The Return to Eden
©2001, by Hypatia -- all rights reserved
"Year by year," said Simon philosophically,
"science puts more power into our hands."
"So that we may throw bombs at the wrong people?"
"Science like love," said Simon, "is blind."
"I prefer love," said Angelo. "It makes less noise."
-- Private Angelo by Eric Linklater, 1946
"Father why did they kill Saint Samuel?" I asked when my father told me the story.
"There was a sickness in the land caused by the followers of Laden. It not only affected the people's bodies but their minds also," he answered, tolerant to the questions of a six year old.
"But why did they kill him? Couldn't he have fought them like he did the Muslims in the sky?" I asked.
"It was after he was a warrior; when he had sworn that he would not fight again. In the ship that flew through the air, he fought and he was lucky to survive. Many didn't. God knew he had a purpose for Samuel and spared him, but as a price for saving him he gave him the 'Curse of Damocles,' to show him his next task. People hated those that had been cursed because it was a plague from Allah. It was Saint Samuel's job to show the people that the plague was a curse against them for being unfaithful to God, not a curse from God to the wicked," he explained.
"What happened to the Evil Queen who wanted him dead?" I asked eagerly.
"The soldiers that wouldn't kill Saint Samuel saw the death that she brought from the air. They saw the people burning and tried to help them, but it was too late for Samuel and for many thousands of those who walked with him. The fire had consumed them leaving nothing but ashes.
The soldiers decided that Evil Queen Janet was in league with Allah, so they marched to Westminster with those that still lived and those that Samuel saved by sending away. There they dragged the Evil Queen from her great palace and, as Ben the Great spoke solemnly of the time when the Evil Laden started the war -- fifty years to the day from that day, they killed her with sticks that spat death," he said, repeating the end of the story.
"How can a ship fly? How can a stick spit death?" I asked urgently, "and can you tell me the story about the Merry Can that called the Sun to Earth to save his people?"
"That is Merican not Merry Can," my father said laughing, "and I will tell you another time. It is time for bed now. Don't forget to say your prayers."
"I won't," I promised him.
My Father was a religious man and wasn't ashamed to admit it. In my earliest memories I think I can remember my mother telling me the same stories. They are about the only memories of her I have. As I lay down to sleep I could hear father reading the two holy books we had, The Bible and Protect and Survive.
"When an air attack is expected, the sirens will sound a rising and falling note," he repeated from the book. I preferred the stories of the old times. I knew all the names of the devils loosed on the world, Napoleon, Hitler, The Sheriff of Nottingham, Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. There were others as well, but I was six I wanted stories of the great battles and good against evil. The great heroes were something I wanted to be associated with, Churchill the Great, Bush the Avenger, Blair the Smiling and Thatcher the Woman of Iron, who was friends with Reagan of the Apes. The last two confused me I must admit, but my father said Reagan was a kind and wise leader who loved all creatures so much so he had an ape in his home.
Some of what was found in the Book of Kapangpangan was very confusing, even for father, but Kapangpangan had been there when Saint Samuel had fallen. He had been wounded by the soldiers and his survival was the first miracle associated with Samuel after his death. There were other miracles: the feeding of the children of Liverpool, the battle he won on his own against the evil that came to his city and many more.
Kapangpangan said that Samuel had told the people "do no violence" and the people, seeing what violence had achieved, told the world.
"No more shall we send our young men to die in strange lands. No more shall the mothers and the wives weep for their loss and no more would our lives be spent trying to destroy others," they said to the people of the world.
"Traitors. You stab us in the back when we need you the most," The Merican leader had screamed. "Communists and cowards you all are."
"We will not fight," the people told him as one.
The Merican leader, at the timefearing a new threat, "The Yellow Menace," tried a new type of war. TNW it was spelled, and through TNW he loosed the Sun on the Earth and the Merican was forever silent.
There was a lot more like that written by Kapangpangan, of the time of Saint Samuel and after, but a lot of it was about impossible things. I fell asleep thinking how I could make the little boat that father let me use fly.
I remember the incident with the horse. I must have been ten years old and I was fascinated by the huge creature with the black and white stripes.
"What use is it father?" I asked as he went to try and catch it.
"A horse. It is a strong and noble animal that works with man. It will carry burdens that a man cannot carry for many miles. With just a man on its back, it can run faster than even you," he explained. He was wise about such things. The horse did make a change from rabbit though and lasted for many months smoked.
Hickling Broad, the area around our home, was well stocked with animals and alive with birds of different types. I spent a lot of my time, as I grew older, exploring the broads and especially the ruins of the towns. Father said that before I was born there used to be a man who came around trading. He had said that the man knew at least eighty other families that he traded with, the nearest only two or three weeks away. I thought he must have been lying because in all my explorations I had never seen anyone. Yes there had been people, that's why the houses and towns had been built, but that was long ago as could be seen by the ruins. Hundreds and even possibly thousands of people might have lived in Britain at one time. Father said that he had been to a city once, Norwich, where tens of thousands of people had lived. I thought he was telling me a story like Apollo who reached the Moon with a strong arm.
