Raven

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CHAPTER 30 – Summons to Appear

The ivory of the Renaissance dagger’s grip, channeled with twisted silver wire, felt warm and comfortable in Matti’s hand, fitting well in her grasp. She raised the double-edged blade to eye level and decided the edge could use a bit more honing. Not that it was dull. Both edges were already sharp when Nate had given it to her. She just liked to work the whetstone along the fine steel. The straight cross-guard spanned a full four inches at the base of a blade just over an inch wide. Fine, sword-quality stainless steel tapered from the cross-guard to a needle-sharp tip a full twelve and a half inches away. Seventeen and a half inches overall, it reminded her of a graceful and deadly rapier. Ravensclaw, she named it.

It, and another dagger very similar and only an inch shorter, were more of Nate’s finds in the ashes of his friend’s house. He had given the other knife, another beautiful, double-edged weapon that also had an ivory handle, to Rachel. He claimed the place had been like a museum with every wall in almost every room of the huge, old mansion containing fine replicas of weaponry, armor, and even clothing and home artifacts. Fortunately, many of them had been encased and partially shielded from the inferno’s heat.

When Nate had given it to her, he credited old Tom, whose body he hadn’t been able to find, with instilling in him the belief that a good blade was a weapon first, a tool second, and an object of beauty, third. That was why Nate said he didn’t feel like a grave robber when he salvaged whatever swords and knives he could. The owner had firmly believed that a good blade deserved the respect of being given a new life, if possible, when the old one ended. He said the old guy had preached that it was terrible the way so many wonderful blades throughout history had been buried with their fallen masters in a misdirected show of respect. Real respect, he maintained, would be to allow the fallen fighter’s weapons to pass on to others who could put them to the use they were intended.

According to Nate, Tom was in his eighties and would have had a pretty hard time surviving in the changed world even if he had survived the initial attacks. Still, he said, he missed his old friend.

Nate had shown everyone a few basic moves for countering attacks by knife and club-wielding adversaries. Except for occasional practice bouts of staff against staff, he had insisted that everyone become proficient in fighting against weapons they were more likely to actually encounter. And, he had pointed out, few of the foes they were likely to encounter would even know what a quarterstaff was. However, as Mickey had demonstrated on more than one occasion, knives and clubs were a different story.

It was two weeks since Billy Ray had met his first quarterstaff, and his skill with the twirly thing was increasing daily. Pistoning his fists to flick the ends of his staff at both of Charlie’s sides too fast for the smaller man to defend against, Billy Ray used his size and strength to overwhelm his foe. When Charlie finally went to his knees, holding his axe handle over his head to fend off as many of the blows as possible, Billy Ray suddenly stopped his attack.

“Damn, did I hurt ya?” Matti detected a sincere note of concern in the brute’s voice that matched his widened eyes. “I tried to pull ’em up short.”

Peering out from beneath his still raised weapon, Charlie grinned as he muttered, “Hell no, you big ugly. I just wanted to give you an even chance by fightin’ from my knees.”

Billy Ray burst out laughing, reached down and pulled Charlie to his feet as easily as lifting a child. “Come on, I’ll buy you a beer. Hey, you remember that time –?”

Matti smiled from her perch on the back steps as the two friends settled beneath their shade tree. She envied Vonnie, even though the woman often shook her head at Charlie and his buddy. But, she recalled, Vonnie usually had a smile, too, when she wondered aloud to whoever was near how she had come to be saddled by, not one but, now, two such juvenile characters.

Evan and Leroy still went at it further back closer to the old carriage shed near the alley. Leroy was a natural teacher, even of a skill in which he, himself, lacked any special finesse. Evan had soon immersed himself in the purely physical pastime, often working himself into such a sweat that his friend had to force him to take a break. Today Leroy was trying to help Evan with a move Nate had shown them that involved flipping the staff end for end. Billy Ray had laughed, at first, again claiming Nate was trying to teach them all to twirl majorette batons, but this time it was clearly in jest. Apparently, he could see the value of such a move. Matti recalled seeing such a move in which a hoe had deflected a swung baseball bat before slicing through the opponant’sthe opponent’s jugular.

“Matti!” Rachel huffed out as she and Jared scrambled over the spiked fence from the sidewalk. “Is Jason around? Or The Judge?”

“In the kitchen, I think,” she replied as she leaned sideways to make room for the pair to scurry past and through the doorway.

What’s got them so excited?

She noticed Jared gripping a folded piece of paper and followed them inside. They found The Judge and Jason in the kitchen talking with Erin and Claire.

After The Judge and Jason both read the hand-lettered page, Jason asked Jared, “And someone said this was today?”

“Yeah, this afternoon.”

“I’ve got a funny feeling about this,” Jason said to The Judge as he handed the paper to Erin.

