Starting A War
Sheena became the new leader of the tribe. She had always contributed the most to the group, and she always seemed to have knowledge that nobody else did. It was an easy decision for everybody to come to that she would be the one that everyone would follow. Twelve years ago, they might have come to a different conclusion, but when I was given to her, she changed into a person that everybody could approach. She had all of the characteristics that made Grandmother a leader.
The first thing that Sheena did was to give everybody a job. We had a war coming, and we all needed to be prepared for it. We had people hunting and gathering all day long. Then there were people who preserved and packed the food. It was a big job, but it needed to be done because we wouldn’t always have the time to do these things when the fighting started.
We also decided that since we would have to be ready to move at a moment’s notice, we could no longer live in caravans. People began to use the leather that we would normally take to trade and sew them into tents that could be taken down and put up within mere minutes. Everybody was to have one. We would move from place to place and leave no indication that we had been there.
After all of the preparations had been assigned to people, Sheena came to River, Joseph, and me. It seems that we were to have a very special assignment.
“I need you three to go from tribe to tribe and spread the word,” Sheena explained. “It’s going to be dangerous, but I know that if you could get out of that town and bring a baby with you without being caught, I know that you will be able to do this.” We agreed to do it, although I wrestled with the thought of leaving Cub behind for the first time since I had brought her back to the tribe with me. Sheena promised that she would be well taken care of, and I had no doubts that she would. What bothered me was I felt like I was abandoning her, and I didn’t want her to feel that way.
I spent a little extra time with Cub that night before I left. I explained to her that I would be back when I could, but that I might be gone for a long time. I know she didn’t understand anything I was saying, and after a while she just fell asleep. I held her until Joseph and River came to tell me that it was time for us to leave.
I laid Cub down in her little box and took one of my shirts and wrapped it around her. I hoped that in the next few days that would help her to not miss me as much. I kissed her little forehead and promised her once again that I would be back. I wonder if I was trying to reassure myself of that as much as I was her.
“Be careful,” Sheena whispered as she touched her forehead to mine, “find a way to stay hidden at all times.”
“I will,” I promised, “and take care of my new sister.” Sheena nodded her head in agreement.
River, Joseph, and I decided that we would travel by climbing the trees and moving between them. The forest was so dense that unless you were traveling by the trail you could just step from tree to tree. We knew that it wouldn’t be smart to take the trail anyway, because that would be the path that the boy king and his men would take.
Every once in a while, we would hear a rustling, so we would always stop and stay very still. We would watch and listen to see what the noise was. It was usually an animal making its way through the forest. Every once in a while it was a scout who was looking for someone. It was rarely more than one person, but we were still careful to not let them see us, just in case there were more soldiers, out of our sight.
Little by little, we made it to each tribe. We spoke with the leader of each. Some of them were reluctant to agree to go to war, but when we spoke about what had happened in the town, they all eventually agreed. We found fifty tribes in all, although we knew there must be more out there somewhere. We told the leaders to spread the word if they ever come across any tribe that had not heard about our war yet.
And then, just like that, it began. We would meet others from the tribes, here and there. But every tribe had its own strategy and we were all slippery and knew how to disappear easily into the forest. We all had our ways of getting information, and passing it along to one another with nobody else knowing. We stopped living in the clearings, and instead we used the rest of the overgrown forest to keep us from being easily caught. I brought Sheena and Cub back to the cave we had hidden in when we escaped from the town, and we made that our home.
Cub learned early on that she couldn’t be out in the open, and that she really couldn’t be anywhere without Sheena or I close by. She never was in any real danger, but she was always weary of strangers because of the constant nagging from both Sheena and I to stay away from them. She was nothing like I was at a young age. Sheena said I was fierce and independent from the day that I learned how to walk. Cub was cautious and very loving. She was the reason I could not bear to think about not coming home. As long as I was home with her, there was nothing else wrong in the world.
I couldn’t always be home with Cub, however, but when I wasn’t Sheena usually was. There were only a handful of times when Joseph would come over to the cave and take care of Cub when neither Sheena nor I could be there. We began to joke that Joseph was her father, and he could have been. While Sheena and I could have easily been mother and daughter, Joseph and Cub could have easily been father and daughter. They were both blond with the most amazing blue eyes that I had ever seen. I realized that I had started to care for Joseph very deeply for the way that he looked so much like Cub.
