Balance of Power

Balance of Power

It was the time of the Vernal Equinox. According to the Curators, who remembered and recorded everything that got remembered or recorded, it had been 100 years since the annual Spring Flings had begun. The first Bard, Beau, had written his first song in honor of that occasion, and the community, which at that time only included the folks on Blue Slate Mountain, had gathered together to feast on homegrown foods and drink homemade wines, and listen to homemade music.

The youngsters couldn’t understand why they were celebrating ‘homemade’ anything. After all, every blessed thing they had in their world was homemade. However, they didn’t say anything, or not in front of the Curators or their parents or other adults; they appreciated any excuse to celebrate anything.

Maisy was the Head Curator. Her grandfather, Tim, had followed in his father Adam’s footsteps, in that he was interested in ‘preserving history as a heritage for future generations’, which was part of the description of Adam’s job in the old days. Tim’s daughter, Misty, had also continued that pursuit, inspiring Maisy with her own passion for preserving the past. Preservation had its own rewards, although few people were interested in finding out what those rewards were.

Maisy had never married; preferring the old musty records to the silliness of her peers during her youth. As her generation had grown older, her companions had started their own families, leaving her and a very few others alone with the records. She was not unhappy, though; she had made the decision, herself, to become a Curator.

Maisy’s dog, Margo, napped at her feet. She was a Black Russian Terrier, one of the few full-blooded breeds that still existed, to ensure bloodlines for future breeding purposes. Most of the dogs were mixtures of various breeds – with mostly Doberman, Irish Wolfhound, Newfoundland, Husky, Boxer, and Golden Retriever genes, as well as Black Russian Terrier – from the whole, or fertile, dogs living in the communities at the time of the ‘end’.

Lane, Maisy’s father, had been the youngest son of Ramon and Lydia, who were teens at the time that the old society fell apart at the seams. He had been born nearly a decade after the Great Blackout, the event that had toppled civilization as it had been known. Lane had been a favorite human of the great Black Russian Terriers that his father had saved from the mobs at the pet store when the Great Blackout brought down civilization. Maisy knew all of the details of that Adventure, as she called it in her mind. The pups that Ramon had saved had become his by default; they’d originally been ordered by somebody who had never shown up to claim them, and he’d raised them and their offspring to be loving and useful companions.

Ramon was a city kid who had moved out to their hill in the suburbs just weeks before the Blackout. He was working at the pet store where the legendary dog trainer, Denis, worked and where Denis and Erin, a veterinarian, had met. Denis and Erin had trained all of the dogs at Cedar Ridge during that last summer before the end, and the dogs had saved their owners from the mobs that ransacked the area afterwards.

Margo and her kin were often used to pull travois, laden with game or supplies, or to move people. Today, Maisy would be traveling to the Teepee by travois, courtesy of Margo. Other folks would go on foot, walking beside the llamas, which were their pack animals. Talia was the lead llama handler. The llamas, along with two of the children of their original owners, had been rescued by a group of people who had hiked for several weeks into the mountains when their development, an exurb of DC, had been overrun by starving people after society had collapsed. The llamas were part of the operations of a ski resort that had expanded to include camping trips along the mountain and a river gorge during the warm months. The llamas had served as pack animals for these excursions.

When Talia’s great grandfather, a teenager at the time, had reached the high meadow where his people found the llamas and alpacas, they had also found two young girls who had survived an attack on their family. Trey had married the older one, and Talia was a direct descendant of those two. They had found the people at Shawnee Campground, and it’s kitschy Teepee, three years later, following an old Native American trail. How fitting that it was known as the Iriquois Trading Path, because trading was mostly what they also used the trail for.

Margo pricked up her ears at approaching footsteps; somebody was coming to the Records Room. A head appeared around the open door to the Records Room. It was Noma, of course, one of the few members of the younger generation who had any interest in the Records.

