Looking at my life for the next few weeks, I think this is where this series is going to end for a while. Too many writing and reading projects (My latest master’s class starts today) are eating up my time. I don’t think I’ll actually get chapter 5 written by next week, or even next month. Maybe I’ll put Blessed down as my 2015 goal…
1) Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer.
2) O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? How long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing? Selah
3) But know that the LORD hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the LORD will hear when I call unto him.
4) Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with you own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah
5) Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the LORD.
6) There be many that say, Who will show us any good? LORD, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.
7) Thou hash put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.
8) I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety.
Those who speak of the glories of battle often forget to tell you the pain it is to clean up afterwards. Most often because they were not there; and if they were there, they weren’t the ones who had to do the cleanup. Well, Blessed was there, even if he didn’t actually fight, and he was one of the people who got to clean up. He wouldn’t have had the latter any other way.
Feeding all the Heathen officers from his larder had it quite empty, shelves whisked and dusted clean by his own hand. Nor had his fields fared exceptionally well, trampled by careless feet and hooves. He found himself quite thankful that his livestock had been spared deprivation. The Heathen army had been moving so fast, with an attempt at stealth, that they hadn’t the time to properly forage and plunder him that way. Their no-smoke ban had prevented them from being able to cook any of his animals, and so they were left alone.
That said, Blessed also had a lot of help from the LORD’s army in the cleanup. The edge of the desert became an impromptu mass grave – row after row of heaped mounds, marked with simple stone markers – all fortunately out of sight over the ridge from Blessed’s treehouse. The dead horses were another matter. With the army’s help, and under Blessed’s direction, they actually took care of those bodies first, cutting up the carcases and spreading the meat out to dry and be cured. Horse meat wasn’t the first choice for his pantry, but it would go a long ways toward preventing his hunger until his farm could replace what he lost.
Actually, there was quite enough there, and beyond for his needs. What he couldn’t use, the army would fill its packs with for their next march, and what they couldn’t use, would be taken to the market at the fords. The LORD’s army didn’t plunder or waste – He was very strict about that. And they cleaned up so well that Blessed expected it would take little more than a month for the spring growth to eradicate almost all signs that the heathen had ever been on his farm. The same would not be said about the desert, however. The rows of graves, the mounds of horse bones and remains getting picked over by the renders from the ford, should keep them busy for many a month.
It was the carts of the renders, going back and forth from the desert, across the edges of his farm, the occasional word of greeting and gossip that they passed along, that first raised Blessed’s curiosity and concern. Something was going on at the ford, an after effect of the recent battle, that he had trouble believing. So one morning, before the sun had quite peeked over the horizon, he put on his walking sandals and headed out for the fords, choosing to go on foot instead of by punt.
Blessed would have enjoyed the walk to the fords better if he hadn’t been pondering the news that had motivated him to take this walk. If he had planned on purchasing anything, or taking anything to sell, he would have opted for his punt, but today his limbs felt an excess of nervous energy, energy that the brisk walk only partially dissipated. He found himself swinging his arms quite briskly, almost to the point of flailing.
His mind was in similar excess. It was hard to understand how something as resounding as the victory he had been in the middle of could have generated such negative responses from people at the fords. At least if the whispers and rumors he had heard from the renders were anything close to accurate.
Blessed had been walking for almost an hour before the riverbank started its slight curve to the east, followed by an elbow-curve to the west, squeezing itself between ever steepening banks that left a road about 3-wagons-width wide on his eastern bank. Beyond the curve, the view spread out, as did the river valley, and eventually the river, making the water shallow enough to ford just a couple of miles beyond the bend.
Blessed took his first look at the ford since the battle. Distant though it was he could already tell it was different. The valley broadened and created a shallow bowl as one reached the fords, and the river itself widened and slowed. As Rivers of Waters passed Blessed’s tree, it was already a wide river, and deep, nearly a tenth of a mile broad, and flowing by with a strong, steady current. But the valley allowed the river to spread itself out and slow extensively, widening out to nearly a mile, with banks covered in drooping willows that shaded the road along its banks to the fords.
A town had grown up along the ford. Actually two towns, one on either side of the fords, though the intermingling of family relations between the two had been formalized of late years into making it officially one town. Both towns were close to the ford, but neither one came right down to it. The regular spring floods added a good quarter-mile on each side to the rivers regular width, and were marked by a quick rise of the road from the river valley to the town’s proper of a fathom on either side. Beyond that lip of flood plain on each side, the towns grew in rough half circles, one side flat against the river plain, the other a curve growing up toward the foothills on either side. The western town had greater growth into the foothills, the land being greener on that side. The eastern side slowly tapered off into the desert, where the road made its way from oasis to oasis until it reached the other side of the desert.
Or such was the former view. Even from his first view at the elbow in the river Blessed could see that something was different. Barrenness. That was the first impression. The gradual progression of green and human dwellings was broken. A brown, barren zone of packed earth separated the core zone of the city from the outlying fingers. In that barren zone, something equally brown and barren was going up.
