“THEN WE WILL be dead, and the message will not get to Brad. We don’t operate that way. If your discipline is anything like ours, you won’t take a chance on shooting us and sweeping it under the rug. First, I’m sure there are others behind us who would have heard that first shot, and they will want an accounting of why you fired it. Second, the message we have might stop all this useless warfare, and you wouldn’t be averse to that, would you?”
Greta looked at Gretchen again, and then made a decision. “Okay, you men, I arrest you in the name of Brad, Highlander chief. You will be taken to him and he will do what he wants with you.”
“And we,” Rod replied, “will not tell Brad that you tried to coerce the message out of us, which, I am sure, is not a standing order from him.”
Gerta looked wild-eyed for a moment, then said, “Right.”
She motioned them out of the destroyed shelter and told them to put their hands over their heads, fingers locked, and not to get any funny ideas.
She called out into the darkness. “Hans, we’re coming back. With prisoners.”
A bass voice thirty yards or so back said, “Come away.”
They marched toward the source of the voice. From behind a ruined trunk of a huge old maple tree, a man stepped out, holding a rifle at ready.
“What you got?”
“Two prisoners. They said they are messengers and emissaries, one from each of the two clans. Message for Brad.”
“I’ll take them in,” Hans said.
“No, we’ll take them in, Hans. Our lookout post is ruined. It’s a bad night. You stay and be watchful. I kind of believe what they said about being alone, but keep a lookout anyway.”
They pushed past Hans as he returned to his shelter.
Soon the four were on a well-worn path that led into another valley and up a steep hill. Just before the crest, Gerta called out to a third lookout and got permission to pass. They came to a disintegrating blacktop road and marched along it. rain soaked them to the skin, but most had developed a morbid acceptance of life in these times.
Finally they came to a series of small wooden dwellings. Those gave way to larger buildings. They headed for one of them, an old Victorian structure separated from the others and well-lit with candles. Most of the houses were dark. Both Rod and Jon knew the clan numbered about three thousand and that for protection they all lived close to this central location.
They found it interesting to see so little light. It meant rationing. Rod thought silently it might work an advantage and help turn the point.
He glanced at Jon and said to Gerta, “Rationing fuel, huh?”
Gerta swung toward him and said, “Shut up!”
The two lookouts marched their prisoners up to the large Victorian home, now obviously Brad’s headquarters. A guard on the veranda called to them.
“Gerta and Gretchen from the outer post with prisoners, messengers…to see Brad.”
“Stay where you are.” He left them in the rain and went inside. He came back in a minute or more and waved them in, weapon ready.
The four mounted the broad wooden steps.
“Recently painted,” Jon observed conversationally to Rod.
“Quiet, prisoners,” Gerta called, evidently trying to look quasi-military so close to the command post.
They entered a large, ornate foyer crafted in the old Victorian tradition. Dark oak paneling with carved highlights brought them into a beautiful, well-kept example of the old world. It told them something about Brad. He enjoyed a little pomp, perhaps, but he definitely liked real craftsmanship.
They were asked to remove their shoes and use towels they found on a table next to the ornate door and coat rack. Gerta kept them covered while the prisoners and Gretchen shed their dripping outer clothes. Then she handed Gretchen the gun and she shed her stuff.
The guard waited until they were ready, led them to a vacant drawing room, told them to stand and wait, and retired to his post.
They stood for a couple of minutes. At last a small, bull of a man came through the door opposite the drawing room entrance. A tall, awkward looking man carrying an old M-16 followed him. The leader stared at them silently for a moment. The only sound came from the muted wind of the storm outside. He finally spoke.
“Well, Rod, son of Reed and Jon, son of Jonathan. What brings you out on such a bad night?” He made no move to dismiss the lookouts.
Jon had agreed to be spokesman for the two. “We come with information, and with an offer. The hostilities between us are causing great pain on both sides. Eventually, they will cause the death of us all. Josh, of the Westaves, acknowledged leader after the passing of Reed, and Jonathan, acknowledged leader of the Oronokes, have sent us under the cover of the storm to offer you a vision and a plan that is acceptable to our clans.”
Brad held up his hand. “How can you ask me to participate in a plan with you, either of you, when your clannish members are killing my Highlanders daily?”
“Brad, it is also true that your Highlanders are killing our clansmen daily,” Jon countered.
