The Soothsayer

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Chapter 14: The Watchmans' Song

The five-mile trek from where they moored the skiff to the great eastern gate of the city was a quiet one. As they approached the last leg of their journey, Colin walked head down, deep in thought. Balaam kept pace and on his other side, Alexandra walked, studying Colin with furtive glances.

“What troubles you?” she finally asked.

Colin glanced up at the sky, “I feel . . . out of it. Samuel wasn’t kidding about the night being endless was he?”

“No. For well over a year now we’ve seen no trace of the sun, nor the call of a morning bird.” Alexandra stared at the pale moon. “Mariselle’s seers dismiss it as a natural phenomenon, but Samuel thinks otherwise, he says the Logos has foretold this time. In any case, this darkness hangs like a death shroud over the land.”

“Well, what does the scroll say?”

Alexandra paused and recited, “Awake sons of Gilead. When darkness lies around thy door, call upon Joshua’s horn. My servant shall come as before. There’s more to it of course, but I never learned it. Samuel insisted I blow the horn, and for nearly every night, I have.”

“So that was you I heard in the cave? Your horn call?”

“Aye, it may have been. This old conch is the last of Gilead’s treasures, handed down from ancient times. It’s said the Maker himself ventured to the edge of the world and used it to destroy the dark one’s fortress, the Jagged Tooth, at the dawn of time and chained him within the ruins. Our royal line may only use the horn in times of great trouble, to call for aid.”

“Well, I hate to break it to you, but it doesn’t work.” Colin smiled

“I’m afraid you’re right,” Alexandra nodded reluctantly, “I’m not sure how to make it work at all. For the last few days, I’ve seen the horn glow, as if responding to some call, but neither Samuel or I can make odds or ends of it. Perhaps it does more than call to others. In any case, it sits in Balaam’s saddlebag for now.”

“Yes,” Balaam turned to them, “and I truly appreciate having to lug this beacon around for the world to see.”

“As long as it remains hidden in your satchel, you should be fine.” Alexandra sighed. “The moon is dim and this darkness could extinguish a multitude of lights.”

“The land of eternal night. Super. I picked a great time to visit,” Colin mumbled and rolled his eyes.

“Well, you mostly look the part,” she replied. “I wish Samuel had found you some sandals though. Those things you wear on your feet are practically a beacon for trouble. Your home must be a strange place if they’re considered common.”

Colin looked down at his old Adidas sneakers, colored yellow, black and blue. “Yeah, I guess they look weird to you. But this potato sack you’ve got me wearing seems to cover them well enough.”

“This Danan’s point you’re from, what’s it like? Have the Amorites besieged your shores as well?”

“Danan’s? Oh, oh right,” Colin smirked.

“What did I say?” Alexandra glared at him.

“Nothing, forget it. No, no Amorites there, but I suppose we have our own problems. ‘Things fall apart.’” Colin looked up at the walls, now much closer and higher than he had first realized.

“’ The center cannot hold.’ Yes, Samuel has read those same words from the scroll of the Logos. Perhaps our home isn’t so different,” Alexandra mused. “Maybe certain words drift between all worlds, waiting for someone to speak them.”

“Are there many men up there, upon that . . . turret thing, on the wall?” Colin pointed to a solitary figure standing sentinel high on the wall, his figure illuminated by the bits of moonlight that peeked through the clouds.

Alexandra peered and smiled. “The Watchmen, they stand along the wall at night. I thought they’d been disbanded.”

“So, they guard the city? Are they archers?” Colin asked.

“No, they’re volunteers that keep to the old ways. Their duty is simply to wake the people if danger draws near. They carry no weapons, except their voices,” Alexandra replied as they walked into the shadow of the towering city wall. “On quiet nights they will sometimes sing to keep alert. To hear their voices in that fashion is a good omen and a great comfort.”

Colin, Alexandra, and Balaam paused as they heard the solitary figure suddenly sing a verse, and in the distance, they could hear a reply with the second line. Then, a second later, another voice, farther away, chimed in, but still in tune with the others. In this fashion they listened for a few moments to the song of the sentinels:

Beneath the sky there is a wall and I its watchman wary

Listening for my true love’s call, the maiden I will marry.

There she comes around again across the bristling heath

There she is my love, my life, and on her brow a wreath.

Her lips like wine, her hips so fine and buxom round her haunches

Let me rest beneath her pine and climb upon her branches

Let me taste your fruit, my love, until the night grows weary

Leave me not alone again. A watchman’s life is dreary.

Stand with me, my blushing bride. To you I’ll always harken

Bury me right by your side, safe in the temple garden.

There we’ll lie until the day the Potter calls us airy

Till then the ground will be kept sound by watchmen standing wary.

“They sound lonely,” Colin said as he turned his eyes to Alexandra.

“They sing a song of Gilead, a song of longing for completeness.” Alexandra gazed up at the walls.

Colin watched the moonlight glisten across Alexandra’s neck. She was beautiful. If all maidens look like you, I can see why they sing.

She caught his stare and he quickly turned away. She blushed. “Is there something you want to say?”

“Uh, no, no,” Colin stammered.

“Funny, I thought Samuel’s word had softened your stutter,” she said and smiled.

Balaam rolled his eyes and coughed. “We’re close to the eastern gate now, Princess. Let the boy and I continue alone.”

“Yes, of course,” Alexandra said.

“Be safe, Alex.” Colin put his hand out to her. She smirked at the strange gesture.

“I could say the same to you.” She unfastened the belt from around her waist and let her gown fall to her feet. Dusky gray pantaloons covered her legs, and a black blouse with leather stitching on the sides hung loosely from her neck, a hood was attached, which she quickly pulled over her head to cover her hair.

“My lady!” Balaam snorted.

“Not tonight, Balaam. Tonight, I am a shadow that carries Gilead’s hope with me.” She leaned in and kissed Colin on the cheek, “You’re a sweet boy, but you’re out of your league.” She gave him an affectionate squeeze and slipped away into the dense bushes that lined the bottom of the wall.

“I, hey, wait!” Colin called out, but she was already gone.

“Don’t waste your breath, boy. I fear she’s right enough. Samuel should have sent her for such an important task,” Balaam said.

“I can handle myself, and I can certainly handle delivering a note,” Colin snapped as he slipped his hand into his pocket for it. The pocket was empty.

“What the hell?” Colin frantically searched his other pockets. Nothing but the photo of his father and him remained. “I just had . . .” he looked up and realized Alexandra’s affection was double-edged.

“Yes, clearly,” Balaam said. “You’re off to a wonderful start.”

“She can’t go in there! We have to catch her!” Colin exclaimed.

“Do we?” Balaam sighed. “Yes, I suppose if Samuel wishes it, we should. Get on my back. If anyone can outrun her legs it’s me and keep your head down as we pass by the guards at the gate. I’ve enough of a burden watching you two.”

Colin hoisted himself atop Balaam’s back like a rocket and instantly fell off the other side. Balaam shook his head and kneeled on the ground, allowing Colin to secure himself better. Once Colin’s legs wrapped around his sides, Balaam galloped forward through the brush and towards the great eastern gate of Gilead.

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