness when we came through Buren. But nothing like this. We stopped for a night to rest, but the next day, everyone got worse. We didn’t know if we could make it here, or if you’d let us in if we did.”

“Where did you stop. Was there anyone else there?”

“No, Ma’am. It was an abandoned farm. We thought we might get some water from their well, but the electricity was off and we couldn’t work the pump. We ended up just filling our canteens from the pond. It didn’t taste very good, so we didn’t drink much.”

“Did you think to boil it,” Annie asked.

The woman shook her head. “The fire was already out, and it was raining. It was just too much work to build another.”

Moira sighed, nodded and looked across the bed at Annie, who had looked up at the same time. They had likely found the second cause of the sickness. It was a near certainty the family had contracted cholera, or something near to it, from the contaminated pond water. The two met at the foot of the bed and started to discuss treatment, but then Moira wobbled and had to sit down.

Annie reached over and put a hand on Moira’s brow. “Headache,?” she enquired.

“Yeah. How did you … oh hell. I tried to be so careful. But this really feels like the flu.”

Annie led her to a cot in the far corner of the infirmary. “You just better hope you didn’t get exposed to the other,” she said softly. “The best medicine is sleep, so you get at it. I’ll keep the watch. And I’ll get a culture going to verify the infection, so we know what we might have that could help them through it.”

Within a few days, the scare was past, although everyone working at the village infirmary got a crash course in the disposal of hazardous wastes. Moira, too, recovered from her bout of illness, and was soon back at work. She noted, though, that she was beginning to feel her age and every setback seemed harder to snap back from. It took a near tragic fall about a year later to make her realize that not only was she not immortal but that she had better put more focus on passing on her skills and knowledge than just in employing them.

She’d been up with the early watch, helping ready a work crew that would mend fences along the river that had been ripped up by spring floods. They’d be working with lots of old rusty barbed wire, and she had made sure they were outfitted in heavy leather gloves and other gear, even though the day would be warm and humid. Cuts made by rusted metal could foil all their medical skills, as tetanus vaccine was in short supply and what little they had was risky, since even with refrigeration it was very outdated. So she’d breakfasted with them in the singles dorm kitchen, and had returned there after their send off to grab a second cup of coffee and one of the cook’s famous sweet rolls. As she stood on the porch studying the early activities of a village that was just coming awake, she heard a shout coming from the mill and shielded her eyes from the low sun as she turned to see its cause. What she saw almost caused her to drop her cup. She set it carefully on the porch railing, leapt to the ground, and set off at a dead run.

Much of the mill’s operations had been improved over time but the mechanism itself still had parts dating back centuries. The wheel was overshot, driven by water from the spring’s outflow high in the middle of the bluff. When the wheel was stopped, the water was diverted by a flume, a wooden trough whose outer end could be swung out over the wheel so the water fell onto it at about a one-o’clock position. The falling water engaged with a series of buckets or enclosed paddles set at angles all around the outer circumference of the wheel, and by its weight the wheel was forced down and began to turn with some speed and force, thus driving implements and the grinding wheel. The flume was hinged, and was set free at the end of each workday so the stream of water fell directly into the millpond. Each morning it was the task of the miller’s devil, or apprentice, to climb to the top floor of the mill and, using a rope tied to the end of the flume, pull it over and anchor it in place, using a knot tied near the end of the thick hemp rope that when pulled tight fitted into a notch cut into the frame of the large square opening at the top of the wheel and flume. The wheel would then turn until the flume was released. A simple but dangerous design, especially when put into operation.

This morning the rope had apparently slipped from the apprentice’s hands and was dangling from the end of the flume with water cascading over it into the millpond. Another helper had gone into the pond, had retrieved its frazzled end and was climbing up the side of the wheel with the rope in a loop over his shoulder. Meanwhile the apprentice had climbed out onto the wheel and was reaching down for him. Unfortunately, unobserved by the climbers, the flume was being dragged slowly back toward the wheel by the weight of the wet rope. The situation was rife with opportunities for disaster, Moira could see. She could also see, as she came closer, that neither of the men could hear the miller’s warning shouts over the din of falling water. Neither seemed to realize their peril, for if the water reached the wheel, or if either man varied from his balance at the wheel’s exact center, they would be dashed to the rocks or thrown into the channel into which the wheel spun.

She passed the miller at a run and was up the steep steps as though a real devil was behind her. But she’d come up with a plan while running, and she grabbed up a long-handled garden hoe from outside the mill’s doorway as she ran.

“Harley,” she shouted. “Come in.” He turned and shook his head.

“I’ve got to get the rope.”

She pointed to the flume, which was still inching toward them, and showed him the long handled implement.

“Let me come out past you and I’ll hold the flume away while you bring the rope inside.”

