Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Chapter Thirty-One

A little town. A quiet village. Dawn rises.

A squat, wide-faced man peeks over the town wall. He is propped upon the bird-like shoulders of the candlestick maker, and the balance is precarious, at best.

At first, he grimaces and shuts his eyes tight, so certain is he that the beasts will attack, but nothing happens. Slowly, he opens his eyes, letting in the morning light.

There is nothing there.

He looks around, down the dusty path, across the misty meadows beyond, but other than the lazily drifting gunsmoke, there is no movement. The ground is littered with many of the beasts, to be sure, but they lie still and lifeless.

“All clear,” the squat man says softly. Then he remembers his duty, his important duty, and he repeats himself. “All clear! All clear!”

More of the townspeople lift themselves up over the wall to look about, and the words are confirmed. “All clear! All clear!”

Like a spring shower, a cheer bursts forth amongst the villagers behind the wall. The candlestick maker hollers and jumps, and the squat man quickly falls from his shoulders to the ground.

But all too quickly he is pulled to his feet as the men of the town slap each other on the back, embrace, and kiss each other on both cheeks.

“Good work,” says the leader of the men, a brawny fellow with flowing, dark hair and a chiseled chin. “Good work, all of you!”

There is another round of cheers, and the tavernkeeper’s baritone voice rings over them, “All thanks to you!”

More cheering, this the loudest of all, and the Town Champion basks warmly. “A careful aim and a steady hand, that’s all it takes to repel these beasts,” he announces, and mimes firing his blunderbuss. “Even dead, they’re no match for me.”

“By my count, there’s over a hundred of those creatures that won’t be killing our livestock or snatching our children. Not anymore!”

There is a murmur amongst them the villagers. A hundred kills? In a single night? Anyone would consider this to be exaggeration had it come from the mouth of anyone but the Town Champion.

And in truth, the town has much to thank him for. It had been an endless, horrifying night, but with the morning sun, all of the men stand alive with nary a scratch among them.

It had been the Town Champion who ordered the women and children into the center of town, barricaded safely in the cathedral, after all.

He had been the one to pass out his collection of firearms, enough to stock a small army. It was his idea to divide the able-bodied men and boys into those who would shoot, those who would reload, those who would shine their lanterns, and those who would wield the long poles to repel the beasts back over the town wall.

“And the poles,” says Old Jacques, so feeble he could only shine a lamp, “they were genius. Pure genius!”

“Now, now,” the Town Champion smiles with practiced modesty. “It was simple, really. So simple it was…”

“Genius!” finishes Old Jacques, and he cackles merrily.

The pole-bearers raise their weapons in triumph, and the rest roar another three cheers. Then the Town Champion motions with his hand, and the people fall silent.

“We must let the women know they’re safe. But I still want men at the ready, a dozen of them, watching the wall for when more of the beasts arrive.

“In the meantime,” he looks around quickly and finds the baker (who shined a lantern) and the butcher (who, with his strong forearms, had been assigned a pole).

“You two,” he points a broad finger in their direction, “we must eat. Start preparing food. Enough for the whole day! Enough for the whole town! Tonight, before sundown, we will feast!”

The two nod eagerly and rush down the familiar streets to their neighboring stores. The butcher still carries his pole. One day, perhaps, it will be considered a badge of honor.

The Town Champion smiles at his plan. There is only so much time before the meat spoils, he concludes. And an afternoon feast will help prepare everyone for another gunpowder-filled night. And it will certainly help with morale. Yes, he thinks, a most wisely thought-out plan.

Meanwhile, he’s given himself the honor of letting the womenfolk know the good news. After wetting down his hair, he proudly and decisively knocks on the cathedral door three times, the sign that all is well.

The cathedral doors open, and silhouetted against the sun is the brilliant figure of the Town Champion. If he’s spent a sleepless night, the women can’t tell.

And his henchman, the squat, wide-faced man, clambers up the church tower to ring the bell, to let everyone within earshot know that this little town, this quiet village, is still safe from the beasts.