Chapter 37: A Call Beyond Reason
Egan turned and assessed the people rushing by him. Most of them were women, children, or the elderly. None could hold a weapon, not even if there were extra to give. The castle armory is too far. Egan shook his head, There must be something they can use. He rushed past the incoming crowds to the eastern archway and portcullis. Two ladders went up from the ground to the turrets on the high wall, but no weapons were stored there either. Perhaps some of the people could slip by in the darkness and scatter across the rolling hills, but not enough. There were far too many refugees fleeing to go unnoticed. Egan gazed up at the dark stormy sky. They’ll be slaughtered like cattle. And I will be the one that funneled them to their deaths. The thought stung him, but he couldn’t escape it. He was a fraud, a child making at war with nothing but a stick in hand. Completely inadequate to the task. Since the Amorites had landed he’d only lost ground and squandered lives. What did you ever see in me? His thoughts dwelled on his father’s face. This night will go down as the blackest in Gilead’s history. Then it struck him.
“How far is Mariselle’s vanguard from us?” Egan asked the soldier.
“Well, the watchmen say maybe half a league. We can see their torches in the distance.”
“That’s ten minutes as the horse rides. Call all the people back!”
“Chief, perhaps our armory has weapons enough for the people to use.”
“And how fast could you run with an armload of them?” Egan replied. “By the time you got to the castle, her men would be upon us. I need you here, helping the civilians find cover.”
“But sir, we have nowhere to hide them! Even if they were to run into the cemetery.”
“They’re not going to hide behind the walls man. They’re going to hide in front of them. Douse all the torches in the archway and the turrets. Have every elder and infirm line the great wall. Tell them to put their damn backs to it! Be sure they spread out, shoulder to shoulder!”
Egan ran ahead to the gateway. “Back all of you! Line the walls! If you can climb a ladder, come to me!” Several women and boys came to his side and he motioned for them to climb the ladders. “Stand an arm’s length apart up there and be ready to make some noise!”
The soldier ran to Egan’s side. “Forgive me Chief, but they’ll be sitting ducks!”
Egan smiled. “Do you think so? Come with me!” He led his man through the gateway and to the outer wall, diverting people away from the gate to line up against the great stone barrier. With hesitant nods and wary eyes, they followed his commands and shuffled shoulder to shoulder down its length, nearly disappearing into the shadows.
“That’s it! Keep going the entire length! No doubling up!” Egan cried and motioned to two of his soldiers to help those who needed it. He nodded to his assistant to follow him as he walked several feet away from the wall. He turned around to face his man. “Now, how many ‘ducks’ do you count from where you stand?”
The soldier bit his lip, and looked, “Hard to say, sir, they’re hard to see in this light, not that there is any.”
“Exactly! And if you’re only a few feet away how much less visible will they be from several hundred yards?”
“Perhaps, but they’re still just . . . ” the soldier began.
Egan turned to the people lining the wall, “People let me hear your war cry! Whoop!”
A few meager yelps reached Egan’ ears. He could sense the fear and confusion the people felt. Egan cleared his throat. “Listen to me and listen well. You know this eternal darkness is unnatural. We’ve all suffered and bumbled our way through it for the last year. But we can turn the witch’s weapon against her! She doesn’t know the number of our fighting men and in that alone, we can make her force pause. So, whoop like your life depends on it! Cry ‘Gilead’ with all your might! Those above, high on the walls, beat your chest and howl! Let their ears hear the mighty roar of your voices!”
The people’s voices raised from a low chant.
“Louder! Louder!” Egan waved at the people on the walls. “Louder, all of you! Put the fear of the Maker into them!”
The howl of three hundred voices came together and, as if orchestrated by an unseen hand, the chant of their kingdom filled the night.
“Gil-e-ad! Gil-e-ad! Gil-e-ad!” they cried in unison.
Egan turned to the soldier. “Now how many fighting men do we have?”
“It sounds like . . . like we have an army!” The soldier’s voice was barely audible over the chanting. “This is unheard of, where’d you learn this?” he asked Egan.
“From a lamplighter. Come, have our soldiers mount their horses and brace for combat. We’ll drive through their ranks as wasps rattled from a hive.”