“Hi, Noma.” Maisy called out as the youngster appeared, her GoldenDobie, Sparks, at her side. “Is it time to leave for the Fling already?” Maisy easily lost track of the time these days, but she needed to be at the Teepee for this occasion. She’d be naming the new Head Curator to replace her so that she could step down.

Maisy’s eyesight was getting dim, her memory unreliable, and she just didn’t have the energy that she’d once had. This winter had really been hard on her. Although winters were generally shorter these days, they had become much more cold and snowy while they lasted. The lack of oil supplies had changed their lives in more ways than the elders had expected, according to the surviving records.

Noma nodded as she helped Maisy wrap up the precious paper. They made their own paper now, out of sawdust and fibers from plants that they grew themselves, but it was a long process. She had worked on this batch for the past several days; soaking the wet mass of fibers, pressing out the excess liquid, and then spreading the sheets out on flat surfaces to dry. Concrete worked best, but there were fewer suitable surfaces left intact every year.

“Are you ready for the trip? We’ll be leaving soon.” Noma busied herself as she talked, grabbing Maisy’s overnight pack from a corner.

“I just want to wrap the last of the paper. These sheets have finally dried, and I don’t want to run out.” Maisy told the girl as she finished tying packets of paper to use to barter at the Fling.

People prized her paper, using it only for the most valued purposes. Sometimes young lovers would draw or paint pictures, or write poetry for each other, on the beautiful sheets. There were artisans who would draw or write for a small fee, but most people preferred the personal touch from their admirer. The Spring Fling was known for courtships, as well as for trading goods, music and singing, and of course, feasting.
Once Noma had finished helping Maisy gather her things, they left the building for the ‘barn’ where leather straps and reins were made and stored. This was actually a former dwelling, as all of the buildings in the community were.
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The Cedar Ridge community was merged from two former suburban developments at the top of a hill. The present residents’ ancestors had adapted the flimsily-constructed buildings to fit their new lo-tech lives by dismantling those units which were totally non-functional after the end of central air conditioning and central heat. They had dammed the culverts that allowed rainfall to drain into municipal sewers so that they would have water to use, and ran pipes from the ponds to those homes that were downhill from the ponds. Toilets could be flushed, although they had to drain the sewers into a wide field of pebbles along the ravine so that they could filter. Water flowed from the faucets in the sinks after they were done, although it had to be boiled before ingesting.

The first winter, according to the existing records – diaries kept by a few of the community’s residents – was very difficult for the survivors. After having fought off incursions by hordes of starving folks, many of whom had turned to cannibalism, they had had to crowd together into the few homes that could be kept warm. Although many of the units had gas fireplaces, which could easily be converted to burn wood, the fireplaces were generally located in ‘great rooms’ which were impossible to heat without using prodigious quantities of energy. These homes were built for cheap oil.

Not only were the homes themselves wasteful of energy, but also the structure of suburban life in the old days had required using a lot of oil in the form of gasoline to get to work, or to go shopping for food; which had been shipped in diesel trucks, for thousands of miles depending on the season. Children had to be carpooled to play with their friends or to participate in other social activities, which used even more energy.

Maisy had only a dim idea of the meanings for some of the things written, or told, by the elders, the folks who had lived in that high-tech era. They had tried to educate their offspring about the old life, but it had little relevance for them, who were living much simpler lives, with no expectations that the old days would ever return.

Pheasant Ridge, the pretentious name of the upper development, had been more prepared than many communities to survive on their own. The residents had begun planting community gardens, as well as training their dogs, during the last few years of the ‘old times’. A few forward-thinking folks had convinced the rest to prepare for tough times. Most developments hadn’t been prepared, and the residents likely ended up starving to death and/or ending up in somebody else’s stewpot. Some displaced people had found shelter at Cedar Ridge, which they called the merged communities of Pheasant Ridge and Cedar Heights, the development between Pheasant Ridge and the shopping center below, or to other surviving communities in the area. Maisy only knew of a few surviving communities – all of them in the foothills of the mountains. One of the ‘elders’ had insisted that there were people in the City who would have survived, but nobody had tried to find out. Yet.
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Maisy finished arranging the straps on the travois and around Margo, making sure she was comfortable. Margo was getting up in years along with Maisy; she was Maisy’s fourth dog.

