Chapter 24: Brother
Joshua traveled a long way. He had few provisions remaining, so he needed to make a stop at the next village. Upon arrival, he armed himself. These were not easy times, especially for a boy his age.
The villagers appeared unresponsive to their surroundings, almost catatonic. There was no life to be found, nobody really living, just simply existing. The people were downcast and had already accepted death as an invited guest.
Having put away his sword, Joshua walked freely. There wasn’t much there for food. Whatever happened to be there was rotting away. He couldn’t bring himself to barter for their remaining food so he gave what little he had to a woman begging in the street.
He continued to survey the village and came across a small child crying. Next to her was a man breathing his last breath. The sight was too much for Joshua. He knelt beside the little girl. He didn’t have any words, but he was there so she wouldn’t be alone during this moment. The man was gone. She threw her arms around Joshua and they wept together. They were the same; both victims of the cruel world King Greedy had created.
Joshua was full of emotions, but none were stronger at the moment than anger. He waited for her to finish crying.
“Little one, be not afraid,” he told her, “I am your brother now, and you are my sister. What is mine is yours and I will not abandon you. There is hope yet. Do you believe me?”
The little girl nodded in agreement.
“You must wait here. There is something I must do first. Do you trust me?”
Once again, the little girl nodded.
Joshua covered her father with a nearby blanket before marching his way to the center of the village to find the dead soldier keeping watch. As he walked, he pulled his satchel around and removed a bear trap from inside. It was heavy and attached to it was a chain four feet long.
“Hey!” he called to get the soldier’s attention.
The dead soldier turned and made eye contact with him.
“Yeah you, baldy!” he shouted as he set the trap on the ground near him.
The onlookers grew tense. One man tried to intervene.
“Boy, what are you doing? Do you want to get us all killed?”
“And what is it you have to live for?” Joshua shouted back.
The man had no answer so Joshua turned his attention once again to the dead soldier. He picked up a smooth stone and threw it, hitting the dead soldier on the head to antagonize it.
The creature drew out its sword and quickly advanced toward Joshua. Joshua picked up his trap and started swinging it from its chain. He was focused, calm even, as he waited for the dead soldier to get closer. Once it was in range, Joshua let the trap fly from his hands and it landed directly on the dead soldier’s head, giving a loud clamping sound, snapping its neck and killing it instantly.
The onlookers were amazed. Still, some were confused and scared.
“How is that possible?” they asked him.
“It is. Does it really matter how?” he said as he collected his weapon from the creatures head. “Now that you have witnessed the truth about them, it is up to you to make a decision. How will you respond? As for me, I will go to the next village and the one after and the one after to do what was done just now. Spread the word, arm yourselves, and believe. Maybe you will then remember what it is you have to live for.”
Joshua collected the dead soldier’s head and placed it in his satchel before he returned to the little girl from before, but she was gone. His heart sank and he wondered what he could have done differently to ensure she was safe.
He turned to leave and there she stood, a donkey to her left and a woman, the same woman begging in the street, standing to her right.
“My daughter told me what you did and what you said…I also saw what you did just now. I heard you. In the small amount of time you’ve been here, you have been kinder to us and more giving than anyone else since our Kingdom came to ruin. And yet, you are only a boy, but, more so…you are family now. We want you to have our donkey for your journey.”
“Oh, no that is too…”
“No, we insist. My husband kept her fed, I admit, much to my dislike, but now I know why. She is strong and will keep you company.”
“Thank you kindly.”
Joshua strapped his belongings to the donkey and mounted it.
“Before I go, I made promises to my new sister,” he said as he smiled at the little girl, “I will be back for you both.”
“We believe,” the mother said, “There is hope yet.”
Fishers of Men
King Eli planned with the villagers he was with. They needed to do so quickly because they knew another dead soldier, perhaps more, would have felt Princess Elise, a first born, enter the land from the forest. Elise was taken back into the forest along with Hope’s creatures to watch over her. The rabbit said it may confuse the dead soldiers as this would cause them to lose their trace of her.
It was time to build an army and the most efficient and sensible way to recruit for a fight against King Greedy would be to use the river. All of the fishermen were called to go and find as many people as they could, people willing to join King Eli’s army, men and women alike. They were sent out two by two, with no weapons, only the knowledge they had.
Not everyone would accept their message. People were still afraid and found it difficult to trust the word of men they didn’t know and to believe the events they claimed were true. The fishermen expected opposition, so they needed to be tactful in their approach. They couldn’t share too much with those remaining skeptical and they needed to be on their guard against people willing to turn them in to King Greedy for a reward. To do this, they started their conversations with lots of questions, enough to examine the hearts of many and to see if they were willing to give their lives to save others.
After visiting with a village and taking a head count for those willing to join King Eli, the fisherman would make a marker on the riverbank indicating the type of response received by the villagers they spoke to. Should the majority of the responses be positive, they would draw a fish headed in the direction of the water. If the message was for the most part rejected, then the fish was drawn parallel to the river. The fishermen would do this so when they made their way back to King Eli, they could begin ferrying people from the villages and they would know which riverbanks to stop at.
For those willing to fight but living in a village where the majority was not, they were encouraged by the fisherman to walk over to another place where they knew the majority of the people were like-minded. And for those few untrustworthy and unwilling who lived among many ready to join King Eli, they were kept in the dark about the plans and a close eye was kept on them. Even though they didn’t believe it could be done or their hearts seemed too bleak to trust, they were not forgotten. Instead, the believers tried to plant seeds of thoughts and ideas of Hope and the possibilities of fighting together, hoping their faith would increase and would be ready when the time came to fight.
Enemy of Mankind
The fire which King Greedy had set in the forest spread quickly. It was a raging fire, already miles wide, as if the forest was made to burn. The trees were like candle wicks. Even before King Greedy could step out of the forest, he felt the heat from the flames.
There was a mass exodus of animals fleeing the forest, away from the danger. Soon, nearby villages were overrun with them. This created a large frenzy, people trying to stake their claim to the fresh meat. Some were dying for their troubles at the hands of hungrier men.
After arriving to his castle, King Greedy was bitter, knowing he lost his upper hand and he blamed King Eli for it. He was not a warrior king as his predecessor, nor was he skilled at fighting or strategizing. Should both kings go to war, King Greedy would inevitably lose. He was smart enough to know this. Still, he only cared about surviving as long as he could and continuing to force upon others the power he had acquired. Nothing to him was more rewarding, and he would rather die than see it go to waste. He was a willing enemy of mankind, and he didn’t care. He wanted to crush all those inspired by a new belief in the King far greater than himself.
King Greedy prepared for war. By doing so, he first called upon his dead army spread out through all the lands to return to him. Next, he cleared out the surrounding villages, tearing them down and driving out the dwelling scavengers, so he could see all the lands before him. Having a burning forest at his back and clear land in front of him, there would be no surprise attacks. This would be a battle fought head on, his only chance at victory. He was so proud of himself and even felt like a true king because of the superior wisdom he believed he had displayed. As his confidence grew he envisioned himself killing King Eli. He was obsessed with doing so because he was still haunted by the witch’s final words.
All the while, the forest fire grew. Smoke was filling the sky, embers gliding on the winds to the farthest corners of the Kingdom. All King Greedy had left to do was wait for King Eli to bring an army of his own. So every night, King Greedy picked up his fiddle and went up to his balcony overlooking the scorched forest. He would sit and play, watching it all burn.