Jeremiah’s head appeared over the ledge. Dusk had fallen while Ashken waited. A bright moon hung in the sky and lit the undersides of the nimbostratus clouds, which still bled pink from the setting sun. It had taken Jeremiah hours to climb to the top of the wall, and Ashken had waited deep in thought. Ashken did not mind the wait. It had allowed him to sort through what was going on outside the wall. At the bottom of the wall, Jeremiah’s family and Moses and Joseph still waited. Moses’s fears that they had been followed to the wall now appeared unfounded. There were no militiamen out for as far as Ashken could see from the top of the wall. There were hardly any people in the streets either. It was disturbing not to see more people going about their daily activities. Perhaps living near the wall made people cautious, especially with all the reports of outsider activities over the last months.
“It’s a long way up,” Jeremiah said after taking the last step onto the wall. The steps were even and well constructed. They were made of a rubbery-type material that added a bit of a spring to each step. Even with the help, there were many stairs, and Jeremiah was no longer a young man. “I hope you weren’t waiting too long.”
“Yes, it is a bit of a climb,” Ashken said. “But you made it, and I’m glad. You gave me some time to think through what was happening and to try to figure out the next steps. There is much going on, and what’s happening in the council I can see is only the beginning.”
Jeremiah nodded in agreement, but Ashken continued before he could interrupt.
“I’ve never been to the top of the wall. It is a wonderful place, a great place for looking out over the enclave, what our families have built. My father did not think it was safe up here for anyone, and that included his only son. ”
“Tenos was very protective of you,” Jeremiah said. “I can’t blame him. You were his pride and joy. After your mother died, well, you know how he felt after she died. He loved her very much and you were so young. We all thought Tenos would give up on things, on his plans for the great families. Your father was never shy with his thoughts, with what he thought should happen and how they should occur. If it wasn’t for you being there, providing him a reason to continue his great work. You were too small to see how depressed he had become. But somehow with you he managed to continue. Washen’s Enclave owes you a lot for that alone, Ashken. Your father did much for the enclave over the past ten years. He will not be forgotten, you should remember that. He kept us together and strong and kept us on our path to greatness. Your loss is a great loss to the enclave as well, Ashken. We share in your pain.”
“What happened to the Moderns’ machines that patrolled along the top of the walls?” Ashken asked.
Jeremiah smiled and looked around before he continued. The top of the wall was empty in all directions. It was flat with elongated spiked gates running its length on both sides. The gates looked more decorative than functional. He doubted any outsider would be stopped at the top of the wall by the three foot spiked fence. Jeremiah took three steps and turned and sat next to Ashken on the stone ground with his knees up. He leaned back on his arms and he faced the same direction as Ashken, looking out over the walls and past the enclave’s territory. He leaned in closer, lowering his voice to conspirator levels, so low it almost disappeared in the windy evening.
“You have to understand a bit about the council to understand our decisions,” Jeremiah said. The great families in Washen’s Enclave have been breaking apart. There was a time, less than two generations ago, where almost everyone in the enclave could trace themselves back to a great family. Everyone was a cousin of at least one family. They could point back to an ancestor and understand their connection to the enclave. They wanted to make that connection, to pronounce it to the world to make them feel part of the enclave.
“That changed over the years. We were not sure how or why, but the bonds that kept the people of the enclave together were starting to break apart. Your father saw that the enclave was at risk. He was the first to identify the problem in the council. The farmers broke from their families and began working their own land. They no longer wanted to lease and work the lands of the great families. They began to expand into parts of the enclave that had fallen into disarray. There are parts that we don’t talk much about where the great families have not flourished like they have here. It was to those parts that the farmers moved. The great houses that the Moderns built had long since broken down in those areas. The farmers took over the land, and they took over the land without families to sponsor them. The farmers threatened the very order of the enclave.
“And that was only the beginning of it. The outsiders used to have a much bigger influence on the enclave. You were probably too young to remember, but there used to be more traders, traders we let into the enclave to push some of their wares. The outsiders began to encroach on our space. They wanted the right to live and trade all of their wares and goods inside of the enclave. They wanted to bring their wares directly to the people instead of through the governing council and the great families’ merchants.”