Then, when I was thirteen, my happy life changed. As usual, I had been out exploring far from home on the pretence of hunting and had been out since early morning. It must have been past noon when I saw the smoke. I started paddling back towards home as fast as I could, but the distance made it seem like an eternity. As I got close, a voice could be heard, not my fathers.
"Let the bastard burn in there," someone shouted.
If my father thought we were under attack, he would have gone into the fallout room and made himself secure in the Inner Sanctum as it said in Protect and Survive. I knew he would be safe there, as that was what it was for, protection from attack, and this was most definitely an attack. I hadn't heard the warning that it said would come in the Holy Book, but I thought of what it said if I was caught in the open.
"If you are in the open and cannot get home within a couple of minutes, go immediately to the nearest building. If there is no building nearby and you cannot reach one within a couple of minutes, use any kind of cover, or lie flat (in a ditch) and cover the exposed skin of the head and hands," I recited and looked around. There were no buildings. I climbed into a damp ditch nearby and pulled some branches over me.
Lying there with the exposed skin of my head and hands covered, I waited for the explosion for a long, long time. I must have fallen asleep at some point because when I awoke it was dark.
I woke up with a start and suddenly remembered where I was. I listened for a while, but the silence only broken by the crackling of the embers of what had been my home. I hadn't heard the all clear siren, but I hadn't heard the attack warning either. Would there be fallout? What did it look like? Too many questions I didn't know the answer too were surfacing in my mind. I decided to move slowly and quietly across to the farm. My father would know the answers to these questions.
The house looked in a bad way, one of the barns was burning too. The roof of the house had fallen in and some of the walls looked unsafe. The inside was still too hot to think about entering so I sat there, waiting for it to cool down, knowing that my father would be safe within 'The Inner Sanctum' for up to fourteen days.
This had to be the work of Muslims. No one who believed as a Christian could break the Ten Commandments and these people had stolen. I decided to empty the shed nearest the barn of the tools and equipment in there, as the fire looked like it might possibly spread. I spent the next few hours emptying the building and examining what I found there. A lot of it had belonged to my mother's father, who had worked this farm before I was born. What use my father and I had for things such as pig castrators I don't know, but, as I was told many times, "waste not, want not."
After doing this, I returned my attention to the house and I started to get concerned. Through the broken glass of the window I could see into "The Fallout Room" and it didn't look good. The boards against the wall which composed the "Inner Sanctum" had fallen in. The boxes and bags of earth had been destroyed by the heat and, I realized, the object on the floor had an uncomfortably manlike appearance. If so, the black object stretched out in front of it would be an arm.
I sank to the floor, not wanting to believe what I saw. Protect and Survive was written in the old days, prepared for the Home Office by the Central Office of Information, as it said at the end How could it be wrong? We had been careful. The only thing missing was the fabled "radio," which father said was an item of faith. If we believed enough, then God would speak to us, giving us the further reading, Nuclear Weapons and Domestic Nuclear Shelters available from Her Majesties Stationary Office. But we had done everything Protect and Survive had told us and we had our faith. Why had it failed us?
I wept for a long time lying on the ground in the farmyard. I didn't know what to do. I kept looking into the house hoping that I was somehow mistaken, but I knew I wasn't.
As dawn came, I was able to enter the remains of the house. The charred figure that was inside the smoking remains of the "Inner Sanctum" bore no resemblance to the man I knew as my father, but I knew it was him. I attached identification to his body and buried it next to my mother and the smaller grave of the girl child who lasted four days longer than my mother, barely long enough to be named Emily. This was supposedly a temporary grave as no radio instructions had been given, so I marked the spot as it said in Protect and Survive. Even if I had lost my faith my father had died with his.
I looked through the things I had rescued from the shed. The thing that caught my eye immediately was the object that had most held my interest for many years, the crossbow that had belonged to my mother's father. My father had told me that he was a man who had little interest in the teachings of Saint Samuel. He believed in being ready for when the Muslims came. I had tried to use this many years ago and had been berated by my father. The bow I used for hunting game he said was a suitable weapon. This, he announced, was an evil weapon designed to kill men.
I had asked him why he didn't destroy it.
"The choice of which path to walk is something you must make. The fact that this weapon is here should make you stronger by not using it," he had replied.
Now I would make my choice and I was glad my father was dead and would not see it. I improvised a frame to tie a sack to and filled it with which items I wanted. With it on my back and the crossbow in my hands, I turned my back on the remains of my home and set out seeking revenge.
I set off west on foot and I soon caught sight of smoke ahead. I left my pack and slowly crept up on the fire, as if I was hunting rabbit. In the grassy clearing ahead I could see four figures lying on the ground. Various items from my home lay beside them, including the jewelry that had been my mother's. I put my foot in the stirrup of the crossbow and drew back the string with the hook. Once cocked, I placed one of the small quarrels in place and took aim.
"Blessed Saint Samuel forgive me for what I am about to do," I whispered and pulled the trigger.
The sound of the mechanism seemed as loud as a shout in the quiet of the morning, the thud of the bolt hitting the man even louder. But nothing could have prepared me for the scream that the man let loose with. I ran.
"Oh Jesus Mike, some bastard got me," I heard the man scream as I ran.
"Who the fuck is out there?" another voice shouted as the man started screaming again. "Where are you? I'll rip your fucking balls off and shove them down your throat before I kill you."