He nodded and stood up straight, so she could crawl out between his legs and not put the wheel off balance. She came out, hoe first, and planted its broad side against the flume. By that time the helper, a lad named Galen, had come high enough to swing the rope end skyward, where Harley reached out and caught it. All would have been well then, for Harley, holding the very end of the rope, eased himself back inside the window, and Galen started clambering back down the side of the wheel. But Galen wasn’t watching where he put his hands, and the left one came down solidly on a wasps’ nest. He screamed and flung himself away from the wheel, and as he did, he pushed away from the center and the wheel began to turn.

Moira saw his action and felt the wheel began to roll forward. As it did, she lost purchase on the flume and it began to swing toward her. If she remained where she was, she would either be pinned between the flume and the side of the mill or be tossed into the narrow channel beneath the wheel. She had only seconds to decide. She scrambled up and, as the flume came in on her and caught the spring’s outflow, she dove straight into the channel of the flume itself and was spit out like a mere matchstick, over the wheel and past it, kicking at the nearest bucket as she passed to deflect her path. She missed being pulled into the channel by inches, but where she landed, just in front of the wheel, the water was not deep enough to break her fall. She went in flat, face down, with her arms crossed in front of her face. It was all that saved her.

She retained no memory of the fall, or of the many hands that lifted her gently but swiftly from the water and carried her in a litter up the hill to the infirmary. She awoke, hours after bones were splinted, cuts were bandaged, and the excitement had died down, to the light of a candle and Ellen’s soft breathing in the chair next to her. She thought at first her companion was asleep, but no.

“If you ever do anything like that again, I swear to god I’ll shoot you,” Ellen said, emotion in her tone.

“I’m not sure there’s enough left of me to do it again,” she answered. “What’re the damages?”

“Wrist, three ribs, and a concussion, to start. Several inches of skin and a little blood. And your superwoman badge. You’ve been demoted to ordinary human. I just can’t believe you. What were you thinking?’

“I was thinking they didn’t see what was happening and they wouldn’t be able to stop the wheel from turning and at least one of them was going to die. I couldn’t stand it.”

Ellen choked out a laugh that was partly a sob. “How did you think I was going to stand it if you killed yourself out there, Missy! I can’t lose you. None of us can. We’ve lost too much. You just can’t …” she stopped talking and wept openly, until Moira reached out and pulled her close. She didn’t speak until Ellen had quieted.

“I’m sorry I frightened you. But I took the job. And there’s no retirement plan. I’m in it for the duration.”

“Yeah,” said Ellen with a sigh as she sat back and rubbed her eyes. “Me too. But maybe we could consider slowing down a little.”

Moira chuckled. “I could go for that. I could start right now.” They laughed. Within minutes, the two were asleep, hands clasped, dreaming about days to come.

The next morning, after breakfast, the children arrived. They’d had five between them in those early years, Ellen three and Moira two, and each was poised to take up a chore that their mothers had been responsible for. Jared, the oldest, had a list, he said, and would be willing to take advice as to which was suited for what job. Any of them, he said, would certainly be willing to be trained. But there would be no No answers. And so they agreed, and everyone, even six-year old Aidan, set off with a chore to do.

This was not the only, nor the worst, to befall the family that year. That autumn, as Moira sat outside the Keep taking a break from prepping herbs to dry, she felt a deep ache, not quite physical, and for which there was no apparent cause. Then she looked up to see Joel stumbling up the path, obviously upset and exhausted, his dusty face tracked with sweat and tears. As he came before her, he met her eyes and then looked away, fighting to hold back sobs.

“Who?” Moira demanded, a chill clutching at her neck as her breath stopped.

“It’s Steven,” he said. And then his knees buckled, his face contorted. “He was down in the far pasture, looking for a cow that was ready to calve. He heard the cow scream, and ran to help. The pigs. They had the calf, and he – he just didn’t think. He tried to save it, and – and they took him down. They cut him bad, and he tried to run, but he was losing too much blood. He was trying to get back, but he was too far away. Lucky someone saw him just as he fell, or he’d still be out there. But it was too late. He bled out. He’s gone, momma. He’s gone.” The young man collapsed at her knee and wept as he had not done those long years since his arrival. Moira stroked his hair as her own tears coursed.
Then Glen and Ellen arrived riding double on Glen’s horse, Willy.

At her questioning look, Glen said, “Eldon and Ray are bringing him up on the wagon. We thought to put him up here until, well, until we figure what to do.”

“I know what to do first,” said Moira in a calm voice. “I want those pigs dead, every goddam one in that band. Drag them out far enough into the woods where their pals can find them. Make it plain, piss on their heads. Let them know you murder a human and you die. I think they’re smart enough now to take the point. Then we’ll call in the town and bury our friend.”

So it was done, and they rallied, and the years continued to pass, with Moira healing, mostly, and everything in her realm moving just about the same. Only, as she had promised Ellen, a little slower.

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World’s End
Book One of The Seed Mother

Chapter Eighteen: Growing Pains

By the fifth year of the Change, the settled territories had established tentative boundaries and developed some idea of how both regional and national governments might work. Populations were still isolated from one another by distance and modes of transportation and when faced with limits and losses to their base of skills and resources, their neighbors were too few and too far away to be counted on. They were coping with the loss of continuity that comes from a long, shared history as they struggled to survive in the radically changed world they now faced.