Ashken had heard his father talk of this before. Everything had come to a head about thirty years ago. That was when the governing council had passed its strict laws about the outsiders interacting with the enclave’s people. Before then, many outsiders were admitted every year into the enclave. Most of them were refugees who would wait outside the walls for an audience with the council. Those deemed to have the right characteristic or skills were allowed in. The council allowed nobody older than twenty years of age into the enclave to live. They believed that after a certain age, it was difficult for the outsiders to acclimate to the more peaceful and slow life within the walls of the enclave. It was how Deidre Diamond gained entry into the enclave. But Ashken did not understand what this had to do with the outsiders. He knew the great families were protective of the enclave. That was a given. If not for the great families and the governing council, the enclave would have been run over by the outsiders and destroyed generations ago.
“I’ve heard all of this already, Jeremiah. You know my father talked about this history endlessly. It was how he taught me and trained me to take his place on the council. It’s the same way I’m sure you’re training Jessica.”
Jeremiah looked troubled. “If only that was true, if only that was true. No, Jessica will not follow me on the council, Ashken.”
“I don’t understand.”
“But there’s more to understand than that. That is a Friar’s affair, it has nothing to do with the Liebowitz family or the enclave. I’m sorry I even brought that up.”
Ashken did not understand what Jeremiah was talking about. He had always thought that he and Jessica would be on the council together. “I don’t understand. What am I missing here?” Ashken said.
“What did you expect to find when you finally made it to the top of the wall?” Jeremiah asked, his question probing. It had a testing quality to it, as his father used to use when he asked him about politics or to explain why Tenos voted certain ways on the council after he had voted. “Did you expect to see the Moderns’ machines that have kept us safe over all these years? What about outside the walls? Did you think that there would be refugee camps of outsiders waiting to be allowed into the enclave?”
“Yes, all of that, of course. I also expected to see people on the streets today. I did not expect to see militiamen arrive at your house looking for my father. I didn’t expect to be attacked while riding in the carriage to your house. I didn’t expect for Moses to misjudge an enemy, and I didn’t expect my father to die. There is much I didn’t expect or predict, Jeremiah. So stop playing games here. I don’t know what I expect anymore. Ever since my father was attacked on the road by those outsiders, everything seems strange and disconnected. What is it you want to tell me, Jeremiah? You’ve been wanting to talk to me alone for a while now. Tell me what is on your mind. We have much to do, and I want your help in doing it.”
There were sounds coming from down off the wall. Ashken stood up and ran over to the edge of the wall to look over and down. Moses was standing in front of Samantha and Jessica. He had drawn his sword. Joseph stood off to the side. He held his pole. They had set up camp against the wall near the gate. Surrounding the group in a semi-circle were scores of militiamen, many of which held shooters. They pointed their batons and shooters at the group.
Jeremiah remained seated and shook his head. “They’ll be safe, Ashken. The militiamen will not hurt them. Do you think I would order otherwise with my wife and daughter down there? Now, come and sit over here. We still have much to talk about.”
“What are they doing down there?” Ashken demanded. “And what do you know about this?”
“There is much I have to tell you. Your father and I were great friends, Ashken. We had big plans for the enclave. We were the last of the great families’ patriarchs. The governing council has been infiltrated by farmers and frauds. You should know that better than me. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Please, sit down so we can talk about this.”
“First answer me and then we’ll talk. What are the militiamen doing down there? Are Moses and Jessica safe down there?”
“Ashken, calm down. Do you think I would put my daughter and wife in danger? Think for a moment before you accuse me.”
“Whose orders are they following?” Ashken asked. He knew the answer before Jeremiah answered. It should have been clear to him earlier. Jeremiah was the only one at the crowd who was a member of the governing council. The militiamen would only listen to the council, and after it turned on Deidre, Ashken had not thought about Jeremiah’s role. But why would Jeremiah send them here, why to the wall? And how would he even know where Moses would take them? There was so much more Ashken needed to know about what was going on in the enclave. The only thing he had learned was that he could not trust his father’s oldest friend. He realized that he had been a fool to believe that he was a member of the council after his father died. It was not that simple, never that simple. The council was trying to protect itself, and it would have been silly to think that they would believe a seventeen year olds’ thoughts and beliefs would help in any way.
Ashken’s father had always spoken of a strong undertow in the council, something that was not seen by the voting or the discussions in the governing council. His father would not elaborate on that undertow. He said that in time, Ashken too would feel it, since that was the only way to understand it, understand its affects not only on the council, but its affects on the people of the enclave, and the enclave itself. It was not like the Moderns’ machines that protected the enclave. They were tools, and while they had long-term plans, those were still the plans of machines. What the council’s undertow controlled, however, was the very destiny of the enclave and the world around it. Ashken had never understood what his father meant by that. Looking at Jeremiah now, however, he saw the same look in his face. The same complete acceptance of the underlying truth that what they did and how they decided was the most important thing with the strongest consequences.