I kept running until I was far from the men. Then I hid and waited. When the sun was high, I moved again. Picking up my pack from where I had left it, I headed back to where the men had camped.
The campsite was deserted and of to one side was a fresh mound of earth. My shot had counted and my belief that these were Muslims was reinforced. They hadn't marked the grave. I picked up the quarrel that had been discarded, wiped it on the grass and continued following the remaining three men.
What I had done to the first man sickened me, not just for breaking the sixth commandment, "Thou shall not kill," nor because the thought of taking a life was horrific, but I was elated that I had done what was necessary.
As the sun got lower, I got my next sighting of the three men, about half a mile ahead. Again I dropped my pack and cocked the crossbow, but didn't place a quarrel in it. I ran quietly through the trees to the left of them and got slightly ahead. I placed the quarrel in the weapon, took aim and fired. This time I shot low and took one of the men in the thigh. He screamed loudly and the two remaining men came running in my direction, but I kept low and moved back in the direction from which I had come. The searchers were easy for me to avoid. They didn't know the area and they made a lot of noise as they searched for me. I made my way up to their fallen comrade, he was lying on the ground, blood staining his dirty trousers.
"Who are you boy?" he snarled at me as I approached.
I remained silent and armed the crossbow again. This man was too large for me to tangle with up close, even wounded. I looked at him so I would know what a Muslim looked like. He was dirty with an unkempt beard and tangled hair. His clothes were ragged and patched and his left arm seemed to be deformed. It was shorter then the right hand one and had no fingers on the hand.
"Mike. He's here Mike," he started screaming loudly. "Oh Jesus son, don't do it. Please don't do it. It was Mike. He burned your father not me. He made me do it."
I took aim at his chest and fired. Then, I finished the job by cutting his throat as if he was a wild pig or a cow. The quarrel in his leg, I removed. The one in his chest was too deep, so I left it, grabbed the man's pack and ran again. That night, eating cold smoked meat from our stores recovered from the second man I had killed, I thought about what I had done. Yes, I felt guilty, but I also felt justified in my actions. Yes, I would go to hell for my actions, but at least these men would not kill again. I went to sleep that night, for the first time I can remember, without saying my prayers -- intentionally. I freely admit that the two men I had killed visited me that night in my nightmares.
The next morning I tried to find the last two men. The body of their comrade had been left to rot where I had left it. For a moment I considered giving it a decent burial, for a moment anyway. I started looking for the last two. It took me two days before I picked up their track. They had headed south of the direction that they had been traveling, keeping to open ground where they could. This meant that I had no opportunity to sneak around them and plan an ambush. The crossbow gave me an advantage, but it was difficult to load and took time that would not allow me to attack the two of them at once. The short bow I had would give me a better chance but it didn't have the range or the power needed to bring down a man so I decided to bide my time.
The next day, I started to see the remains of buildings ahead, lots of them, some larger than anything I could imagine a man building. This had to be the city my father had talked about, Norwich. I followed the two men into the city and started to try and understand the way these tracks worked to get ahead of the men and still ensure I had a chance to escape. The streets were confusing, some of them going nowhere, others blocked by fallen houses or rusted metal objects that had been dragged across them. Some of the objects had wheels, but I could see no way of attaching a cow, or even a horse, to pull them along. I worked out how the streets ran parallel to each other and got ahead of the two men. On a corner amongst rubble where two of the streets met and a building had crumbled, I waited.
The two men, that I knew so well from the back, approached. They were strange in their movements. One was extremely tall and cloaked with a hood -- a giant. The other was strangely twisted in his posture. He seemed to be bent over and his head was held at an angle. I decided the large man in the cloak was the bigger threat and the crippled man I could take alone, so I took aim and fired, taking the giant in the belly. The cripple shouted his rage, and with surprising agility, ran towards me. I drew my knife and stood my ground.
"Who are you boy?" he demanded standing about ten foot from me.
I remained silent.
"Come on boy, tell me who you are who kills my crew without warning. Tell me why you didn't even have the courage to stand up and fight us?" he shouted.
"It took four of you to kill my father, it will only take me to kill all of you," I told him.
"You're the son of the Jesus freak?" he asked with surprise in his voice.
"What?" This term was unknown to me.
"Jesus freak. Bible Basher. God Botherer. Religious Nut. Take your choice. You are the son of the fool in the house?" he asked again.
"I am Simon, the son of David, who you murdered and now you will die," I told him trying not to let my voice crack. To my surprise the man laughed.
"You have more balls than all three of the idiots you have killed," he replied. "I could do with a lad like you on my crew. Are you healthy? Ten fingers, ten toes and one and two of everything else that counts?"
"Yes," I admitted cautiously.
"So you are one of the rarities in this world now, a healthy child. Some of the freaks I have worked with would make you sick just to look at them. I'm not exactly picky who I work with. As long as they've only got one head I don't give a toss what the rest of them look like. Worked with a man with two heads once, nothing but arguments between them, over women usually. Two different tastes in women, only one dick," he told me.
"Look I have no idea what you are talking about, but I am going to kill you for what you did to my father," I shouted and started advancing on him.