As a result, their visions of community seldom matched perfectly with folks in other territories. Those who had established locally-chosen rules based on old world notions sometimes struggled to come to a mutual understanding with other groups who had different notions. While most clung to some semblance of democratic rule, many added creative variations that spoke to their particular circumstances and populations but were not easily translatable to people in other circumstances. The Hoppers maintained a peaceful understanding with the people of Falling Spring regarding recreational use of smokable hemp, for instance. But in territories who viewed their use of hemp as an evil drug, it was a different story. When interactions went badly, the Brothers came, freed them from arrest, relieved them of what they saw as a commercial product and just sent them home. It was hard work, but in most cases practical solutions were found that enabled groups to form agreements, either by making adjustments to the rules or by nudging some elements of a population to seek a home with those who were more likely to agree with them.

As the regions were established, those who called themselves The Religious and were called Lidges by others at first sought to lay claim to the entire western third of the island of Ozarkia – from the southern harbor at Theo to the farthest reaches of the uninhabited north. Unfortunately for them, others had already spoken for the parts of that region where pre-Change settlements survived or new ones had become established. Those others were willing to organize enough to form their own regional government but wanted nothing to do with the rigid theocracy adopted by their southern brethren. Among those who asked to be “included out” were a pair of enclaves that held inholdings both east and west of the once thriving but now struggling village of Ava. One was a women’s land trust, mostly lesbian. The other was a clan of avowed anarchists who wanted little association with outsiders, and, in fact, had vowed to reject any form of government that sought to rule them. The small trading post that had sprung up there at the Ava crossroads, composed mostly of a couple of extended families of B’hai, supported and made a connection with both communities, which were the largest source of the post’s livelihood. The resulting scattered community took a vow of kindness toward all who showed them respect, and called it good. They were willing to be helpful and get along, and wished neither to cause trouble nor to deal with the troubles of others, they said.

A dozen miles north, on a high ridge that overlooked the western ocean, more settlers gathered and formed a town from the survivors of the vanished western lands, coming to ground in the remains of the old village of Mansfield. The ragged settlement swiftly grew into a thriving, diverse community that called itself Hilltop. Its success was thought to lie in its location, where the remains of the old east-west highway crossed a north-south highway that once had run all the way from the new south coast far into the northern wilderness, where no one had come from and no one had yet gone – or if they had, they either never came back or weren’t talking about it. The town made its living primarily as a stop-off on the road to other lands, including the coastal settlements that had grown up adjacent to Amish farmland. Travel between those lands, however, required the building of new roads, because the Mansfield Fault had shifted during the cataclysm, leaving towering bluffs in place of the road west. Catering to travelers, Hilltop became a handy location for inns, hotels, and stores of various kinds.
The existence of settled lands at the end of the north road was rumored, but few had traveled very far in that direction. Civilized territory stopped at the abode of the metal miners and landfill scavengers, among them the blond men who passed through Falling Spring on their way between the territories selling their repurposed wares. As their work was hard and dangerous and involved mostly the repurposing of metal, they had taken to calling themselves the Ragtags, and mostly kept apart from others except when they joined the traders in their now twice yearly caravans.

Across the territories, such people as had stayed on or come back to their family holdings were assumed to have undisputed claim to them, while those places that remained abandoned for the entirety of years since the change could be claimed by others seeking land on which to settle.

Some of the logical changes in the overall culture of this new nation could have been predicted by anyone with any training in sociology, or so observed Steven in a journal he was keeping to track the newly forming history of the New World’s beginnings. The Society of Brothers, for instance, had gotten its start as part of a natural process kindled during that first long winter at Glen’s Cave. Glen himself, Steven noted, had come to these hills some years before the Change, seeking the life of a hermit, trying to escape the press of civilization. But the collapse of that civilization had driven him back out into the world, first to explore and then to look for what he could do to help those who survived. The formation of the Brothers had been one major result.

By way of the town meetings, the family dinner gatherings and a host of groups of like-minded folks who formed relationships in families and other alliances, the people of Mumbros learned to heal by talking through their sufferings and triumphs, until they found resolutions. Simply speaking, he said, they honored one another and came to peace. Instead of arguing over what to do in a new circumstance, they thought through the problems as they arose and dealt with them. Over time, and sooner than many would have predicted, a new vision of order, choice, responsibility, and accountability was brought into being at Falling Spring. The emerging vision was a surprise to many.

Somewhere in the fourth year, Steven asked Moira if she was happy at how the community was developing. “I suppose a good part of our emerging world view, as well as our ability to accept changes, was carved out by the hardships of the past. We realized that to survive we had to get along with one another. For a long time we thought we were just one tiny group among the few surviving remnants of humanity. Now that remnant has become a thriving, growing culture. We are now vigorously involved in the work of starting anew. I’m proud of how far we’ve come in such a short span of time.”