“I have no love for Westaves or Oronokes. Have you joined together now to try and eliminate the Highlanders by sheer weight of numbers?”
“You must know that is not the case, or we would merely attack you at an opportune moment, like tonight, for instance.”
Brad stood silent for a few seconds. Then he turned to the two women. He escorted them out to the foyer and spoke to them in low tones. When satisfied, he requested they leave, but remain outside until called again. Gretchen and Gerta both appeared crestfallen, but left immediately.
Brad returned to the drawing room, and turned to the man behind him. “Wolfgang, these men will not harm me. You may go, but stay within earshot.”
Wolfgang left. Brad motioned the messengers to sit. They took stuffed chairs covered in red-velvet and sat. They were period pieces and not made particularly for comfort, but they felt wonderful after the earlier hardships.
Brad began. “I would have no compunction about killing you both and returning your heads to your clansmen by catapult, but you did not take the lives of my lookouts when you could, and you may have actually saved their lives. You will be given safe conduct back, after we are finished here regardless of your message. Now, let me hear what you have to say.”
Jon began, “The Westaves and the Oronokes have killed one another in the past, but we feel we have stabilized that situation. Our leaders have recently come into information that could conceivably get the valley power plant back in operation. Electricity for the State of Waterbury would put our clans in an enviable position and make the territory much more defensible than it presently is. We are safer than any outsiders we know of, but we cannot make it work if any clan stands against the others. With electricity we might be able to expand our borders to our benefit and perhaps to the eventual benefit of Outsiders. That’s a long way off, but possible.”
Brad leaned a little forward in his chair, listening intently.
“We have been empowered by our leaders to suggest a new plan for leadership in order to stop the warring between us. No leader of any clan would voluntarily give up leadership, nor do we think it would be wise. Each of our followers would only trust and follow the leader who has saved their skins, fed them, and provided them with law and such justice as we have these days.”
Brad nodded. Jon continued.
“All of our peoples, just as they were taught to hate other clansmen, would be taught that something wonderful has occurred and there is no longer a need for fighting. Obviously, that will be difficult, as all of us have lost friends and relatives to the constant strife. It would take time, and that’s okay. What the people of all clans would need is an example, correct in its fairness, brilliant in its execution, and palatable to all.
“Disarmament is out of the question. A Minuteman capability will be needed for many years to come. Rod’s father had a plan we were on the verge of producing with good effect when he died. He had shared it with my father and given him his vision. My father looked it over critically and decided it could work. He called a truce for ten days about a month ago, and got together with Josh. Josh saw the benefit immediately, and we are here as a result. We continue our truce.
“Here is the plan. A Triumvirate. There are only three groups now. Waterbury is relatively secure from the outside. We successfully keep out the sick ones and now we need to heal our sickness within. If you will lend your voice and your powers to a Triumvirate, our leaders feel we may be able to raise ourselves to a new level, stop the downward spiral and create a city-state as the next stage in social evolution.”
Jon stopped talking.
Brad’s brow furrowed, evidently considering. The way would be hard. The man had an upbringing which included learning to read and write, and he did take joy in reading such books as were still around after the burnings of the anarchy times.
“What about justice?” he asked Jon.
“Dealt with on the basis of what is now law in each clan until one law can be worked out and agreed on by all.”
“Are your laws written out?”
“No more than are yours, but that is a technicality. We have scribes.”
“If we disagree?”
“Initially the final decision would go to the member of the Triumvirate whose law it reflects. Later, two out of three would carry the decision. We have a few who can write and record things. We could get them together at a protected location to write all law, and then combine that whose content is the same.”
“Eventually one leader?”
“If that is the correct move. We accept that strong leadership will be necessary for many years. We hope to institute a new democracy sometime in the future.”
Rod spoke up. Brad turned to look at him. “My father taught history. He has passed much of what he knew on to me. I can read and write. The Constitution of the United States of America I know almost by heart. It and the Bill of Rights that goes with it could serve as a guide in creating a general law that fits our time.”
Brad stood, and the two clansmen stood with him. “You two have brought a great deal for me to think about. I will see that you are returned to your people safely. I will send a messenger carrying a white truce flag to you both in a ten-day time with my answer. Don’t shoot him.”
Rod and Jon laughed for the first time that night. Brad smiled.
Success! There would be much to think about, much to talk about. Maybe, just maybe, all the clans could take the next step together. Upward this time.
(Or perhaps - The Beginning)