The year had drug on and on, and I watched Cub grow from the safety of our cave. She slowly gained the strength she should have already had, and eventually she learned how to walk, and then she was running before I knew it. I began to teach her the things that I thought an older sister would teach a younger sibling. We played games, and I made her little dolls and presents. I mainly made her toys that would easily keep her quiet, even though I really didn’t need to; she was just a quiet kid. Then one day she said my name out of the blue. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. For a long time, we didn’t know if she would ever be able to speak. She learned things at a slower rate than all of the other kids, but from that point on, she seemed to keep up with them pretty well. It was a turning point in her life.
“There is going to be a real battle!” River came running into the cave one night. I shot him a warning look. Cub had just fallen asleep.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized, “but we all need to be there. Joseph is coming to watch Cub since he hasn’t had much experience with anything else.” River made a point to emphasize this last statement.
“Okay,” I whispered, “I will go wake Sheena. Where is it going to be?”
“In the town where it all started!” River announced triumphantly. “Some of the king’s men are camped out there waiting for instructions from the king. I guess they got separated while searching the woods and they decided to just go back there. Some of the spies from another tribe saw them discussing it, and they sent a messenger out to find the king’s group. We intercepted the messenger, and let’s just say that the king will never get that message!”
River decided that he was going to go on ahead to the battle before Joseph showed up to take care of Cub. Sheena and I both decided to wait for him. We took turns watching over Cub, both knowing that this was possibly the last time either of us would make it back to see her ever again.
“If Sheena and I don’t make it back,” I told Joseph, “you can pass for her father. Your best bet for making a good life for her would be to jump from town to town and act like you belong until you reach the next kingdom over. The east and south are no good, try for the west, but if it comes down to surviving, do what you have to.”
“I will,” Joseph promised me, “but try to come back, Joby, Cub needs you.”
“I will do what I have to do,” I told him. I made him no promises. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to keep them. For a year I had been preparing myself for the possibility that this war might be the end of me. It would possibly be the end of everyone I knew. It could even be possibly the end of the tribes in the forest and the way of life that we all held so dear.
Sheena and I set off into the dark night. We made our way to the ghost town filled with soldiers and our friends and neighboring tribes fighting each other to the death. As we got closer we noticed that there were no sounds of battle, only the sound of eerie, restless quiet. We came to the edge of the trees and peered out into the still town. There was nobody there. There were no tribes, and no soldiers. It was as if time had stopped and removed every person from within the town.
“What is going on here?” Sheena marveled, confused. She began to step out of the trees and into the town.
“No,” I urged her. “Stop. Something is wrong.” Sheena shrunk back into the trees. She had learned by now to trust my instincts. I had been using them for a year, and they had paid off for me every time.
Across the town, in another thick of trees we saw and heard rustling. We watched as members of one of our neighboring tribes tiptoed out of the safety of the forest. They spoke to each other in hushed voices and then their voices began to get a little louder as the complained to each other about misinformation and how much time they had wasted to get here. Sheena cupped her hand over her mouth as she saw soldiers silently creep out of the houses behind them and sneak up on them. We could not warn them for fear they would come to find us, and then we would not be able to send the word out that it was a trap. Instead, we watched in horror as every single one of them was knocked out cold and then tied up and drug into the houses.
“What are they going to do with them?” I whispered.
“I don’t know,” Sheena answered back. “Let’s go and warn everybody before they come here.”
We spent the rest of the night starting the message and spreading it across the forest that the battle at the town was a trap. I hoped that I would find River in my quest, but he never turned up and I realized that he was probably already taken hostage, or possibly killed when he went on ahead of us.
“Don’t worry,” Joseph tried to reassure me when we made it back home to the cave, “they are probably just taking them as slaves. Rumor is that the king is pulling workers from the fields to make more soldiers. They are sweating there in the north. They are running short of food, and people to produce it, but if the king allows people to go back to the fields, then he will be left wide open to attack and he will lose this war. Joby, we are winning this.”
I felt a bit better about the war we were fighting, but it would take me years to get over the loss of River. I never thought I would ever see him again.