Outward Into the Wilds
The soldiers circled around the back of us, and we followed the Haji officer out of the Su-Chai arena. We walked out the main entrance past the area where a couple of local food vendors had set up to sell locally grown and produced weeds that they call food in Pan, and out into the main area of the city. But instead of turning left to exit through the main gates we turned right and headed toward the area across town where the siege had taken place that day. We all looked at Boss, but he gave no sign of either alarm or of understanding. Behind them we walked, carrying our things, heading along the main road. It hadn’t been dark for more than a couple of hours and there were still a lot of people milling about and talking. Soldiers were coming and going in all directions. It was a long walk that took us about fourty five minutes, but when we got to the end of the road we found ourselves at the back wall of Pan that had been destroyed across a wide area of the wall. Soldiers were everywhere carting bricks and water to and from the wall, working through the night to repair the hole. The huge stones that made up the fence and the wall to protect the back of the city had fallen and bash down and landed on top of houses, public buildings and shops. You have destroyed huge part of the back of the city purely by knocking buildings over which intern knocked over other buildings and so on. As we got closer they were hundreds and hundreds of people in the street next to bundles of their own positions, things that they had rescued from the houses before they were demolished.
We finally came to a place where the wall once was and we stood there amongst the rubble, looking through to the wilderness outside. The whole area was lit up by several huge pyres in the space where the Jessop army of dead had cleared a long wide path to Pan outside the wall. Whole trees had been dragged into piles and the dead were still being thrown onto the heaps to burn. There were also huge clusters of several hundred dead all tied together by their metal rings. The Haji army had built ramps from logs that went on a 45 degree angle out over the tops of the pyres. They were marching the dead up the ramps and they were falling off their ends into the flames. As we stood watching, one of the dead emerged from out of the bottom of one of the huge fires, with its back burning. The soldiers just rounded it back up, pushed it back up the ramp and back into the fire again, still burning.
The Haji officer stop walking. He then he turned to us but only looked at Boss.
“Why are we here?” Boss asked the Haji Officer.
The Officer turned to face the wilderness and whistled. A couple of seconds of silence were broken with the sound of horses and then we saw out in the distance, between two of the big fires’ light, our wagons. Boss looked at the Haji Officer.
“You can’t be serious?”
“Yes, Mr Fahaar, I am. You and your troupe are a threat to the safety of the people of Pan and although what you do is very entertaining to many the Haji hold a view that your work is unclean and we do not feel that you have any value to either community.”
“So… why can’t we just leave the way we came in? We can head off to New Rome or New Haven.”
“Yes; a very self-driven response. We do not feel that anyone who glorifies the infidelity of the amusements that you purvey, promoting women to behave like this,” gesturing at May with his nose turning up as he did so, “and risking the physical and spiritual lives of the living by bringing the dead in amongst them doesn’t hold any value to any community. So, as a last opportunity for you to redeem yourself, we have decided to hold you to your word. When you greeted my men this morning, and then me later, you offered us your every possession and service to assist in the effort to defend Pan from the attack of the Jessop army. So now, I would like you to do that.”
Boss folded his arms, looked back out at the horses and wagons in the wastelands, and then back at the Haji officer.
“Ok. I’ll call it. How can I be of assistance?” Boss spoke with a confidence most wouldn’t have in that kind of situation. The officer didn’t seem smug or as though he was enjoying any of this. He seemed as though he truly believed in what he was saying, and that he was just doing the world a huge favour by sending us out into the wilderness like he was.
“Out there is a new road. It has been built by the dead and the army of Jessop Kingdom. We do not know where it leads, we do not know that if there are other camps of the Jessop armies out there, that might be about to attack. We estimate that we have killed approximately 400 dead and 100 living Jessops today. But we also know that they destroyed Schmidt down to the last brick, taking with it every human there, as well as every human from Inner Essex and Basin. This leads us to believe that they have anything from 10,000 to 15,000 dead or living to use in the same way they did today; to break down the walls and overrun the cities around Jessop and this includes Haji. Today we estimate that they used between 2,000, 5,000 dead in their efforts to overrun us before they retreated. We need to know how many more they have at their disposal.”