Actually, Steven observed, the thing that had finally tipped the balance and had brought the territories together to forge a council with jurisdiction over the whole nation was the problem of random groups and individuals laying exclusive claim to resources that were actually owned by none but vital to all. It was one thing for a territory to try laying claim to a large chunk of what they thought to be abandoned land for their potential future use, as the Lidges had attempted. It was quite another to simply hijack a resource vital to the nation and hold it for ransom.

It had started with coinage. Needing a common medium of currency the council had managed to settle on a currency of coinage based on the dollar. Since there was as yet no way yet to replicate paper currency, an agreement was reached to assign new value to the metal coinage they could garner, and so when bank vaults were breached, making coin more readily available, the territories once again had a common medium of exchange. The problem that developed was one of scalping – there were some few in isolated areas who had seized not just coins but other vital resources, then jacking up prices to the point of outright banditry. A shipment of salt was stolen. Several caves containing saltpeter were stripped of the substance, which was vital to the curing of meat. So agreements were enacted that limited holdings, establishing reasonable property rights, and defining those things that were to be considered as “community property, in the national interest.” Because Mumbrosans and the Burenites to the east were the most prosperous and therefore the most intent on fair dealings with their neighbors, Steven wrote, they were the ones who drove the need for a central authority. The Council stepped into that space and a national government, casual as it was, came into being. During that same period a separate eastern contingent of the Brothers was formed, based in Popular and given a mandate to enforce order and fair play in those areas and beyond.

Moira’s extended family constituted the largest and most influential group of scientists, and so, as promised at that first conference on education, Mumbros was where scientists and students of the sciences gathered for advanced studies. Soon, enough students had completed advanced degrees that in the autumn of the fourth year the University of The Plains established an Institute for Graduate Studies at Falling Spring.

To the surprise of some but not all, one group at the institute immediately put its focus on studying the apparently increasing mental capacities and psychic abilities of the sentient beings, not all of them humans. As they established parameters to monitor and record their findings, which echoed the suspicions and beliefs the first family had voiced more than a year earlier, the researchers verified observations that without any visible cause or pattern, individuals in all the sentient species were developing some unique and identifiable abilities.

Among humans, some had an uncanny ability to track animals, others could find their way through the wilderness without a map or compass, still others could seek out and find salvage, a few seemed to be able to heal minor physical injuries solely through touch. These new abilities were no respecters of gender or cultural roles and so even as more than a few of the men elected to become or remain homebodies, one of the women, then two, then five, had chosen and insisted upon a place among the Brothers and had been accepted after demonstrating their own suitable skills. Some abilities, on the other hand, had been identified as disabilities, when a few sad individuals found themselves trapped by emotional actions and reactions they were unable to control, and had to be cared for gently by the community at large. Results of those studies, as Steven noted, were kept confidential, although observations by the community as a whole became fireside tales, soon developing into a colorful mythology discussed widely, especially in evenings at the Inn.

For all their successes over the past five years in preserving knowledge and skills, many more ordinary talents were still in short supply, and people’s abilities and skills of all kinds became more highly valued. Crafters, especially carvers, sculptors, and fiber artists, began offering apprenticeships so those skills could be passed into younger hands. Even Lon Brixey began encouraging those interested in the brewing, winemaking and the distilling of spirits to sharpen and pass on their skills, encouraging more than one young fancier of chemistry to spend an apprenticeship at Grove Hill. His timing was excellent, because another small upriver settlement in a long valley suited for farming had been gifted with a variety of nursery starts including bundles of fruit tree scions that had been heeled in by Tish and some helpers as she unloaded her cart of rare and precious plant starts. After five years of establishing orchards and vineyards, that settlement was able to supply Falling Spring and other communities with such luxuries as cherries, plums and the first of the bamboo harvests. And, to Lon’s delight, they were just now coming into a sizable harvest of wine grapes. “Go! Do the work! Come back a vintner or a distiller!” He had shouted repeatedly at the students nursing an after-class pint of ale at the Inn. And some of them did.

Another cultural shift underway was the announcement by a few brave men that while they intended to fulfill their duties of maintaining and adding to the still fragile gene pool, they preferred as their domestic companions, as did Toby and Rickard, the company of other men. A few women expressed similar, if opposite, inclinations. No one balked at either notion, though there was some small but heated discussion in some quarters about the possible rifts in the fabric of culture if people started stepping outside their more “natural” roles. That assertion was laughed into silence by a community of people that was beginning to get a new sense of itself. That they were all still human, Moira, as their leader, never doubted. But they were beginning to be something more as well. Enlightened, perhaps. Open, certainly.