"Please," he shouted falling to his knees. "Please don't kill me. I'm just a poor wretched mutation, despised by all, including that God of your father. My mother took one look at me and left me to die. Since then I have just tried to survive."
I was close now and a hand shot out. A large fist contacted with my testicles and I sank to my knees with a groan. Pain lanced through me. A hand grabbed the knife from me and another wrapped itself around my throat.
"Well aren't you a pretty thing," he said, his face inches from mine. "We are going to have a little fun, then we will get along just fine."
Beneath my hand I could feel a piece of a brick from the ruined building. I swung it around catching him in his face. I could feel teeth and bone crack as it impacted. To my astonishment he didn't go down, but knelt there with astonishment on his ruined face. My knife, in his right hand, was thrust deep into the muscle of my upper arm. I screamed and hit him again with the brick. And I kept hitting him until his face and skull was unrecognizable as anything human. Blood and brains covered me and I looked at what I had done. Then I vomited and lay there next to the body for a while.
The pain and ache from my testicles and the pain in my arm, where the knife was still embedded, forced me to regain control of my body. Whereas everything that had happened in the last few days had been surreal, the pain was real. I carefully sat up and looked at my arm, the blade was still deeply embedded in it. I took a deep breath and pulled hard.
For a second or two the world wobbled as I tried to remain conscious, then I looked at my arm again. It was bleeding badly so I stripped off my shirt and, using some of the cleaner parts of the dead man's clothing, made a bandage. Then I walked over to the tall man I had shot first. He was still alive. I pulled down his hood and was shocked to find he had pink eyes and a skin so pale that it sickened me to look at. I took a deep breath and cut the man's throat, as I would any wounded animal, and left him there to die. Finally, I sat down and cried for a long time.
The cold of the evening roused me and, using a flint and steel, I started a fire with some scattered wood from the ruined houses. Then, I spent my night curled up by the fire not sleeping, not moving.
The dawn chorus made me realize I would have to start moving, but where I didn't know. I only knew of three places by direction: home, to the east, where there was nothing left for me, Norwich, where I was now -- and looking around there was nothing for me here and Saint Samuel's city of Liverpool to the northwest. I didn't know what I would find there, but it couldn't be less than here. A search through the personal belongings of the two corpses produced very little of use. For some reason the last one I killed had almost ten pounds of jewelry in his bag. This man had been like a jackdaw, collecting shiny objects. He was obviously sick in the head as well as the body, but I took them along despite the extra weight that it involved.
Three days later I knew I was in trouble. My arm was not healing and I had pain under my armpits, in my groin and around my neck. The wound was red and puffy, occasionally oozing a green-colored pus. It was more and more difficult to move and I couldn't get warm. I started looking for a place of shelter with nearby food and water as I knew that soon I would not be able to walk. At first, when I saw the light of the campfire ahead, I thought I was seeing things.
I cautiously moved closer and closer until I could see what was happening. There were six people and some of them were obvious mutations the dwarf and two men with strange protrusions who appeared to be so deformed that they had to wear different clothing. One of these was younger than the other and had dark skin. The other three men seemed reasonably normal.
I lay hidden there for a while wondering who they were and where they were from when one of the men asked, "Are you going to come and get warm boy, or do you want to freeze out there all night?" I realized he was looking in my direction.
"Come on boy. We haven't got all night and if you wish to eat you come now, as we all eat together," he said still looking at me.
"Hush Jacob. You will scare the child," one of the deformed men said in a pleasant voice.
I stood up slowly, not from fear, but because it was the only way I could stand up. I cautiously walked into the camp, examining the people around me.
"Welcome to my camp boy. Give us your name, your story and enjoy our fire and hospitality," the man spoke formally, as if reading from The Bible, and stood holding out a hand. I didn't know what to do with it so I copied his movement. He grabbed my hand and pumped it up and down.
"What is your name boy?" he asked.
"I am Simon, son of David," I said as I took the indicated seat on a log near the fire.
The older one of the two men dressed differently walked over with a plate of food and passed it to me. I tried to take it with my left hand, unwilling to have something in the one hand I could use my knife with, but my hand wouldn't work properly and I dropped it. When I bent down trying to pick up the plate the world swam round me for a moment.
The man who had handed me the plate helped me up and placed a soft hand on my head for a moment. "Jacob. This child is ill," he said in a serious voice. "Get him into the caravan now."
The large man who had invited me into the camp suddenly picked me up, grasping my infected arm in the process. I screamed and the world went black.
My dreams, for the long time that I was asleep, were of the men I had killed and were full of pain.
"Well, back in the land of the living are you?" came a voice. I blinked my eyes trying to get them to focus and looked in the direction of the voice. It was the man Jacob.
"Yes," I said weakly.
"Good. If you had left the sickness in your arm much longer, then Ester couldn't have saved the arm," he said as I glanced over at the bandaged arm.
"Good. At least you have some manners. Now you will answer some questions, honestly. Do you understand the difference between truth and a lie?" he asked in a serious voice.
"Yes," I told him.
"Good. You have received the hospitality of my home and family and now I need some answers. You arrived here with a lot of jewelry and a bad knife wound. You have a selection of other people's clothing and three spare knives. How did you come by these things?" he asked.