So many of the incursions that the original Elders had fought off had involved the raping of women and children that the next generation had decided to deliberately pair each toddler with a puppy. As the two grew up together, they would look out for each other, defending from any harm. This was considered sensible for many reasons; chief of which was that rape would cease. Even within the community, there had been occasions of domestic violence and bullying — sexual and otherwise. Although most of these incidents had been perpetrated by men, there had also been instances of women abusers. Having dogs as lifelong companions for everybody soon put an end to any kind of coercion.

Maisy couldn’t imagine living without her canine companion. She, as all females and males in their circle of communities, was able to stand free from any abuse because she had Margo to back her up. It was such a simple, but elegant, solution to the age-long quest for equality, Maisy wondered that nobody had ever thought of it before.
As Talia, the llama handler, checked the loads on all of the llamas, folks began walking along the trail – now a road, really — that led from Pheasant Ridge Point to the Teepee at Shawnee Campground and beyond, to the communities on the other side of the mountain. Maisy got herself strapped into the travois. Up until two years ago, she had walked with the rest of the younger folks, but today she was grateful for the ride.

While she watched the woods slip away behind her, Maisy thought about who she was going to name as her successor. There were several candidates, and all were equally able to take over the leadership position, but Maisy wanted more than just capability. The Curator role had evolved into the chief leadership position of Cedar Ridge, as well as the other communities in their circle; now known as the Tri-Mountains, which were comprised of Blue Slate Mountain, Big Bear Mountain to the west, and Snowtop Mountain, where the llama herders lived, to the southwest. Curators had become so important because the leaders continually looked to the Records to see what was done in the past – more as a warning of what not to do than as a model for them to emulate.

Maisy sighed. She couldn’t decide until she talked to the other leaders. She had an idea that the leaders should be female – men had screwed up so much, throughout history, that she couldn’t see letting them take over again. After all, with the dogs as guardians, even smaller and weaker women couldn’t be intimidated anymore. Politics had become much less important as security became a given, not a prize to the highest bidder. People could concentrate on really tackling the issues that they faced instead of posturing for future advantage and influence.
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Shortly before dusk, the Cedar Ridge folks arrived at the Teepee. Built during the mid-20th century, it had been a piece of American kitsch. However, its very uniqueness had drawn some valuable folks to the campground, folks whose efforts on behalf of the Campground had enabled the community to survive the hard times after society collapsed, as well as to help the community thrive in these new times.

The rest of the celebrants had already arrived by the time that the Cedar Ridge contingent got to the campground and settled in. Maisy sought her fellow Curators as soon as she had unstrapped Margo from the travois, and dropped off her pack in the cabin designated for Cedar Ridge.

Dahlia was the leader of the Wildcat clan, the remnants of a Native American tribe which had lived in the area since before colonial days. There were two white families who had intermarried with the Wildcats. One of them was the family that built the campground, and the other had been among the first settlers to move into the then-western frontier. The Campground family was currently headed by Reba, a member of the fourth generation since the end. Her predecessor had succumbed to an especially viral flu several years ago, and Reba had been overwhelmingly voted into the leadership for the Campground community.

The other family lived near the Campground, on a former farm turned into horse ranch. They had taken in many of their less fortunate neighbors as civilization had crumbled, and had defeated several attempts of intruders to take over the property. Farly was the current leader of the Moonshine Ranch community.

One of the early mixed blood sons had bought the clan’s traditional lands, or as much of the territory as he could, to preserve it for his native relatives. The clan had adapted some of their ways to coexist with the immigrants, but kept the majority of their traditions. Having sampled the ‘white man’ culture, they could make informed decisions as to how to live their lives. The overwhelming majority had preferred their own traditions to the European, or ‘American’ way of life.