But government, even on the village level, was not as simple as some might think, Moira observed after a particularly painful discussion among the midwives that spring. For unknown reasons, one and then a second newborn had arrived suffering serious conditions that had begun inside the womb and that would make life difficult if not impossible to sustain. The conditions were dissimilar: one frail little girl was born with a malformed and barely functional heart; the other infant, a boy, arrived looking perfect, but with lungs that had never developed properly. His every breath was a gasp, and treatment options were simply non-existent for either child. Ellen and Moira had sat with Alice, holding her hands each time as she weighed her choices: to let them suffer their slow way to a pain-filled, frightening end, or to take their lives in her hands and end them herself. And there was a second question: Should they make those difficult decisions on their own, or let the parents decide. As it turned out, whether by fate or the kindness of the gods, neither of those awful decisions came to them. The girl, born to a couple from the bus people, was at her mother’s breast feebly trying to nurse when she gave a sudden shudder and just stopped. Her parents had been prepared for that possibility from the first, and took it in stride, grieving but understanding that their tiny child had been spared much unnecessary pain by that outcome.

The second child, born to free agents Rae Jean Compton and Arthur Slocum, was still gasping when Alice came into the birthing room just off the infirmary. Rae Jean had been ensconced there holding the infant, whom she’d named Amos, for most of the day once the birthing was ended. She was patting him, crooning to him, stimulating his arms and legs, hoping against hope that his breathing would improve. It would not, but she didn’t believe that just now. Alice stepped up beside the bed and put her hand on Rae Jean’s forehead.

“You have to get some rest for yourself, honey,” she said. “I can hold him for a little bit while you nap some.” She took up the infant, said “Hello, little Amos,” and wrapped him in a small blanket she’d heated on the stove in the next room. She sat down in a rocking chair next to the bed and began her vigil.

Rae Jean fell asleep almost at once, and Alice had almost dozed off as well when she began detecting a change in the raspy breathing coming from the small bundle. It was slowing. She looked across at Rae Jean who looked back, her eyes filling with tears. But when Alice offered to hand the infant back to his mother, she shook her head. “Don’t disturb him,” she said.

Slower and slower came the little gasps, until finally he seemed to take in a long, unhurried breath followed by a deep sigh, and the tiny newcomer fell into that deepest of sleeps and was gone. “Sweet dreams, little Amos,” Alice whispered. “Sweet dreams.”

Arthur was summoned from his post outside and the parents wept together, while Alice sought Moira in the greenhouse nearby.

“It’s over,” she said. When Moira gave her a questioning look, she shook her head. “He went on his own. I guess he just wanted to come in and look around a bit. He may be back sometime.”

“If love has its way,” Moira answered.

That night at the family’s supper, medical choices, midwifery and childbearing were high on the agenda of topics at table.

“Couldn’t we have done anything at all,” Steven asked, deep in sorrow at the news.

“If we had any kind of technological sophistication,” Ellen began, but Moira overrode her comment.

“But we don’t. And we won’t. And everything that could be done was done. And at some point we’re just going to have to resign ourselves to the fact that in earlier times it was the midwife’s job not only to catch the baby and see to the birth, arranging the tools, educating the parents, it was also her job to recognize when the fetus or the newborn just wasn’t viable. We’re back to that point. We don’t have a neonatal center. We won’t have one in our lifetime, perhaps many lifetimes. All we have here are our skills and our training and our compassion. If reinforcements were coming, they would already be here. It’s on us. The hard stuff should always go to those who are able to deal with it. There’s no one to hand it off to. It’s. On. Us.” Dinner went on from there, but mostly in silence.

This year at Beltane everyone, even the staunchest Christians, joined in the raucous and rowdy celebration of survival, fruitfulness, and, for the first time, real hope for the future. Due partly to the continued separation of the sexes during the winter months for the first years of what had come to be called “new time,” and partly to the continuing evolution of consciousness, there came to be more and more unions of varying degrees of intimacy and variety. An overriding consciousness of the fragility of the gene pool grew into an acceptance of what came to be called pan-families, with women bearing children by more than one father, and men fathering children by several mothers. Same-sex unions were accepted, but refusal to bear or to father children was frowned upon unless there were health or gender identity issues involved. Households formed of small groups of individuals who felt affinities for one another and shared relationships of varying intimacy within them. Likewise, extended families tended to occupy one or adjoining households for extended periods. The only taboos enforced strongly were those against incest, battery, and the abuse of the helpless — anyone caught stepping over those lines was simply shunned and sent into the wilderness to fend for themselves, often with a tattoo applied to their foreheads that proclaimed them a danger to others. It was a lesson that needed little reinforcement after being demonstrated a couple of times.

As for the Brothers, there came a time when their shelter and headquarters turned into a retreat and training center. In this fifth year, the fields, cropland and commodities for export reached a sustainable level. With hunger no longer an ever present danger, the men who had been wintering in the north finally came home for good.

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World’s End
Book One of The Seed Mother

Chapter Sixteen: The Way It Grew

And so the days and seasons passed, and in the third year of the community of Falling Spring, in the new territory called Mumbros, babies were born, newcomers continued to arrive, and the village grew and continued to change as seasons and circumstances dictated. Its citizens learned to state in clear language their life ways and rules as more prospective settlers arrived at the gate. They were equally eager to provide directions for making their way to other settlements when the newcomers determined they were not a good fit. The villagers’ hospitality never faltered, and when people arrived who were short on supplies or were travel-worn but didn’t want to stay, they were invited in to rest and restore themselves, and were supplied with food and other necessities when they left to seek accommodations elsewhere.