Smoke. Blessed should have noticed it much sooner, for it was visible in the sky, and should have been visible from beyond the bend. Fires, burning something. And even more barrenness. He saw gashes of brown where trees had been, but now had been cut down and dragged toward the city core, toward the barren zone, where the smoke, and presumably the fire, came from.
As he approached the city, and started entering the zone of change, he could see more of what filled the barrenness. Brown bricks, as indecipherable in color as the desert, were being stacked on pallets, readied to be used, for some purpose. The smoke doubtless came from the kilns where the bricks were being made. As he got closer, Blessed could see the pallets of bricks were being stacked up along the barren curve. Within the curve people were digging a wide ditch, a fathom deep, starting at the edge of the flood plain. Following along behind them were brick layers stacking the brick up to ground level, and others packing the dirt back in around the bricks. The flat surface looked like it could make quite a good road, with quite a good foundation, but why would they need to clear so much space on both sides, especially on the side outside the core town? The path cleared for this barren strip cut across many of the older streets of the town, and knocked down the houses and businesses of people Blessed had known for years.
Blessed followed the eastern road up to the bricked ditch. But when we moved towards it to step on the new “road”, someone with a trowel and mattock came threatening up to him to wave him back. “Hey, get off the wall.”
“Wall?” Blessed said. “What wall?”
“You blasted ignorant hill-country bumpkins, the wall we’re building to protect us against invasion by heathen armies.” The man grumbled as he went back to his bricklaying. “Probably doesn’t even know we barely defeated an invasion just over a month ago.”
That was a little much for Blessed. He followed the man back toward his bricklaying. “Hey mister, I got a lot closer look at that invasion that you did. I met the officers and got to be their ‘guest’ for a day – rather they were my uninvited guests for that day. That army never got anywhere near the ford, thanks to the LORD and His army.”
A woman hauling bricks up dropped her cart and came up to Blessed. The woman brickhauler became quite animated. “Then you should know how close we came to catastrophe. We need security, not some last-minute fluke to save us.” She waved her hands at the vision of the wall-to-be. “I was glad to give up my house to build to wall. When it is done, I will sleep peacefully, in security again.”
“But the LORD’s army did save us,” Blessed said. “Just as he said it would. Faith, woman, you need faith.”
“What we need,” said another man, getting into Blessed’s face. “Is a little less faith and a little more substance. This wall is substance. Protection. Does the LORD offer us that type of protection? NOOOO. He’s Mister let-me-waltz-in-at-the-last-possible-moment-to-make-myself-the-hero. Fortunately an accident with a mirror let his army pull it off. You just can’t count on those type of miracles. We need a little less heroism and a little more substance. ”
“Aren’t any of you thankful?” Blessed said. “This was a glorious victory, yet you are responding as if it were a defeat.”
Another bricklayer, not previously in the conversation, stood up straight to stretch and talk. “You wouldn’t talk that way if you’d come as close as we had to being pillaged…”
“But I was ….” Blessed said.
“Me, I’ll put my confidence in this wall.”
“And what a grand wall it shall be,” said someone else. “Right now we’re rushing to get the main wall done, two semi-circles. Trying to convince the west-bankers the east bank is more important – the armies come from this way, after all, hasn’t worked. Each of us to our own. But once the wall is done, the council is talking about towers, bastions.”
“Perhaps eventually uniting the two semis across the flood plain,” another chimed in.
“Diking in the river, dredging and draining it for boats…”
“Building a bridge…”
The conversation lost its confrontational sound as it lost its focus on Blessed. The people went on with more great improvements for their town … no, their city. Blessed slowly drifted away from the talkers, shaking his head sadly. How could they make a defeat out of such a great victory. He’d been there, he’d seen it, yet no one seemed to care what he had to say. All they could see was themselves.
Blessed drifted around the curve of the wall-to-be, and eastward into the foothills at the edge of the desert plateau. The grass and trees had always been tentative on this side of the river, but now, with the clear cutting of trees, and the dragging of timbers across the ground in great gouges, he could see the soil loosening itself. When the infrequent rains came, and came heavy as they usually did, he could see the erosion washing all that dirt toward the fords, muddying the river and making the road impassable without repairs. Not too many seasons hence the desert would be right up against the river, no green zone, a fitting monument to the new city.
The arroyo Blessed found himself in rose to desert level. At the desert edge turned to head north once more, following the edge of the desert, during this, the hottest part of the day, until he once more reached the site of the great battle, and the rows of simply marked mass graves. There he knelt down in the sand, knees burning to their touch, bowing his head in shame.
“Oh foolish people,” he cried, “Turning glorious victory to shame, through your vanity and lies. LORD, let me not forget your protection.”
When Blessed rose once more, he looked over to the nearly-vanished heap of battle refuse. A few carrion birds circled the pile, darting in whenever the guards left by the rending crews got careless. The renders were nearly done hauling it away now. Somehow, it now seemed a fitting symbol for what the town had made of this battle.
Though it was only midday, Blessed trudged back to his treehouse, climbed the ladder, and stretched wearily out on his bed. Soon he was fast asleep. The woman’s concerns aside, he could still lay down peacefully to sleep, knowing who makes him dwell safely.