Another group of suburbanites, in a development across the old highway and over the creek from the Moonshine, had survived the initial assaults from starving mobs, only to find that their neighborhood was unable to work together in the long run. They had been absorbed into the other surviving communities.

The Llama herders were based many miles away. They had become valuable trading partners, and had intermarried with the other groups as well. Currently led by Dyad, they were using llamas for transportation, and alpaca fiber to make cloth. Their high elevation shortened the growing season, so even though they were technically south of the Blue Slate Mountain folks, they depended more on trade than the other communities did, to obtain some of their food as well as other supplies.

The only other surviving community that Maisy knew about was located on the near side of the next mountain over. Several retired truckers had been living on that land, and they had joined forces when it became impossible to go on as before; they had been working towards self-sufficiency and merely needed to coordinate their efforts to continue to sustain their lives and property. Stemi, Maisy’s younger brother, was in charge there now. She only saw him, or any of the Big Bear Mountain folks, a couple of times a year.
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The inhabitants of the Shawnee Campground had huddled in the building known as the Teepee during that first harsh winter, but had dug caves into the southern-facing hillside near the Teepee so that they could take advantage of the insulation provided by nature to not only stay warm in winter, but also cool in summer. Their open southern walls were filled with windows and planter boxes, adapting the Cedar Ridge concept of utilizing the sun’s heat and light for greenhouses that would help feed them.

Maisy, Reba, Stemi, Farly, and Dyad, all of them grandchildren of those who’d lived through the collapse, who had actually heard stories of the old days from the survivors themselves, met in Dyad’s home to discuss Maisy’s successor for Cedar Ridge. They met in the garden room, taking advantage of the warmth there after being bathed in the rays of morning and early afternoon sunlight.

Maisy began by summarizing where she saw them as a culture, and the part that each separate community played in keeping their culture going. Each had similarities, but also differences in how they had evolved.

The Cedar Ridge community had gotten off to a very good start, and had the most diverse gene pool, but was becoming seriously unfocused about working towards the future. The latest generation seemed to be uninterested in learning to read or do simple math, let alone preserving the old knowledge.

“Maybe they just don’t see any relevance for their own lives,” Maisy ventured. “After all, all any of us know about the old days is what we’ve been told, or read about. I’m not entirely sure that the youngsters are wrong in thinking that they need to change the focus of our society. My main focus in studying the past is really to avoid making the same mistakes. There’s got to be a better way.”

“We’ve had the same issue over at the Moonshine.” Farly commented. The others nodded their heads in agreement. “The youngsters just don’t care about the same things that we were taught to value; maybe we’ve failed them.”

“I don’t think it’s that, but I do think we have a serious issue.” Stemi, the only male in the group, offered his opinion. “How do we motivate them? Or should we? After all, it’s their world, or will be in a few years. They’ll grow up someday, or not; build a future or fade away into history.”

“That’s what I’m talking about!” Maisy exclaimed. “None of our children’s generation – at least in my community – cares about preserving the past. Right now, I have exactly one young person, who is still a child, really, interested in Curator activities. A girl, by the way. It’s time for me to step down. What should I do?”

“Well, you know what has to be done. Your protégée will have to take over – she’s the only real candidate.” Reba suggested.

“Well, it’s not quite that simple; Noma is only a child. Shouldn’t the next leader come from her parents’ generation?”

“Noma — isn’t she one of Heather’s descendants?” Farly joined the discussion, recalling the legendary girl who had been one of the victims of rape and abuse that characterized many women’s experiences, even before the rioting and chaos of the end. She had overcome her trauma, but abhorrence of rape had been a major characteristic of her suburban development community before it dissolved, the inhabitants dispersing to various neighboring communities and taking their beliefs and attitudes with them.

“She comes from good lines; not that any of us don’t, but she’s also related, on her father’s side, to Maria, who saved her folks at the ‘end’ and Stone, one of the Wildcat truckers, who began warning folks to prepare for collapse, based on his observations as he travelled the interstates? With that pedigree, I’d be surprised if she wasn’t interested.”