"I killed four men," I told him honestly.
"Why did you kill these four men?" he asked.
"Does it matter?" I asked. "I have killed and for that there is no forgiveness."
"It makes a big difference Simon son of David. I gather you are a religious man and that is what concerns you. So tell me why you killed these men, because I do not think it is in your nature," he said kindly.
I told him everything.
"You killed the Hunchback?" he asked, the glee obvious in his voice when I'd finished.
"Yes," I admitted.
"Well, then have no guilt. You have done what is left of mankind a service with the death of that animal. I know of at least sixty people he has murdered and it was only luck that he got away last time. You sleep now, I needed to know the circumstances of what you had done, but I would not have sent you away until you were well." He saw the worry on my face. "Relax. You are welcome to stay with us or leave as you wish. Now rest."
"Thank you," I said again.
"It is a refreshing change," he said with a smile on his face. "A child with manners."
I slept again.
I awoke to movement in the "caravan" as Jacob had called it. The younger, dark skinned, strangely dressed man was in the room with me.
"Good. The slayer of demons is awake," he smiled, but he spoke in a strangely accented voice.
"Er... yes. I'm awake," I admitted.
"Would you like something to eat?" he asked. "Jacob said that as the wounded hero you are to be fed when you are hungry -- after Ester threatened him."
"He threatened Jacob?" I said astounded, for Jacob was a lot larger than Ester or me.
"No, she did silly," he said walking out of the caravan.
Ester was a woman. I couldn't remember my mother and she was the last woman I had seen. Did this mean this other one was a woman also? I lay there trying to figure it out until he returned.
"I have some food for you," he said sitting on the side of the bed. "Do you think you can mange it on your own?"
"Yes, thank you," I answered while looking carefully at him.
"What's up?" he asked with a smile on his face.
"Are you a woman?" I asked, and for some strange reason the smile turned to tears and he was gone.
"What did you do to Aeisha?" Jacob asked with a face like thunder as he came storming into the caravan, making it rock.
"Nothing," I said quickly, fearing his anger. "I just asked 'Was he a woman?' I didn't mean to offend him."
"Him?" Jacob said with astonishment written all over his face.
"Yes. Did I do something wrong?" I asked quickly.
"Have you ever seen a woman Simon?"
"Well I think I can remember my mother, but I was only three when she died. Then I lived with my father until they came and killed him."
"Well then I will go and explain to the girl that no offence was intended and I advise you to start apologizing as fast as you can." he said with a smile.
"So Aeisha is a girl?" I asked.
"Yes. And start apologizing as soon as she gets in here. Explain what you just told me, because the one thing I don't need in my happy camp is an irritated woman. They can make your life hell as you will find out my boy," he said, his smile growing even broader. "Later I need to talk to you."
"Yes," I said, feeling even more confused as he left. A minute later Aeisha returned. She had obviously been weeping.
"Jacob told me to come back here. So what have you got to say?" she demanded.
"I am sorry for asking if you are a woman. I didn't mean to offend you," I said quickly. "But the last woman I knew was my mother and she died when I was three. Since then I only knew my father until the Hunchback arrived and killed him."
"You have never seen a girl before?" she asked.
"No," I answered honestly.
"Well, what did you think we were?" she asked. I thought about it for a moment and decided the honest answer of mutants might not be the wise course.
"Kind people," I answered.
"You haven't touched your food yet. Why not?" she asked suddenly changing the topic.
"Because I was worried I might have hurt your feelings," I told her and she smiled. It was nice. For some reason my stomach felt very strange.
"Come on. Eat," she said sitting down on the bed next to me.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to upset you," I said to her.
"I know you didn't mean to," she said sticking a fork in a potato and raising it to my mouth. She continued feeding me until I had finished the meal. Then she disappeared with the plate, but returned a moment or two later. She sat down on the side of the bed and I wondered what to talk about. I was as scared of her as I had been by the men I had killed.
"So I'm the first girl you have seen then?"
I nodded. My throat was dry and my voice seemed to have deserted me.
"What do you think then?" she asked and I had the distinct feeling that my answer could be wrong no matter what I said.
"I like you," I said carefully and slowly. "You're a nice person."
She smiled and I knew I had passed whatever test this was.
"Rest now. The more you rest, the faster you will get better," she said and left me alone again.
The next morning, Ester came in to me with a breakfast of fruit and inspected my arm. The wound was still an angry purple and the skin at the edges was yellowish, but it was a lot better than last time I had looked.
"Well Simon, you are a lucky young man. Much longer and it wouldn't have been just the arm you lost," she said after her inspection.
"When can I get up," I asked eagerly.
"Any pain under your arms?" she asked.
"A little," I admitted.
"I'll send Andrew in to help you dress as I don't want you doing anything with that arm. Outside, you will sit down and not move a muscle," she said and glared at me. "Do you understand me Simon?"
"Yes Ester," I said meekly.
"Good. Wait here. Andrew will be in shortly."
After she left I got out of bed and slipped on my trousers. I was trying to sort out my shirt when the dwarf arrived.
"What the bloody hell do you think you are doing?" he demanded.
"Getting dressed," I answered. "I don't need help."