The Brothers, who were now readily identifiable by their “uniform,” which consisted solely of a trio of bands of red cloth – hatband, armband and one fastened to the boot, continued widening their explorations and at Moira’s suggestion were keeping copious notes on the changing demographics of the island nation.

The Brothers had come into their own since that first hard winter when they sheltered in a large, roomy cavern up north at Glen’s homestead. Glen related the story of that first winter, and Steven wrote it all down in a journal he had keeping since first arriving back in the village.

“As the winter’s cold deepened, we were pretty much confined to the cavern and had little to do beyond harvesting firewood and concocting meals from an odd mix of ingredients. So there was plenty of time to talk. We did a great deal of talking through all those long nights. Otherwise, we’d have probably gone mad listening to the godawful racket of those howling winds. But after a while we tired of sharing our pasts and began to take up a serious conversation about what might be the needs of the future, assuming we might have a future. And there, in that all-male environment, we naturally began to speculate on what tasks might be more suited specifically to the talents and strengths of men. We talked about our failings as well, and the curse of being slaves to testosterone. Gradually we came into a larger vision of our various skills and proclivities. We came to see ourselves as one single, strong cord in a web of interlocking cultural strands. In short, we began to understand our place in things.”

For everything to work, Glen explained, everyone must find their place, their lifework, really, and just do it to the best of their skills. For instance, some would naturally choose to nurture the children, the animals, all the growing things. Although some insisted that job was more likely to be a woman’s choice, Glen asked that they question that stereotype, as it might no longer be appropriate in this new culture. Needs would be different. So would choices. They discussed the concept of homebodies and talked about Steven, who, although he was virtually unable to leave the village, had essential talents and skills within the community. The same was true with other men like Toby and Rickard, who had come to occupy their own essential place in the fabric of village life, a place that deserved respect.

Still, someone had to keep order, especially between and beyond the settlements. Obviously, Glen said, some of them were clearly cut out to be cowboys, while some were…just not. By winter’s end nearly all the men at Glen’s Cave happily volunteered to serve the brothers’ mission and do whatever job was given them while they searched within themselves to find their own place in the fabric of life. A few of the young men balked, bragged and boasted they could make their own way. Glen said they were free to take any path they chose, but said their way would not be the Brothers’ way.

When reporting on those discussions back at home, Glen was quick to emphasize that in no way did the Brothers intend to take on the leadership of the community and its surrounding territory. Instead, they humbly asked the community’s blessing for their endeavor to bring order and some helpful pairs of hands to those places and people who had such needs. Their stated intent was accepted by all and welcomed by most. By the next winter’s end, the Brothers had become a pillar in the framework of communities. By then, though, they were having to make some adjustments to their internal structure when some of the younger hardworking women demanded to be included in their company. That was managed by enlarging an otherwise unused chamber in the cavern where the “Brotherwomen” could establish their own enclave, living apart but coming together for meals and training. Rules for those interactions were simple, and transgressions punished sternly and fairly. Soon, they had become a polished unit, known as fair arbiters of disputes while being helpful in other ways as needed.
Everywhere they traveled, they found communities where refugees from a variety of somewhat related sects and cultures had made homes for themselves wherever they were welcomed in. People of all inclinations had set about choosing where and with whom they wished to live, and many of their choices were spiritual ones. In particular, the Christians had broken into somewhat modified factions, with traditionalists blending their ways with the Amish and Mennonites on the island’s west coast and the more mainstream sects finding their places in and near the community of Van Buren, over on the Current River.

It became likely, although no one knew for sure, that the most radically conservative Christians had cemented their relationships as they walled themselves off from casual contact with the outside world by journeying deep into the rugged Monadnocks that lay to the southwest. As travelers had passed on their way to other destinations during the past year, rumors had spread of sightings of scattered groups identifying themselves as fundamentalist Christians making their way southwest toward their “home country.” Some were congregations from small country churches, while others were packs of semi-organized, well armed white men who weren’t inclined to share their thoughts or beliefs. “Like follows like,” most people said and dismissed the news, although not without some concern. With luck, those folks like everyone else would be too occupied trying to construct a sustainable settlement in that inhospitable land to cause their neighbors any significant problems, at least for the present.

Meanwhile, Falling Spring and its environs had become the most diverse anywhere, and were known for their tolerance and respect for the ways of others. “No harm,” was the first law. The very progressive, the Unitarians, the Quakers, the Back-to-the-Landers and many other under-represented tribes had all managed to settle in comfortably among the increasingly pagan, pantheistic heathenish ways of the founding family, whose policies of kindness, fairness. and inclusion resulted in a society whose disagreements mostly ended in handshakes rather than conflict.