“Well, her older brother doesn’t seem to care.”

“What do you expect? He’s a male. Apologies to you, Stemi.”

Stemi nodded his head in acceptance of the thought that men, in general, seemed to prefer living in the moment; with an eye to the future. Maybe it was something in the genes, or hormones. Unlike most of his male peers, Stemi enjoyed learning about life before the end.

“This brings me to my next thought.” Maisy continued. “Should we go a step further and declare that only women should become Curators?”

“Could that possibly work?” Dyad asked, almost in a whisper. She, along with nearly everybody else in their circle of communities, had rejected organized religion for being too much of what it supposedly preached against. Not that she was without a moral sense or reverence for life; she merely thought it should be taught as the right way to see the world, without framing it in rites and rules. “All of our traditional social systems took male superiority for granted. Well, all except for our Native American cousins.”

“So, we need to do some soul-searching and engage in debate about all of this. I would like to concentrate on this issue after I step down, and I will definitely name Noma as my successor.”

Maisy felt a heavy load lift from her shoulders as she made those two decisions. They all filed out of Dyad’s home and returned to their respective camps to prepare for the feasting which would begin in a few minutes.

Soon, Maisy joined the rest of the Cedar Ridge contingent in the Teepee, which was filled with long tables of food, and hundreds of people. The dogs were relegated to the outdoors for the moment, but would rejoin their humans after the feast. While the people ate roasts, veggies, breads, and desserts, the dogs had their own feast – of bones, meat, offal, and other delicacies.

After everybody was fed and settling into blankets and cushions around the stage, the kitchen crew put up the perishable foods, and the dogs were allowed in. The musicians and singers took their places on the stage, and the evening’s entertainment began. After hours of good music and camaraderie, washed down with wines and various brews, the festivities concluded their first night. The following day would mark the actual equinox, and there would be a ceremony to mark the occasion. That wouldn’t happen until evening, though. The daylight hours would be filled with people visiting those they seldom had contact with, trading their handicrafts, planning future deals, and other important social business.

A council, comprised of the Curators, the oldest elders, and their ‘apprentice’ leaders, convened during the afternoon, while the cooks prepared tables of food again, and the young people renewed old friendships, forging bonds with certain favorites for future ‘matings’.

That evening, after the time of sunset was duly recorded, making the Equinox official, the four-year-old children were called to the stage for recognition and instruction; they were about to receive their first dogs. Puppies born during the last year were brought into the Teepee, while all of the older people stepped back to the perimeters of the building. The puppies and children mutually chose each other, and the children named their first dogs.

The Curators gave speeches – some were solemn, and some just talked enthusiastically about the bonds between dogs and people. As always, there were more puppies than kids, but older people took the extras in hand. One little girl, Lark, had been unable to choose between two puppies, and was encouraged to keep both. She named the Doberman Moondog, and the Wolfhound/Russian Terrier mix Irena.

After the dog naming, the Curators and other leaders spoke about the changes they wanted to make in their social organization. They asked everybody to think about what the changes would mean, and whether it would be beneficial or not. They would call for a vote the next day.

The musicians and singers began again, and folks danced to the music until the wee hours of the morning. Young people paired off and talked quietly or danced, as they explored the prospects for relationships. Cultural mores were in flux, and nobody had any hard and fast rules about what was appropriate, other than the general rule that people should treat others as they would like to be treated, themselves.

The next day was the last day of the equinox celebration; the Spring Fling. After a late and leisurely breakfast, the adult members of the communities voted on the structure they wanted for their society. Noma, the newly installed and most junior Curator, mostly watched and listened as the combined population of adults – anybody past puberty in their definition – debated the issue, swaying each other back and forth about the merits of whether women should be the authorized authorities in their society.
For every argument in favor, someone would have a rebuttal, and vice versa. After two hours of intense discussion, the advocates for women leadership won the support of the majority of the folks, and they immediately set about developing a system to put it into practice.