"Listen this may be Jacob's camp and he may be boss, but no one disobeys Ester. Do you understand me?"
"Yes," I replied, wondering why everyone seemed to be asking me that question.
"Now sit on the bed and let me help you with that shirt. Some of us aren't as tall as you," he said with a smile.
"Yes," I said unsure how else to reply and I sat down to let him help me.
"You don't talk much do you?" he asked looking me in the eyes. He was a small man, no more than four foot tall, and his head seemed large. His fingers and hands were small though and he seemed to walk in a strange fashion. Despite his strange appearance, he had a friendly smile.
"No," I admitted.
"It's not how I look is it?" he demanded.
"No. Oh no," I told him quickly. "I admit I have never met a dwarf before, but before this week the only person I had that had ever talked to was my father."
"Ah, that explains it," he tsked. "Lack of social skills, but it is 'little person,' please."
"Sorry," I answered.
"It was not said with any offense intended, so stop apologizing," he told me with a smile and held out a hand to me. Remembering what Jacob had done, I shook it.
"Simon," I said smiling.
"Yes. Simon, the lad who hunted the Hunchback," he said. "You did us a favor there, but I think Jacob is a little disappointed."
"Because he wanted that honor," Andrew said with a smile. "how did you do it?"
"He had me by the throat, so I hit him with a brick on the side of the head. He shoved the knife in my arm and I kept hitting him until his head..." I stopped, remembering what I had done to another human being and started shaking. I felt sick again, the breakfast I had just eaten begin rising to the back of my throat.
"Are you ill?" Andrew asked with concern in his voice.
"No. It's just what I did to him. It sickens me that I could have done that."
"Look. I saw what Aeisha's family had done to them by the Hunchback and his men. I've seen six families wiped out by that bastard and death was what was needed. They nearly got him a few weeks ago. He tangled with a farm that was expecting him. They killed nine of his men, but he got away," Andrew said and placed a hand on my shoulder. "You did a good thing."
I stood up, not feeling any better, and walked to the door. Tthe sun outside was blinding for a moment or two. Outside I could only see Ester and Aeisha as I carefully came down the wooden steps.
"Where is everyone?" I asked.
"Oh, Jacob and the boys have gone hunting," Ester said. "Now you aren't to tire yourself."
I nodded and looked around. There were four tents and the painted caravan in which I had been sleeping. I sat down near the fire.
"Why does Jacob travel around?" I asked Ester.
"For a number of years he has been looking for the Hunchback, but his main purpose is to try and learn what happened to our world," Ester explained.
"What? Like Saint Samuel and the Mericans?" I asked.
"The Americans. Yes, but who is this 'Saint Samuel?'"
I told her of the book of Kapangpangan and of what it said of Samuel's time and I was still talking when Jacob and his sons returned. They sat and listened to the story as it finished, then I had to repeat it as Jacob began writing it down.
"I have heard of this Samuel before," Jacob said. "But not of his end and after."
"So it is of use to you?" I asked him.
"All knowledge has purpose," he said making his notes on paper.
"I believed in Saint Samuel all my life, until my father was killed. Then I doubted if the holy books were true. I lost my faith," I admitted. He put his pen and paper down and looked at me long and hard. I felt as if my father was sitting there.
"Your faith in the books you had wasn't the basis of your faith in God," he said firmly. "Those books are not what makes God exist, and the fact that one was wrong or misunderstood was a human fault. In your time of need you were brought here by God's will. So, though you may question him, he does not question you."
I was silent.
"When you lose a loved one, you question your faith. I had three sons and a daughter, but now I have just two sons," he said, the sadness obvious on his face. "The beast that you killed murdered both of them and their families. I questioned my faith and what use I was to God. What I found was that what had been done was not done by God, but by man, and that God still had a purpose for me. But I never would have thought it would be to rescue a Gentile boy and a Muslim girl."
"A Muslim girl?" I asked shocked.
"No, they are not the creatures of legends that you are thinking of," he said quickly. "I have traveled throughout this country and what I have been able to learn of the times of the wars was that it was caused by a few. The actions of a few on both sides caused this devastation that you see. Atrocities were done and ignored for too long. When Mother Sam of Liverpool died, your Saint Samuel, the people of this country decided enough was enough. It was pure luck that we had pulled out just before the American President ordered the final attack."
"So the A-Mericans caused this?" I asked.
"No, no, Mankind caused this, with its self-centered view of existence. Mankind caused this with its lack of tolerance for anything slightly different. And mankind caused this with its belief that anyone who calls God by a different name is evil and wrong. Never once did the self-proclaimed experts in God's dealings on earth look for the similarities in the beliefs. The differences are what counted and thus their own rules did not apply, as the enemy were sub human -- heathens -- and beyond redemption. Only with the death of Samuel did some people start realizing who the real enemy was and what the hell we were fighting and dying for. Only then did it look like the insanity was stopping, but rather than spreading the word and talking to everyone to get them all to stop the war the fools just deserted those they had been allied with for so long, leaving them to their destruction. The Americans had no choice. They believed they had been deserted and did what they thought would save their people," Jacob said to me and I sat there trying to understand what was being said.