“And… you think they need a circus?” Boss seemed to know that there was nothing he could say that would change the mind of the Officer. His comment was more of a facetious remark that honestly showed that none of us had any idea what purpose sending us out there would serve other than to send us to our deaths. The Officer seemed to be losing his patience with Boss.
“NO! Your job is to go out there, with your troupe, driving as far as you can. You will then come back to me and tell me what is there and we will know what we are up against.”
“And if I refuse?” Boss asked after a long pause.
“The ramps,” the Muslim Officer replied coldly, gesturing toward the long ramps that led to the tops of the pyres. “You need to understand that your name causes us concern too. You may think you are clever, but this isn’t a time for cleverness. While Jordan Towers remains unfound, spying on all our communities and feeding our defence strategies back to King Jessop, we also have no guarantee that you are not all of the names you say you are as well as also being Jordan Towers himself! Since no one seems to know who Jordan Towers is, and we know that the Catholics have paid a bounty hunter a huge amount for his capture, some of which we, and the other communities contributed toward the payment of, we are yet to find the one man who has assisted Jessop Kingdom in learning how to capture, train and utilise the dead as slaves to overrun our communities. So, since you are a man of many faces, we now want to ask you to show us the devotion you speak of, and go out there, and assist our efforts to defeat Jessop Kingdom!”
Boss paused for a moment and looked out at the huge fires. May looked as though she didn’t care either way. The brothers and Ben were standing off to the side listening as though they would just do whatever they were told to do. Alexis stood with his hand on his sword and his other hand on his hip, listening, not interfering. Of all of us he would be the only one who would stand a chance of surviving if we were attacked. But given the numbers we would most likely be up against I don’t think even he would be able to save himself.
“Ok then. I guess that’s it. Let’s go.” Boss said, as he turned, with his head held high, and the yellow fire light from the wilderness hitting his face. It was like walking from a cold dark room into broad daylight. The whole area was so well lit and the fires each threw out such warmth. They were enormous. Each fire was burning at least three fully grown trees as well as mountains of wood debris that had been cleared by the dead to make the road that we were now about to travel. The smoke from the fires smelled atrocious. When we got to the wagons we could see that the cage was still there but it was now empty. I looked in the cage, and I saw on the ground there was what appeared to be a sort of poop. It wasn’t like the kind of poop that I do. It was… kind of… black liquid with chunks in it. I poked it with a stick and saw that there were bits of the different animals in it that Boss was feeding it, but there was also one of its own teeth in there too. I guess it answered the question. They do poop eventually. I climbed onto the back of the pole cart and saw that my plants were still there also and still intact with my seelings in it. I watered them again. One of them had a new bud.
“Ya!” Boss yelled as he threw the reins onward. The path underfoot was quite soft because it was newly turned dirt, but it had been trampled heavily by Jessop’s dead, so it was smooth and firm in places. May sat next to Boss. She got changed in the home wagon into her Patrio uniform and had her Rapier with her. Alexis and Ben drove the pole cart with me, and then the brothers got on the back. We rode until we were no longer in the light of the pyres and then some more until we were sure that we also couldn’t be seen by the Haji. We could still just see the fires off in the distance from where we’d come, but they were tiny yellow dots now. The road we were travelling on seemed to be getting wider and wider, but the trees were also becoming fewer and fewer naturally. We stopped in an area that was as open as we’d seen so far and Boss came back to talk to us with May.
“I’d say we’re about halfway between Pan and where Schmidt used to be. So we’ll stop here and sleep for as much as we can. I’ll take first watch for any dead and Alexis can take second. Can you two take the third from after midnight until the sun rises?” he said, asking the brothers to play their part.
Boss wandered about the area for a while as we made beds for ourselves. I couldn’t find the cot that I like, so I ended up with the one that I think used to belong to Bo. It stunk of old musty smells and tobacco smoke. I strung it under the front axle of the pole cart and climbed inside. I was extremely tired and had a headache. My nose was still very tender to touch. I was hungry and I watched Boss walking about through a burn-hole in the cot and my eyes grew heavy.