The rain that had pelted the high mountain jungle all morning stopped abruptly, and the sun gradually dissolved the lingering clouds. Insects hummed again, birds burst forth in joyous song and flowers lifted their dripping heads, spreading their petals wide to receive the sun’s bright blessing. The People, the Faithful Ones, gathered under the banyan tree by the Great Hall to hear Brother Bastion’s words.
After the daily rains, Brother Bastion used to sit with them and teach them. Lately, though, he spoke only from a distance. He was ill, he said, and dared not come too close.
Today, he would not appear at all. He was too ill to leave his cot and would speak only a few words to his beloved people from inside his chamber. Still the Faithful Ones gathered, silently waiting.
As the sun’s rays touched the Blessing Stone, Reuben sounded the cymbal. A moment later, Bastion’s voice drifted, slow and dreamlike, through the sultry air.
“My children, there are those who do not believe, those who will say we are wrong to live as we do. We are not wrong. Some will say we are deceivers. They will say I am a deceiver. We must not let that deter us from our purpose, to serve the needs of others.
“Remember, my children,” the voice crooned, “we are all stewards of this world and must care for one another’s needs. If we each give a little of what we have, just a little, our reward will be great. Take your gifts to Brother Reuben in the Great Hall. He will present them to God, and God will decree where those gifts be used.” The voice trailed off then resumed barely above a whisper. “Give with gladness in your hearts, my children, so other’s hearts may also be gladdened.”
Reuben sighed as he knelt on the rough wooden floor and pulled his frayed prayer shawl over his head. He’d expected, after three years on this land, the colony would be in better shape. The need must be exceedingly great elsewhere for Bastion to ask more from his people. They had so little. But the Faithful would bring their tiny coins and bits of silver, still giving when they had nothing left to give.
“Oh, Great God,” he intoned aloud. “Mighty and Omnipotent One, guide the Faithful in their giving. Supply their needs and grant them peace. Raise our Brother Bastion and restore his health, oh Glorious Lord. To you and to our colony, I pledge my life and my being.”
As he finished his prayer the reed curtain parted, and a man stepped out of the blazing sun into the cool interior of the Great Hall. “Welcome, Faithful One,” Reuben said without looking up.
“Thank you for the welcome, my friend, but I am hardly one of your Faithful.”
The voice was soft, but it sent a shiver down Reuben’s back. He raised his head slowly. “What do you want, Gale?” He glared at the man. “You were sent from this place in disgrace. You are not welcome.”
“Don’t be like that, Brother,” the man said. “Isn’t this a place of love and forgiveness… a place of second chances?”
The curtain parted again, and a young girl stepped inside. “Brother Reuben?” she bowed her head, “I’m sorry to interrupt…”
“Mia! Welcome. You’re not interrupting.” He held his hands out to the girl. “The Faithful are always welcome. Come in.”
She glanced at the stranger as she took Reuben’s hand. “Mother wanted me to bring this like Brother Bastion said. It’s not very much…”
“Your reward will be great, Faithful One.” Reuben smiled and took the small coin. “Is your mother any better?”
“No, Brother Reuben.” The girl shook her head. “She stays the same. She said to tell you she prays for Brother Bastion every day.”
“As do we all, child.” He placed his hand on her head in blessing. “Greetings to your Mother and my thanks. Tell her our prayers are for her as well.”
The girl smiled. “Mother also said you might want to check on Brother Bastion. When Caleb took today’s soup, yesterday’s soup was still untouched on the stand outside his door.”
Reuben frowned. “Oh? Perhaps he is fasting. I’ll see to him.”
When the girl was gone Reuben turned back to Gale. “Now, tell me what you want.” He looked at the tattered shirt and worn boots of his one-time friend and thought he knew. “Go to the kitchen. Claudia will give you a meal. Then leave. I do not wish to see you again.”
“You asked me what I want,” Gail said quietly. “I want you to listen to me. You and your people must leave this place. Men are coming to drive you away… by force if necessary. Bastion has ignored their warnings for too long.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Reuben, Bastion is not what you think. He’s…”
“GET OUT!” Reuben roared.
Instead, Gale sprang forward. He knocked Reuben to the floor, straddled his chest and pinned his arms to the boards. “You will listen to me, my friend,” he said as he struggled to hold the larger man. “I’ve seen the devastation Bastion has wrought, the heartbreak he’s caused. He has started other colonies, Reuben, six of them, and abandoned each one when the people had no more to give him. He is ready to abandon this place, maybe already has. You heard the girl, his food was untouched.”
Reuben fought vainly, kicking and thrashing. “It was for just such blasphemy you were expelled,” he spat. “And now you dare to return asking forgiveness? I curse you, Gale Levaport! You and your children to the third generation!”