Meanwhile, as news spread about the availability of true-growing seeds, representatives from other settlements and territories began to call, many of them offering items they hoped to trade for seeds. In that third spring, the idea began to grow of having some sort of festival to accommodate the many more than the Amish who arrived looking to augment their seed supplies and to trade their wares for a variety of items in short supply at home.

Early on that year came a group of potters from somewhere near “Popular,” hawking bowls, teapots, plates, mugs, and flagons. After them came vendors from Van Buren peddling dried and cured fish, meats and fruits. Trade kept up a brisk pace all summer, and in the early fall a small traveling theater company from somewhere over west came and held a Chatauqua-style show at the Inn. The company contained everything from jugglers to debaters and they were delighted to take their pay in seeds and supplies.

Later to come that year was an old man, August Barton, who stumbled up to the Inn one evening long after the harvest was in and winter threatening. He was afoot but his pony pulled a cart loaded with a haphazard collection of vessels filled with a searing moonshine that he had made somewhere over the hills to the northwest. Between the infirmary, the herbary and the Innkeeper, they bought out his entire supply and placed orders for more. He was to return at the ends of two more autumns with cartloads of alcohol, and at his second leave-taking he led a contingent of three apprentices who packed up their bedding and foodstuffs and returned with him to his mountain abode deep within an old, long-untended orchard near Grove Hill. They would learn to tend the orchard and to craft its fruits, in combination with a handsome supply of wheat and corn from the Amish families next door, into respectable brews, vintages and spirits. The contract established between the distiller and his wards included continuing to supply his earthly wants after he retired from the business. It was an agreement that all parties were to find agreeable. Possibly in honor of what he had brought them that chilly October night, they ever after referred to a fine harvest from the wheat, grape, or apple lands, as a “right August offering.”

Even later than the distiller arrived, as the dreaded winter winds were beginning to batter the hilltops that year, a trio of hard-muscled, grim faced, very tall blond men arrived and asked to speak with the village’s leaders. Ostensibly they were selling a few bits of cookery made of crafted metal, along with tools old and new, and other rare oddities from a place to the north where they held land that once had been a large municipal landfill and several salvage yards. But they had more to offer. They spent a long evening at the Inn, visiting with Moira, Glen, Rickard, Annie, and Tish, discussing the community’s needs for the future, especially suggesting what these miners of the wreckage might search for as they delved further into the metal salvage and the packed full and sealed landfill. The most interesting question came from Annie.

“This landfill. Is it still sealed, or is it leaking?”
Burton Yoder, a tall, bearded man who appeared to be the leader of the group, had the answer. “It’s holding together fairly well so far, ma’am. But the earthquakes didn’t do it any good. There are a couple of places where some sludge is showing. We’ve stopped it up the best we can.”

As the conversation continued, Moira studied him. He looked to be about 50, tanned, and with a burn scar that marked him from his ruined left ear to somewhere below his collar. When she asked about it he said, “I was driving east trying to get back to my folks’ farm when, as you remember, everything went to hell. I spent a little time under my car, mashed up against the exhaust manifold. Whitley here pulled me out,” he said, gesturing toward his brother, a taller and slimmer version of himself. The third man, younger but larger still, was a cousin, Kris Kuhn, who said little but watched the proceedings intently.

Behind him, Moira noted, Joel had come in and found a perch next to their table where he could hear the conversation. He seemed very interested in the men from the north. But Annie wanted to hear more about the sludge. “Next time you come, bring me a sample, a quart or two if you can. I need to know what’s in it, to see if there’s anything we can separate out and use.”

Everyone looked at her with varying degrees of curiosity mixed with revulsion. She let out a huff of air. “We need a multitude of things that cannot be had without the materials to make them,” she explained. “Like it or not, it’s a resource.”

Moira cleared her throat. “She knows what she’s doing. Leave her to it.”

The conversation continued late into the evening but even when the family bade the visitors a good night, Joel lingered. He wanted to know more about the north country. He was told there seemed to be an impenetrable wilderness beyond the blond men’s territory, and that strange stories came out of that place from the few who returned from attempts to explore it. He kept notes, along with directions on how to find the blond men’s home country, should he someday wish to travel there. He was wishing it already but hadn’t the age or experience yet to try it. Best of all, he had enough wisdom to know that. He filed the urge, along with his notes, in a leather bag on a peg where he kept his little penny whistle he’d found amid Glen’s bags of salvage. Someday, he thought, maybe I’ll be the one to solve that mystery.

The original family still dined together almost every night, and at the dinners, even though the list of items for discussion always included some urgent matter, there also arose first a framework and then a plan to stabilize the underpinnings of this place, to make it work better as a unit. For that, there must be a way to promote and control economic development. First on the list was the need to make a hospitable place for the traveling merchants when they returned, as everyone knew they would in the spring. Some kind of minimal shelter for the travelers would be needed as well as a place for those folks living in outlying areas who would face a journey to market that would often take longer than a day. The Inn could not hold them all.
As Moira described the large open area needed to hold a market place and adjacent temporary quarters, Joel looked up from his plate.
“That’s easy, how about down next to the ball field? There’s lots more space than we need to play ball, and it’s pretty level. It’s no good for crops because it floods once in a while. But that only happens in very early spring. Even if there was damage we’d have time to clean it up before the Gather …ing.” They laughed at his odd stutter, but later began to repeat it. Thereafter, the spring festival would be called the Gather.