Ashken did not wait for Jeremiah’s answers. He had heard enough. The politics and the dark undertow, and everything else would have to wait. He needed to get down to Moses. He need to call off the milita. They would listen to him. He was a Liebowitz, and for as many generations as people could remember, the Liebowitz’s justice controlled and trained the militia. Ashken turned and started running down the stairs. He was not sure what Moses and Joseph would do with the crowd, and he wanted to stop any more bloodshed before it happened or risked Jessica or Moses.
“Ashken, wait,” Jeremiah yelled after him. “There’s nothing you can do down there. At least talk to me to understand what is going on. We should discuss this before you do something rash. Don’t you want to know what your father believed, what he wanted from all of this?” Ashken stopped his descent. He did want more information. He craved the information. He wished more than anything that his father was around to explain this to him. To make it clear what it was he had put in motion before he was murdered. Ashken spun around to face Jeremiah. Jeremiah stood at the top of the stairs leading down off the wall.
“Did you order my father’s death,” Ashken asked. He knew there were more important questions to ask, questions that affected the entire enclave. But he needed to know the truth about his father. It was only after he knew what had happened to his father that Ashken would ever feel ready to take on those larger worries.”
“We never meant to harm your father, Ashken. You should know that. Things went . . . well, things went wrong. We expected more from Moses.”
Ashken leaped up the three steps leading to the top of the wall and swung his right fist at Jeremiah. Jeremiah stood there and did not flinch. Ashken’s fist hit Jeremiah on the top part of his right cheek. Jeremiah fell to the ground. Pain flared through Ashken’s hand and up through his arm. It felt like electricity pulsing through his arm. He had never purposefully hit someone, at least not since he had grown past boyhood fights. He had so much anger built up in the days since his father’s death. He thought the punch would make him feel better, but it only made him want to hit Jeremiah more, to beat him down and kick him until he bled and did not rise.
“Why did you want him dead?” Ashken demanded. He stood above Jeremiah, his fist still shaking. There was blood on Jeremiah’s face above where he had hit him. Jeremiah was on his back, leaning up on one elbow. His free hand wiped at the blood. He was moving his jaw in circles, as if trying to work out a kink. He did not look up at Ashken.
“Ashken, what did I tell you? There is much you did not understand. There is much your father and me had planned. Please, sit down and here me out. Do you think I would act alone in this? We had never seen him fail to protect your father. He was designed to protect your father and he should not have failed. We forgot to take into account that all of the Moderns’ machines break down after a time. And then there was Joseph. That was completely unexpected. To think that an old family’s protector would be travelling with that sniveling assassin, it was misfortunate, Ashken. But there are always bigger things in life than what happens.
“I know it’s hard for you to hear this. You think of only your grief and your pain and your loss. I share your loss, Ashken, I really do. But I, like your father, have to think much bigger. We have so much more to worry about. It’s not our legacy or our families that we worry about. Those are important, of course.” Jeremiah stopped abruptly. There was additional shouting coming from the base of the wall. Ashken turned and went back toward the wall to look down. The sound of a shooter going off echoed against the wall and reached them.
Jeremiah started to get up to go to the wall. Ashken turned and held out his hand to warn Jeremiah not to take a step closer. Ashken did not trust him, the man who had killed his father. When Jeremiah stopped moving, Ashken turned around to look down into the crowd. There were more militiamen than before. Moses stood with his sword out. Joseph was standing next to him, and behind the two of them were Jessica and Samantha, at least that was what it looked like from on top of the wall. Even when Moses was at his prime, he could never have taken that many militiamen alone, at least not while having to protect the two women.
Ashken turned to go down the stairs again.
“What is going on,” Jeremiah asked. “What is that shooting about? I hope Moses has not done anything stupid. We didn’t tell him the plan, he wasn’t involved. But he must have seen it by now. Why didn’t he wait for us to come down and relieve him?”
“Maybe they were firing at the outsiders,” Ashken offered. He did not wait for a reply. He took the stairs two at a time and started to make the long trip to the base of the wall.
Word count: 3,050
Words remaining: 15,411 (words so far: 34,589)
Thoughts: It started terrible, but toward the end, the caffeine fought my headache, and I wrote words.