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Chapter Fifteen

The Annals and the Assembly

It had grown dark and we were all very tired from serving the people. I helped Mother to start a fire of kindling at the foot of the Hall steps while Father continued to minister with Bishop Pomnthos. Madeline was sitting a few paces away, surrounded by a few of Sajon’s men as they fielded questions. It must have been that her quick witted nature held them as they often let out a chuckle.

“Those lazy rascals should be helping Father and Bishop Pomnthos,” Mother said. “Instead they tend to their own entertainment.” She continued to stoke the fire.

“Shall I fetch Madeline?” I asked still looking in my sister’s direction.

“Leave it be,” Mother responded. “It would seem that she is well guarded at this moment. We needn’t worry her with her surroundings.” I was a bit confused by Mother’s words. She seemed irritated by the guards and yet did not want Madeline among the people. The lesser of the two evils I supposed, for one only needed to scan the people around us to comprehend the nature of Mother’s concerns. Peppered about the wreckage sat small groups of our countrymen, wrapped in cloth bandages and salve, some resting, others caring for those who seemed less fortunate in their injuries. The sounds of despair and moaning carried up into the air as if pulled in the wake of the cinder sparks that rose from surrounding fires still burning hot.

Father returned, dirtied from ash, he dipped his hands into a wash basin Mother had set on a charred liput stump near the wheel of our wagon. He scooped the water to his face and washed his filthy sweat. Dabbing his head with a cloth, he sat down near to our campfire.

“There is no use in trying to come clean in this place,” Father said in a voice that reflected his exhaustion. His words rang true when I caught a glimpse of his face in the fire light. It was apparent that he had dabbed his face with a cloth upon which ash had settled as well as washed his face in water that was contaminated the same. Now it seemed as though he was merely spreading the ash across his face more evenly.

“Where is the Bishop?” Mother asked and handed Father a chunk of steamed bread.

“He’s at the east rotund of the Hall,” Father answered with a sigh. “He is caring for the people with…” He interrupted his words as Sajon’s men laughed out loud near Madeline. Looking to her, he called, “Madeline. Come to eat.” Sajon’s men rose to their feet and Madeline carried herself swiftly to Father’s words. “You, men, find your lord and tell him his attendance is requested here. And do reach out your hand and help someone in need on your way. Your garments are much too clean from sitting idly by.” I could tell that the men did not appreciate Father’s comment, but nevertheless, they turned and set off into the darkness.

“Will you offer thanksgiving, please, Joshua?” Father asked before eating his bread. I must have looked a bit perplexed at his words because he spoke them again, “Joshua, give thanks before we dine.” Mouth open, I blinked and looked around us at the utter destruction in which we were sitting. Father knew my disbelief and yet he raised his eyebrows and motioned for me to begin. Strange that he would still insist upon giving thanks before receiving so little and in such dire consequence. I closed my eyes and, with reluctance, mechanically spoke the words I’d known since birth:

“The eyes of all are set upon you and you care for them as is your will and good pleasure. Your grip is released and you satisfy the desires of all. Bless these gifts which we receive from your bounty. For your goodness, we thank you.”

“Thank you, Joshua,” Father said, “but it would seem that your heart was far from your words. Do you offer thanks or are your words as those cast against a cavern wall?”

“I am here and that is all that I am.”

“You are more than ‘here,’ boy. Give reason for your tone.”

“How is it…?” I began to ask, but stopped.

“Finish,” Father said. “Finish your speech.”

“Look around us!” I said and stood to my feet. “What have we to be thankful for in this place? We lie among despair and ruin and we move further toward that which seeks to destroy us.” Father sat with a patient expression. He listened intently. “Where is the goodness?” I continued. “Where is the providence in this? Where are the gifts for which we are thankful? This bread? This fire? Tomorrow they will be no more and what are we to do then?”

“And so it is possible that the same may come of us,” Father said in return. “Perhaps it is that tomorrow we perish. Shall we then reject this day for the sake of what comes on the morrow? Shall I cast aside the company of my family in my final hours? Shall I lie down in the dust refusing the legs that let me stand? Shall I forsake you and send you alone since this is your fate and not mine?” It looked as though Father held great sorrow in speaking such words. His eyes seemed saddened, but confident, as if he were working to convince me of something he knew he could not iterate properly. I didn’t tell him then that his words were true. I was indeed convinced and I knew that my words were foolish.

“As I have spoken before, it is good to be with fear, son,” he continued, apparently losing his tone of sorrow and building his voice with a certain confidence. “Fear is not as effortless as respect or humility. It requires your wits in order to face those things which deserve respect, those things that we fear that offer the prospect of loss. You will meet these things, but do not lose heart, lad. How this meeting will come about, we do not know. You do not know what tomorrow will bring to you. Set your face toward Center-Wood and trust that you are going forth as you are called, even more so, followed in faith by your countrymen. Let tomorrow be tomorrow. Only be sure to meet it with fear while standing on both legs.”

Not all of Father’s words made sense to me. My heart was so burdened with what seemed to be hopelessness. I surveyed my surroundings and tried to focus my attention in order to keep from crying. In the flickering light of the fire I could see Mother’s face. She lacked the same confidence held by Father, but I knew that she would have spoken the same. When our eyes met, she looked away as if tending to Madeline. Perhaps it was that her burden had returned, her great distress and fear for her dear children, the Heroes of Ganchimi.