"Do you want to know the greatest secret in this whole mess?" he asked me and I nodded. "The seeds of our own destruction were sown by us. We gave the people who started this the weapons to do it, we trained those people and we allowed them to live in our countries. While they were killing others we didn't care -- it was not our problem. Then, when they killed us, we loosed Damocles on the world."
"The Muslims let loose Damocles on the world," I protested.
"No, the father of your Saint Samuel did -- of that I have no doubt. We are all to blame for the fact that our race is dying and I don't think man has changed in the two hundred years since Samuel," he said sadly.
I sat there for a while trying to make sense of what I had just learned, it did fit in with what Kapangpangan's writings said. I couldn't believe that people in those days could have been so blind.
"Jacob? If all this was happening then why did the people allow it?" I asked.
"The world had a sickness called selfishness -- I have what I need and I will only look at others when they have something I want, or they stop me from having what I want. Wars occurred, but too often for the wrong reasons. War is not a solution, but occasionally it is necessary. Too often that war was fought because others live differently or to protect the profits of a few. Too often atrocities were ignored because there was no profit in fighting, or the ones committing the atrocities were allies at the time."
"Where does God come into this, if this was a holy war?" I asked.
"He doesn't. God had absolutely nothing to do with the wars. It was man's doing and man's alone," he shouted. "God has been used for too long as an excuse for death and those that kill in his name lie. Why did you kill?"
"For revenge," I answered. "I killed those that killed my father."
"In that you are justified, but if you had come and killed everyone in my camp?" he asked.
"Then I would have been no better than the Hunchback," I replied.
"Well, people believed then, that as long as the guilty were dead then it didn't matter who else died as it was God's will they did."
"What people, the Muslims?" I asked him.
"I don't understand. I'm sorry Jacob, I just can't make sense of it at all."
"Good," he finished leaving me to my thoughts.
"Jacob can be a little rough with his truths," said Andrew standing in front of me.
"Is what he said true?" I asked.
"Oh yes. His father started this quest for 'the truth' as he calls it. He has just put the pieces together. He has a great library hidden in a cave in the west of the country and has knowledge of many things," Andrew explained.
"That I would like to see," I told him.
"One day you will," Jacob shouted across to me.
I was unsure how to deal with Aeisha after the revelation that she was a Muslim. This girl was the living form of all that I had hated and feared as a child. Her attempts at pleasant conversation I allow myself to be drawn into only far enough to politely end them. Later on, after Ester had sent me in to rest again, she followed me in to talk to me alone.
"What have I done?" she asked.
"Nothing," I replied.
"There is something up. You treat me so coldly. I have done something to upset you," she said the tears starting to roll down her face.
"It is me," I said grabbing her hand. "It is me. I'm trying to make sense of all that I have grownup believing over the years. I was taught that the Muslims were the cause of all that had befallen us. Now I have found that it was a lie."
"So it is not me you hate, but what I am?" she asked still crying.
"No. I find it difficult because I could never hate you yet all I have been taught says I should."
"Good," she said and hugged me tight, still crying. I found the contact enjoyable but it brought my emotions to the surface. I soon found myself crying also.
"Why do you cry?" she asked me through my tears.
"Because, I have lost my father, lost my beliefs and become that that my father would hate, a killer." I sniffled and she hugged me tighter. "...and because I have upset you."
She was suddenly squeezing me tighter to her and I was in danger of broken ribs. When she stopped and looked at me again a cloud on her face.
"Why do you not hold me?" she asked, her voice slightly accusing.
"Because I don't know what to hold, where I can hold, and I didn't want to upset you anymore." I admitted sheepishly.
"Don't worry about it, just hold me tight," she said in a huskier voice than normal -- and I did. It was interesting and I admit it was enjoyable. Why she was so enjoyable I didn't know. We held each other for a while, then, eventually, she broke away from me and kissed me, leaving me alone, confused and sad.
Andrew woke me the next morning. "Come on. You're on the mend. Ester says you are to get up if you want to eat," he shouted in my ear as I protested that I wanted to sleep.
"Fine. I'm getting up," I said sitting up.
"You have made a big impression on Jacob and Aeisha. Don't go spoiling a perfect record by taking advantage of the girl," Andrew said as he helped me get dressed, the arm was easier to move today.
"Advantage of her, how?" I asked.
"You can't be that naïve, can you?" he asked looking at me. "Yes, I guess you can," he sighed, " and I am afraid that our illustrious Jewish leader might not be the best one to tell you. Perhaps Ester?"
"Jacob is Jewish?" I said in astonishment.
"Yes didn't you know?"
"No, I didn't know what a Jew looked like," I admitted. "So he doesn't believe in Christ then?"
"Does that make any difference?"
"No. Muslims, Jews, Little People and me. Who cares what you or I call God?" I asked.
"Well I am a Disney Fundamentalist. I believe that Snow White was the embodiment of the spirit of nature on earth and a goddess," he said with a serious expression.
"You do?" I said wondering what a "Disney" was.
"No. It's a Little People joke, and when I find someone who understands it I will have found my people," he said sadly.
"There are others like you?"
"There were many. Both my parents were Little People as were their parents. I am looking for a woman I don't have to stand on a log to look in the face, then I intend to have her carry me away into the sunset," he smiled, "and you my friend need some schooling. Yes, Ester is the one to talk to you about it."