A few dissenters stalked off to a cabin afterwards, determined to fight the general consensus as their right. They tried to rally Stemi to their cause, but he refused to entertain any ideas that they had. From what he’d seen and read, the women were on to something, and he, for one, was supporting their efforts. Anybody that knew any history at all knew that male-dominated societies hadn’t actually fared so well for most of the population. Their present precarious society was a case in point. The discontents soon left him alone, wallowing in their selfish conspiracies.

The new leaders of the communities kept tabs on them, but didn’t take any action. After all, what could they really do? A few of the younger women, who thought they might one day be leaders, took to watching the actions of their male counterparts. During that summer and fall, they noticed that those men were mistreating their dogs. That did not bode well.
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Early one morning in late summer, Noma was awakened by Sparks. She didn’t bark, but rather nudged Noma’s arm to get her attention. Noma lay still, trying to sense what had stirred Sparks to rouse her. At first, she didn’t hear anything.

A muffled clang broke the silence.

The element of surprise was lost by that sound, and suddenly the intruders were visible, leaping from their hiding places and running through the streets of the community. Women, men, and dogs erupted from their homes to defend their loved ones. A battle ensued, with hand-to-hand combat between humans, as well as dogs taking down the strange men.

It wasn’t until after the Cedar Ridge folks had prevailed that they realized that their assailants were all men. Noma wondered where their women were. Surely, they had to have women stashed somewhere. Drenka and Sybil brought one wounded attacker to Noma. They had called off the dogs before they could seriously hurt this one, hoping to get some information from him.

The man was young. He was bleeding from wounds on his arms and chest, and a big gash under one eye. Noma cleaned his wounds while the two warriors held him. After his injuries were washed out and bandaged, she offered him water to drink, filling a gourd from the cooled kettle that stood away from the fire.

“There, I think you’ll live.” Noma told the stranger. “What name should I call you?”

“Why should I tell you?” he answered insolently. “Where’s your chief?”

“I am the ‘chief’ as you call it.” Noma answered. “I’m called Head Curator by the people here.”

“You? Why, you’re younger than me, and I am nothing among my people. This action was going to make me famous, and wealthy enough to buy myself a wife, have children. Now, how can me and my companions face going back, to tell our people that we were defeated by a bunch of women and pets?” He practically spit out those words.

“Young man, look around you.” Noma said. “Do you see any of your companions?”

He looked, and all he could see were the people they’d come to attack, and dogs. There seemed to be as many dogs as people. He shook his head and wiped his eyes, and then looked again. There were still a lot of dogs watching him. “So, I am the only one surviving? Why did you let me live? I can’t go back. They’ll think I was cowardly, and kill me too.”

“Why should we keep you here with us? You invaded our homes, our territory. We did not do anything to instigate your attack. Why did you attack us?”

“Everybody knows that you have technology up here. You women hoard all of the machines and gadgets that our ancestors used so profligately, and you won’t let men have any of it.”

“Young man, whatever your name is, I assure you that we do not have gadgets here. Look at the hearth in front of you. We heat water with wood fire. Our clothes are coarse fibers that we get from plants that we grow, and animals that we raise. The medicines I used to clean your wounds came from herbs that we grew, and dried, ourselves. Where did you get those ideas?”

The man didn’t answer her question. “My name is Richard. I am son of Robert, brother of Will, and uncle of Stan and Sam. I have seen fifteen years, and have hunted and killed the elk. I am a Man. Women are evil; they hide their true characters until they’ve tempted innocent men into doing sins, and they try to come between friends. Everybody knows that women should be under a man’s authority because they are delicate and subject to whims and vapors.”

Drenka and Sybil visibly bristled at the stranger’s words, and their dogs reflected their states of mind. Noma quickly spoke. “I’m sorry that you see the world that way, Richard. We, up here, have gone to great lengths to avoid thinking those kinds of thoughts. We had hoped to rebuild a world without resorting to bully tactics.”
Richard turned in his seat, and refused to look at anybody in the room, or to talk anymore. Noma left with Sparks, but told Drenka and Sybil to remain on watch. Their dogs, Linus and Betty, settled by their feet, eyes glued to the strange young man in their territory.