The plot of land measuring about 15 acres of riverside meadow, would serve the purpose neatly, they decided. But as Rickard was quick to remind them, winter was almost upon them, and if habitable places were to be completed before the next season of travel and trade, who would there be to make them? Those most able to perform the work would be gone to Glen’s cave for the winter.

“We may have to weather the weather, and come back a week or two early,” Glen said, but he didn’t look happy about it.

“Well, to be fair, you’ll not be taking everybody, and Eldon and I can get a lot done ourselves during breaks in the weather,” Steven said.

“Not all of us go up to play cowboys,” he said, reminding everyone that he wouldn’t be going to Glen’s cave due to his fear of the woods, and neither would Eldon because of his arthritis.

That brought them to another urgent matter for discussion. The following week, Glen and his followers would be on their way to the winter outpost of the Brothers. This time his choices included the most fit among them, for they would spend the time training for service. Months had already gone into the building of the new group that merged law enforcement and social services. It had now become large enough to patrol almost all the territories, offering practical assistance and keeping order.

“I’ve been thinking about all this, and I’d like to throw out an idea for us to chew over,” Glen said. “We’re already planning to send a few patrols a little farther out to contact all the other known communities and farmsteads to assess their needs and gather information. It’s time to see if we could be more of a help to them. We could spread the word about the Gathers, let them know they can come and trade for what they need. And we certainly have plenty of wares to trade as well.” There were nods around the table.

“Well, as long as we’re doing that, why not see if they would like to come at a couple of dates, one in spring to buy seeds and again in fall to share their harvests,” Steven offered.

“That would certainly make it safer for everybody. It’s still not all that safe to wander off into the wilds alone or to travel in unprotected little groups,” Glen replied. “If we knew when they were coming, we could provide better security along the trail.”

“While you’re at it,” Ellen suggested, “why not encourage the folks in all the communities you visit to set up their own gatherings, to make a season of festivals. If you staggered the dates, that would encourage the merchants and artisans to work out a regular trade route to serve all the communities. Glen’s messengers could let them know about it and then provide some security along the route to protect the traders and the customers from tramps and ruffians.”

“I can see how that would work,” Moira said. “We need to know our neighbors better, and a more organized approach to commerce would be good for everyone, yes? Maybe we should organize a crafters’ guild to help with the planning. They will know more than we do what their needs would be.”

“I can see it now,” drawled Rickard, who had been invited specifically for this part of the discussion. “First there’s a guild, and then a chamber of commerce. Next thing you know we’ll be organizing rival sports teams.” Everyone laughed, but then the conversation went quiet. There was still hesitation, finally voiced by Annie.

“This is all very well,” she said. “But we shouldn’t put too much faith in the good intentions of all our neighbors. Bad apples, you know. Everybody has them.” Everyone knew what she meant. She had been accosted more than once by vagrants and thieves while trying to make her way to Falling Spring.

As more ideas were thrown into the discussion, Moira excused herself to rummage in the nearby files. She returned with a map of what had once been the state’s highway system.

“I realize that this is hopelessly out of date and more so every day, but it’s fundamentally accurate as to directions and distances. I have several copies, enough for you to take a couple along and make notes, so the basic document can be modified to fit present times. We have a pretty good idea of road and trail conditions, but we need to have better information not just about who and what’s out there but what they’re up to. I’m not at all comfortable with waiting for some other group to come up with some hinky idea of government and try to foist it off on everyone. I’m not suggesting we try to take charge of everything everywhere. But if we’re to protect our own autonomy over the years, we need to start investing now in making ourselves appear strong enough that we’re not to be messed with. Some would just think to come take our stuff. But there are also those, as we know, who would love to try to make us conform to ways that really wouldn’t suit us.”

They laughed again when someone muttered “Ephraim.”

“Well, there’s that,” said Glen. “Ephraim’s still out there, and I’m sure his ideas are gathering steam, especially over in the Monadnocks. I’m really not looking forward to going over there. But I think we must.”

And so the days passed, autumn turned toward winter and the band of Brothers departed for their winter encampment. All over Ozarkia the nut harvest was in full swing, as was the gathering of persimmons and the little wild fox grapes. Traps were set for catching furbearers and bows were strung, arrows fletched, and the hunters were abroad for the winter’s first fresh meat. In Mumbros, after a fair weather carpentry crew was established made of male homebodies and females handy with hammer and saw, a plan was developed and simple shelters were built down by the ball field in anticipation of the next spring Gather at an official Gather grounds. Shortly afterward a crafters’ society was formally charged with developing a circle of Gathers that crafters would follow to call on and serve even the most remote settlements, so long as they were welcome there. But the idea of forming a chamber of commerce was tabled ‘for the foreseeable.’

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