“Whoever defends his farmland and raises sons, wins.”
Jedidiah eyes swept across a sea of wheat shimmering in the morning sun against a backdrop of majestic purple mountains, and saw the Hand of God. Chuck, whose words made no impression on Jed, surveyed the same fields, and saw a soft target.
“We’ve cut the roads and railroads,” Chuck stated flatly. “Fuel is precious as blood. People in any numbers gonna have to walk.”
If Jed were listening, he gave no sign. “If they had any brains, they’d wait for harvest, let us do the work.” Chuck spat. “If they had any brains, we wouldn’t be watching the world burn.”
“The Sumerians built their farms and cities on the plains of the Tigris and Euphrates,” Jedidiah spoke to the air in front of him. “The nomadic Akkadians, in the neighboring hills saw, and felt envy and greed.”
“Yea, well, we’re at least a lot less exposed than that.” Chuck had insisted the fields be grown in a fertile triangular debouche backed up to a defile – less ideal for farming, but better for defending. Two of his boys were stationed along the opposing ridges of the only easy way to get in from the west, where any attackers would need to come in single file. So far so good. But facing east was only the downslope to the river; north and south the ridges petered out into the screes on the knees of hills that ran right down to the water. Certainly better than ancient Ur, where, apart from the rivers, there were no natural defenses at all.
“The Akkadians conquered in name only. They styled themselves the kingdom of Sumer and Akkad. Not something a conqueror usually does.” Jed was still looking off into the distance.
Jed’s a fine man, a hell of of farmer and even better father, based on his passel of kids, thought Chuck. When his Helen had died, he knew that he had to be there for their kids. He mourned quick and hard, and got back to work.
He was a deep thinker, never panicked, and always had good things to say. Chuck just wished he could get around to saying it a lot quicker. Best get on with the immediate concerns. Jed would say his piece in his own good time.
“Who’s going in?”
Five years earlier, after much debate, the families had planted a stand of poplars a quarter mile east of the farm. Fast growing and dense, they already looked like a small forest. Some city thugs had rafted down, seen the farm, and attacked. That’s when they’d lost Helen, and Chuck’s eldest, who’d died saving his little siblings.
On the one hand, the trees did make their little hideaway harder to see from the river. On the other, it provided potential cover for a smarter enemy. Chuck had his younger sons carefully make a daily sweep of the forest. It was dangerous, he hated sending them, but it had to be done.
Jed said nothing. “Jed, what do you think?” At evening last night, just as the light faded, one of Jed’s girls on lookout spotted the telltale curl of smoke from a campfire in the poplars a little north and toward the river.
“We go.” Nothing had happened overnight, and there was no smoke this morning. Jed and Chuck had waited for sunrise to decide what to do next. If they did a careful sweep of the forest, no adults would be left at the compound. Neither man was comfortable leaving the homestead defended by their sons, 12 and 13, and even less happy putting arms in the hands of their girls.
Their older boys, 15 and 16, needed to stay put guarding the western defile. That’s where the most serious threats had come in the past, and it wasn’t prudent to expect that had changed.
Elizabeth, Jed’s 15 year old daughter, took over the watch. Good girl, thought Chuck, who had once imagined she could have in time married his eldest son. It would have been a good match. “Our adversaries have changed.” Jed resumed as if he’d never stopped. “We had to fight our way out, then defend against mobs, then against gangs, then against thugs. Over the last 5 years, it’s been desperate stragglers.”
“Yeah, desperate stragglers who can kill you.” Chuck was still haunted by having gunned down a kid with an AK-47 3 years ago. Starving, crazy, but a live threat, that kid would have killed him and his, no doubt – he was actively trying to do so.
“For the people fleeing now, 10 years in, getting gunned down is not close to the worst they imagine could happen,” Jed continued. “We need to realize, at this point, for anyone escaping out here, being confronted by men with guns probably makes them start thinking of ways they could kill themselves.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
After comforting, instructing and arming the other children, the men headed carefully down toward the forest, shouldering a couple Mosin-Nagants they’d liberated at some cost years earlier. Jed headed north, Chuck south, intending to rendezvous where they’d seen the smoke rise.
They figured it would take 30 careful minutes to get there. If there were any threat, they’d assume positions on opposite sides and watch. It would probably be obvious at that point what needed to be done next. At least, they hoped so.
Chuck crept up and peered through the foliage. A dead campfire and a dead man lay on the ground 100 feet away. A very good bird call let him know Jed was also in position. A large man, dressed head to toe in what might have been police issue body armor, walked into the small clearing, a knife to the throat of a woman herding two small, petrified children in front of her. He was followed by a smaller man with a sidearm.
Chuck prayed he was reading this situation right, and took aim. The larger man turned the woman toward Chuck, and was forcing her to her knees. The smaller man drew his sidearm, and held his pistol against the head of the little boy, then pulled the little girl by her shoulder until their heads were aligned with the gun’s barrel.
“Two for one.” Chuck heard him say.
“Drop your weapons and back away,” Jed’s voice, unnaturally calm, rang out. The large man looked around, but kept the knife pressed to the woman’s throat. The smaller man laughed. “I got a better idea. Why don’t you drop your weapon and come on down? Maybe we can negotiate?” The woman gasped, and Chuck could see a trickle of blood on her tattered blouse.
That was enough. Chuck hoped Jed was targeting the smaller man. He let out a whistle, the sign that that things were about to get hot. A Mosin round is not much concerned with trivialities like body armor. Chuck’s shot blew a hole clean through the big man’s throat; he quickly chambered another round, but Jed had already blown the top of the smaller man’s head off.
As Jed and Chuck trotted into the clearing, the woman grabbed the large knife. She ran to her children, leading with the knife like a bayonet.
With horror, Chuck realized she intended to kill them. He was too far to get to her in time!
Jed flew out of the trees, and tackled her just as she reached her terrified children. The knife flew out of her hand. They hit the ground hard. Jed managed to kick the pistol away; Chuck gathered the weapons. The children ran for the trees.
“We’re not going to hurt you!” Jed said calmly, all but drowned out by the woman’s sobbing cries of ‘No, no, no!”
They managed, finally, to get Lydia – that is the woman’s name – and her kids back to the compound, where Elizabeth took charge, got them fed and cleaned up under the watchful eyes of two still armed boys. They buried Alfonzo – that was the dead man’s name – in the woods where he had died. They threw the bodies of the two thugs in the river.
They wiped the dirt from their hands as they stood from the grave, picked up the Mosin-Nagants and headed up to the compound. “The next step is to found a town,” Jed picked up as if the discussion had never been interrupted. “There are people need killing, but there are now going to be more people who need civilization.”
“So, we need to be Sumerians?”
“We need to build something the Akkadians would want, but be a little more cautious about it.” Jed continued, “then civilize them when they get here. Ten years in, and most people in most places have died one way or another. The remainder are either warlords and their troops – or potential allies.”
“But clueless, barbarian potential allies.”
“Right. When our boys are old enough to defend the homestead here, we need to start making a few inquiries up and down the valley. Got to be other farmers, and if they’re still around after ten years, they’ve got their defenses worked out.”
Chuck pondered for a moment. “You think it’s time to switch from defense to offense?”
“I wouldn’t put it that way, exactly. Time to start building. For our kids.”