"About what?" I asked.
"You wouldn't believe it, if I told you," Andrew said with a grin and he was right. I didn't.
Over the next month we moved north. I was evicted from the caravan to a tent as it was Jacob's bed. I was also introduced to horses. I found that they were useful and Jacob seemed upset that I said they were nice smoked. Jacob's sons, Joseph and David, left us. The quest for rhe Hunchback was completed when they saw his body and both of these serious men thanked me for avenging their sister and brother. I met people, lots of them. I never realized that over a hundred people lived within a couple of weeks travel from my home. I saw the ruins of Saint Samuel's city from the Wirral, the place he had lived before his exile. There looking at the two great cathedrals in ruins over the Mersey, I prayed for the first time in a long time. I was going to throw the crossbow, which I still carried, in the river when Jacob stopped me.
"No that is not the way," he said. "Keep it and do not fear using it when you need to, but always question if there another way before you do."
"It is easier to be rid of it," I observed. "What if I keep it and make the wrong decision?"
"Why do you think life should be easy?" he asked and to that I had no answer.
I continued traveling with him for two years, reading the books he carried and learning. One day, as we sat next to the fire, I told him the dreadful conclusion I had reached. From what I had read in the old books and what I had seen.
"Jacob, do you know anything of what is going on in the rest of the world?" I asked him.
"Very little, mostly the same as here, in some places worse," he answered.
"Mankind will die then. We are not growing in numbers we are failing, another two hundred years and we will be gone," I told him. "Too often we go to places you have been welcomed in the past to find there is no one alive."
"That is what I had decided years ago," he said sadly "and I see no way of stopping it."
"There is. We have enough people to make it possible but we are too fragmented. I would have died alone without you and my life would have had no meaning. We need to get people together. Together we can prosper, but individually we will fade and die."
"Distrust is too great and people dislike moving from their familiar surroundings," Jacob replied and I thought about it for many days.
We were working our way south, to a place called Cornwall, where Jacob wanted to check on some friends as he called all he knew. I looked at the countryside around us. It was a beautiful place, the earth was rich and fertile and some trees caught my eyes. I walked over and saw they were apple trees.
"What was this place called?" I asked Jacob.
"Evesham," he replied. "The Vale of Evesham."
"It is like what I imagine Eden looked like," I said.
"It is the sun that does that. In the wet it looks like anywhere else," he laughed.
"No Jacob. This is a place where a lot of people could live and thrive," I said as I looked around. "Here we could gather and save our race."
"How would we get them here?" he asked.
"That I would leave up to a sweet talking itinerant Rabbi. It would not be the first time one such as you made an impression on humanity."
"You ask a lot of me -- and people."
"And I will ask more of you and your family than anyone else except myself and Aeisha," I replied. "Your family said they owed me a debt for the death of the Hunchback. I have never requested anything for that and I will not now. Instead, I ask that you see if your sons would be willing to live here with me and to welcome any others that you find."
He looked at me for a long time. "So you are going to start a new world with a Christian, a Muslim, a couple of Jewish families and an old wandering Jew?" he asked.
"No I am going to start a new world with friendship and, I hope, understanding as the basis of what I believe."
"It's better than sitting down waiting to die," he acceded with a smile.
"Aeisha will you be my wife," I asked the beautiful woman who was never far from my side.
"After all this time waiting for you to ask me why should I?" she asked with a smile. "I have been waiting since the first day you were awake and you have taken so long."
"Because I love you," I told her and I knew I had passed another test by her reaction -- it was a very nice reaction.
"That was many years ago now. There have been bad times and good times since," I told the children gathered at my feet. "The good times mean that our town grows and thrives. Too often though, the bad times come and, thank God, eventually leave, unfortunately, taking with us those that we love. But we must hope that they are happy in the company of whoever they call God, because at the end of the day, no matter what they believe, they were friends and we loved them and we weep for our loss. For with the loss of one person this world is a little sadder and we have lost someone who can't be replaced, but we will remember them."
I was thinking in particular of the day that Ester had returned alone and the sadness it brought us all, then only one hundred families. Yet every family united in their love for an old Jewish man who brought us here to Eden and hope, no matter what their beliefs. Joseph took his father's place and, as always, Andrew went with him, looking for his people as he did till his death.
"What of Saint Samuel, grandfather?" came from a young man at the front with a serious face.
"Well Saint Samuel was the son of a brave man, Kevin Harris. It was a time when the world was sick," I said looking at my beloved Aeisha smiling at me from the doorway, but slightly disapproving of the crowd of young people in the house.
"One more story then out of my house," she said laughing, "and that goes for you too husband of mine. I have things to do, as have you. You have a town to run and a library to organize."
After the story the children left and I turned to Aeisha, working in the kitchen. "I'm sorry my beloved," I said sneaking up behind her and slipping my arms around her.
"Don't be," she said turning around in my arms to kiss me. "They are the only important thing we leave in this world and what they learn from us dictates how our world will be in the future."
"You are a wise woman," I said hugging her.
"You better remember that or your life will be hell," she said with a smile.
"Life hell with you my love? Never," I told her.