Richard watched the dogs and the women guarding him, waiting for a moment that he might use to his advantage. That moment never came. The guards changed; a man and a woman this time, again accompanied by two big dogs. Although Richard tried to connect with the male guard, to cast doubts on his worth as a man dominated by women, his efforts were in vain.

Charlie, the male guard, was another descendant of Heather, and had been raised to respect all life, including women. His fellow guard, Melli, was descended from a nontraditional family; her great-grandmother had bonded with both partners of a gay couple, who had managed to find a way to pass on their genes through an unusual mating configuration. Melli definitely had a nontraditional view of society, but Richard had no idea what he was facing.

When Richard could get nowhere with Charlie, he switched tactics, trying to get a rise out of Melli. She merely absorbed his vitriol against evil women in general, and her in particular, and shrugged it all off. This generation of the Tri-Mountains was too secure in their own identity and their bond with their animals, to have any self-esteem issues. In that, the Elders had been wise.

She did listen attentively to Richard’s point of view, marveling at the pack of lies and half-truths that the stranger had been raised to believe. Men were naturally superior. It was obvious – women were smaller and weaker.

Melli challenged him to indian wrestling, and beat him handily. He withdrew again into his own thoughts.

Noma came back later, and asked Richard if he wanted to say a few words over his dead companions before they were given back to Nature. He freaked at that, insisting that if they lost their bodies their souls would also be lost, and they’d wander through an eternity of hell looking for themselves. When Noma asked how they disposed of the dead, he answered sharply that, of course, they embalmed them so that on the Judgment Day they could rise up and join with the rest of the righteous to their rewards in heaven.
Even Melli gasped at that. Noma quietly told him that they did not embalm their dead – they gave them back to the earth mother so that their elements could be recycled, like everything else in the ecosystem. He could bury them, instead of laying them out on remote hillsides, but they did not even have embalming fluid.

Richard agreed that as long as they were buried, their spirits would rest easy, since there was no way to embalm them. His god would understand that, he hoped. Noma gave orders for Richard to be allowed to dig a grave, as he called it, for the dead. He took a shovel, and though it reopened the wounds on his arms, he dug until all of his companions were buried. Then he stood in front of the graves and was silent.

Melli assumed he was making his peace with the spirit, but afterwards, he began cussing her all over again. She began telling him what she thought of his god, but Noma shot her a look that quelled her. She ended up asking him about his beliefs instead, and they talked as Melli led him back to shelter for the night. The next guards soon took Melli, and Charlie’s place, and when Richard awoke, he began his game of blasting men for putting up with bossy women, and women for being bossy. This scenario repeated itself for several days, until one day, Richard got tired of hearing himself browbeat his captors, who had tended his wounds, given him water and food, and listened to his cussing without ever losing their composure.

He slowly came around to thinking that just maybe, what he’d been taught was not wise in the way these people were wise. He began asking his captors about their worldviews, and listened to their responses. Finally, after he’d been there for over a month, Richard gave Noma the answer to the question she’d asked that first day of his captivity.

There were several men from Cedar Ridge who’d wandered into the midst of Richard’s community, a neighborhood in a formerly urban area. They were dissatisfied with recent changes the Head Curators had implemented, and told the priests and leaders, all males of course, that the women in the mountains were hoarding gadgets to keep their men from exercising their natural right to dominate. They had instigated the raid into Cedar Heights, although, now that he thought about it – not one of them had actually joined in the battle. They’d led the raiders to Cedar Ridge, but that was the last he’d seen of them.

Noma asked him to describe them to her, which he did. From his description, she knew who they were, and developed a strategy to neutralize them. They were still living in Cedar Heights with the rest of the community; Noma remembered seeing one of them appear to help drive the raiders away during that battle.