Matti grimaced. If it gives him a funny feeling, it gives me one, and I don’t even know what it says. She stood at Erin’s elbow and read:

IN ORDER TO ASSIST THE REGIONAL AUTHORITY OF CALIFORNIA IN RE-ESTABLISHING LAW AND ORDER IN THE AREA, ALL PERSONS ARE INSTRUCTED TO REPORT TO THE HIGH SCHOOL FOR THE PURPOSE OF PROVIDING CENSUS INFORMATION. ALL PERSONS ARE REQUIRED TO SUBMIT NECESSARY INFORMATION IN PERSON.

NO WEAPONS ALLOWED

“It may sound a bit harsh,” The Judge replied, “but it could simply be that they want to establish who’s in charge.”

“Still, if it’s just for taking census, why can’t the sick and injured be left at home? They could still be counted. It’s not like someone is going to give a bunch of phony names so they can collect more welfare. And, what’s the deal with not bringing weapons?”

“Well, they could just want to avoid armed disputes where they’re trying to conduct business.”

“Yeah, and maybe there aren’t any bad guys where they come from to ambush folks on their way across town. But there sure are here.”

“Jason, I know I sound like I’m making excuses for them, and I guess I probably am, but it’s just that I have had such high hopes for such a long time that something like this would come about. Perhaps things aren’t as bad as we first thought; perhaps we aren’t going to be plummeted into decades or centuries of savagery and barbarism where it’s a constant kill-or-be-killed struggle. Perhaps there is still enough civilization left for us to have some kind of life. And, someone has to be in charge.”

“Sure, we all want to return to the security of some kind of central authority, but we still have to be careful. These circumstances are ripe for some wanna-be tyrant to step up and say he is in charge now and everyone has to do his bidding.”

The Judge asked, “Jared, did you see the person passing these out, or did you just find it on a pole?”

“Yeah,” the boy said, “we saw him.”

“Did he have a uniform or anything?”

“No. He looked just like everyone else walking around. I’ve never seen him, but he could have been from around here.”

The Judge said, “But, that doesn’t mean much, either. The Authority could have sent word ahead to get local people to announce when they would be arriving. They may have to cover a lot of area with just a few people.”

Jason turned to Charlie and Billy Ray who had followed them in when they saw Jared and Rachel in such unusual haste. “Find Nate, would you?”

Then he turned back to The Judge and said, “Okay, I’ll buy your reasoning, but only to an extent. But we can’t have everyone take off across town with no weapons for protection. We’ll keep ’em under wraps, and if it looks okay after we get there, we can discard them before going in.”

Turning back to Charlie before he and Billy Ray got to the door, Jason said, “Tell Nate we’ve got a situation and to gather up his shovel handles and whatever else you and the others have gotten good with.”

He glanced at the wind-up clock on a shelf and added to The Judge, “It’s noon, now. I don’t like being rushed like this. I’d feel a lot better if I could go over there by myself, first, and talk to whoever it is that wants to take our names – just to be sure we really want to give them.”

“Who? Where?” Charlie asked. “What’s going on?”

Jason handed the poster to him and said, “Show this to Nate when you find him. And tell him it’s this afternoon.”

Charlie scanned it with Billy Ray peering over his shoulder. He said, “Come on, big guy. Nate said he, Leroy, and Evan were going to check his friend’s house again, but that was a couple of hours ago. They might have gotten tired of digging through ashes and went somewhere else by now.”

Matti, Rachel and Jared went with Charlie and Billy Ray in case they needed to fan out in their search. But it wasn’t necessary to search; half a block from the Victorian, they met Nate and the other two struggling with their loads. She was glad she had gone along when she saw what the old warrior had discovered.

“Tom had them cached in his basement,” Nate announced as his excitement caused him to fumble with the knot he had secured the bundle with before starting back. “He had a big box with an elaborate –”

Matti could tell from Nate’s excitement and the sound of metallic clinking and clanking that the bundle contained more than a few weapons, probably swords.

Charlie said, “The Judge and Jason sent us after you. They want –”

Laying the bundle down, Nate un-wrapped it and let the contents spill out on the ground. He continued to describe his search right over Charlie’s words. “… and unusual hinges that I recognized as soon as I –”

“… you to get back as soon as –” Charlie continued.

Billy Ray reached over and picked up one of the many weapons from the pile. Even with his huge hands, the long handle could easily accommodate both. The double-edged blade extended a foot longer than normal sword-length, and it was wide and heavy below a foot-long cross-guard.

“That’s a two-handed Scottish Claymore, Billy-boy, over five pounds of good steel – fine weapon. Takes a strong man to wield it.” Then, before resuming the description of his search, he remarked on Jared’s pick, “And that’s another fine choice. Beautiful, isn’t it?” He went on trying to explain to his friends the value of his find. “Careful, too; they’re sharp. These blades are of the finest –”

“Nate! Nate, listen!” Charlie finally got his attention by shouting. “Something has come up. Here, read this.”

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