Gale laughed. “I am cursed already, you fool.” He stood up, grabbed Reuben’s arm and pulled him to his feet. “Everyone in this colony is cursed. Look around! Have you seen your precious Bastion lately?”
“No. Brother Bastion is ill and wishes to be left undisturbed.” Reuben rubbed his shoulder. “And we know about the other colonies,” he said, lifting his chin. “Brother Bastion told us how the local authorities came in and took over the land, how many of his colonists were killed trying to defend their home and how the rest were scattered and lost, fleeing for their lives.”
“Open your eyes, man!” Gale shouted. “Those weren’t Bastion’s lands. They were owned by other men. He had no right to be there. The colonists had no right to be there. Six times he’s built these colonies, taken everything the colonists owned and given them nothing in return. When the landowners threatened violence, where was Bastion? Where was he each time the enforcers came? Away, Reuben, conveniently away. Six times, my friend!”
“No!” Reuben shouted back. “I don’t believe you! Bastion bought this land at great expense for us, his beloved people. Gale, he’s given us a home and a family when we had none. He’s given us hope and a future for our children. He asks nothing for himself.”
“Oh, Reuben.” Gale sighed, shaking his head. “He takes everything for himself. You’re the Administrator, you have total access to everything?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Have you seen a deed for this property? Of course not, there isn’t one. Tell me, where is the treasury? Bastion holds it for safe keeping, doesn’t he? How are the offerings distributed? Bastion takes them to the city.” Gale put his hand on Reuben’s shoulder. “Where does your food come from, my friend? Only what you can grow or kill. What about your clothes? Look at them Reuben. They’re as shabby as mine. Do you have tools? Books? Radios?”
Reuben’s face grew red. “Bastion promised those things will come in time. For now, he says, our gifts are needed elsewhere. Others must be in dire need, so we wait. We have enough.”
Gale’s shoulders slumped. “You have to leave here, Reuben! The landowners have sent enforcers to evict you.”
Reuben stared at Gale. “What? How would you know that? Unless…”
The reed curtain flew open as three men strode inside, their heavy boots thudding on the wooden planks. One carried a small club in his right hand. “We’ve waited long enough, Levaport,” he growled. “You tried and failed. Now it’s our turn. Where is Bastion Grimsby?”
Gale groaned and hung his head. “I had no choice, Reuben!” he whispered. “I have a family to feed. I tried to tell you…” His voice trailed off. “I’m so sorry, my friend.”
Reuben glared at him then turned to the newcomer. “You are trespassing on private land, sir,” he spoke with more authority than he felt, “and we can tolerate no violence here. I must ask you to leave.”
The club carrier ignored the request and took a step forward, thrusting his face toward Reuben. “Be gone by this time tomorrow.”
“This is our land! We will not leave.” Reuben stood his ground and spoke the words boldly, hiding his shaking hands behind his back.
“Where’s Bastion?” The man stepped past Reuben peering into the shadows.
“He cannot be disturbed.”
The man spun around, raising the club. “Take us to him… now, or I’ll smash your head in.”
Colour drained from Reuben’s face. “Please,” he said, his voice shaking, “Brother Bastion is ill. He really cannot be disturbed.”
The man took a step toward Reuben, lifting the club higher.
“No Jacques, wait!” Gale reached toward the man. “I’ll take you.” He glanced at Reuben and whispered, “I’m sorry my friend. Prepare your people to leave this place.”
Minutes later the man pushed the curtain of Brother Bastion’s chamber aside. The Colony leader sat slumped on the floor, leaning heavily against the leg of a crude table. He wore a loose shirt, open at the front, and a short sarong wrapped about his waist. Both were soaked with sweat and the bloody fluid that oozed from the open sores covering his skin. A small chest lay open beside him, its contents, a few coins, bits of silver and gold, the odd tiny gem or piece of jewelry, spilled haphazardly across the floor.
Jacques and his men pulled back, repulsed by the fetid stench.
Gale sighed and shook his head sadly. “Bastion you waited too long this time. You should have been gone.”
Bastion’s voice was a hoarse whisper. “The price of treatment has gone up. There wasn’t enough yet.”
As Bastion spoke Reuben hurried up the rough stone steps. “Brother Bastion,” he called as he came, “I’m so sorry. I told them you were…” He stopped, staring at the sight within the chamber, then dropped to his knees, a strangled cry ripping from his throat.
Gale bent to the holy man and lifted him to his feet. “I tried to tell you, Reuben,” he said, cradling the sobbing man. “He kept everything for himself, for his own need, but this time his luck ran out.”
Bio: Linda Murray has been involved with WVU for several years. She is working on the Creative Writing Certificate, has take a number of general interest courses and continues a longstanding love/hate relationship with a YA sci/fi novel. Her short story, Zephyr, was published in the first edition of the Village Square.