She would have to take action. First, she called the women together, asking them what they knew about comings and goings of certain men. The reports she heard confirmed what Richard had told her, so she went ahead with her plans. They couldn’t be attacked, because they had their own dogs, but several of the dogs were elderly. Some of the older women suggested that they just wait for the dogs to die and then kill the men. Noma had a better idea.

Soon it would be the Fall Equinox, and all of the folks on the Tri-Mountains would be gathering to celebrate. Noma insisted that Richard should go, guarded, as always, by two guards and their dogs. The discontents went to the celebration, also, which fit into Noma’s plan. As she walked to the Teepee, Noma searched the ground for certain plants, stopping every now and then to pick one or gather leaves from another, slipping them into her pack.

A younger girl, Mink, who was a granddaughter of Stemi, followed her, assisting the Head Curator even though Noma wasn’t old or feeble. Noma thought that Mink would likely become a Curator herself, so she encouraged her help. She named plants for the girl, pointing out certain characteristics to identify them and telling the girl what they were used for. At long last, they reached the Teepee, and Noma asked Mink to see Maisy, and tell her what she needed, while Noma joined her peers at Dyad’s home. They discussed the battle that had occurred at Cedar Heights, and the men who’d instigated the raid. Everybody, even Stemi, agreed with Noma’s plan, which they would put into play that night.

After the sunset had been observed, the Head Curators called for a general meeting. All adults were asked to attend, leaving the dogs outside for the sake of room, and soon the Teepee was filled with people who were asking each other what the meeting was supposed to be about. Noma called for quiet, and began her description of the raid on Cedar Heights. Several men began to push towards the doors to leave, but they were stopped by guards, who had their dogs with them. Noma gestured for those men to be brought to the front of the room.

Noma asked them pointblank if they had been behind the raid, and they all denied knowing anything. Then, she had Richard brought out to tell his version. The accused men again tried to get away, but were stopped by guards. Noma called for somebody to fetch their dogs, and Maisy stepped up to Noma’s side carrying a kettle partially filled with some vile-smelling concoction.

Noma again asked the men if they wanted to change their story. They didn’t.
She called for each man to bring his dog to her, one at a time, and waved Maisy over. “I had some special stew made up of common woodland plants, which by themselves are completely harmless. However, the combination of ingredients in this kettle could kill even the largest wolfhound, and it could kill each of you as well. If I don’t hear the truth from you now, I will feed your dog this stew.”

The first man would not change his story, and watched as the dog lapped up the stew that Noma had ladled into a bowl. The dog soon shuddered and fell down. It gave a few labored breaths, and was still. The second man did likewise, and his dog had a similar reaction to the stew. The third man kept to his story, too, but he wouldn’t let Noma poison his dog. She fed the stew to him, instead, and he was soon on the floor and still. The last two let Noma poison their dogs, rather than take the poison themselves. She had somebody come to remove all of the dogs and the man on the floor. The other men were allowed to leave the Teepee, but archers shot them dead before they had gotten ten feet from the door.

In Dyad’s home, where the fallen had been placed, carried there on folded blankets, Maisy administered a liquid beverage, dribbling it into the slack mouths of the four dogs and one man lying motionless on the floor. They twitched, and soon gave deep gasps, and soon were breathing normally again.

Tigger, the dog whose companion would not let her take the poison, wriggled her way to his side, and licked his face. He sputtered, and caressed the big newfyhound, tears rolling down his face. The other dogs had regained their feet, and were being lavished with love.

The men who’d been shot dead were quickly taken away, to give back their elements to earth mother. Prayers were expressed that when they recombined into another living being, that being would be worthy of the life-spirit.

The ‘resurrected’ dogs, along with Keener and his dog, Tigger, soon returned to the Teepee, although there was no music that night. People sat around talking quietly, subdued by the justice that had been carried out. They had had to do something, and Noma, despite her young age, had devised a wonderful plan to isolate the bad apples and redeem the good; in this case, there was one, but if she hadn’t handled it the way she had, the blood of a redeemable man would have been on her hands

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