The New Guard (Crossroads Book 1) (9 page)

“So
that’s it; sucks to be you! Now, not only are we stuck here, we have to somehow
become rulers! Well, I’m sure this is magical and awe-inspiring to most of you,
but to me it’s a load of. . .”

“Eve!”
The Beagle’s harsh tone cracked like thunder in the girl’s ears. She pulled
back as she looked down at the rebuking hound. “So, you believe this is too
much for you? What part of this do you think is too much for God? If you have
fears and doubts, voice them at an appropriate time and in a more constructive
manner.

“You’re
right in thinking the task set before you will not be easy; then again, you are
not alone. Call upon the Lord and He will provide. Take strength in the Word
and you will find courage, wisdom, and guidance. You will be tested sorely, for
the forces of the Void seek chaos and confusion to better carry out their
ultimate goals. Nonetheless, there is nothing that can stand against you if the
Lord is for you.”

The
Beagle stared at Eve for several moments. The angel then spoke once more, “I’d
hate for you to be so obstinate on this point that you would have to spend
three days in the belly of a whale to come to your senses.”


Wha
. . .” Eve began, but the Beagle cut her off at once.

“Don’t test
God. I’m positive He could come up with something to help you come around.”

At these
words, Eve looked genuinely abashed. The Beagle huffed and walked away.
Everybody remained silent as they took in all that had just occurred. Then
First Thunder put his hand on David’s shoulder.

“Then we
shall travel together, your family and mine.”

David
looked up, taking in First Thunder’s reassuring air. “As the Word speaks, we
follow.”

Fleet of
Foot spoke up then, “As we follow, God provides.”

“Amen,”
said the Beagle. “Now let’s get quickly to the Southern Cross and discuss this
further as needed.”

All the
men nodded and moved the group back into a fast pace toward sanctuary. The
children became abuzz with concern, excitement, and confusion. They knew better
than to press their father further at this time, especially after Eve’s
chastisement. Regardless, he’d moved himself far to the front of the group and
had the Beagle take the sides. Thus, the children were left to themselves to
discuss what it would be like to be queens and kings. For the younger children,
this unexpected journey started losing some of the fear as they imagined grand
castles and envisioned a myriad of fairy stories where good triumphed over
evil. For the older children, they had been exposed to more reality and knew
good did not always win out over evil. They felt a new pressure now, knowing
they were here for a purpose and not just accompanying their father on some
adventure.

The group
reached their destination by nightfall; they quickly secured the horses in the
stable and their supplies in the rooms provided them. After a simple meal they
retired. The young children fell quickly asleep, having been reassured by both
David and the Beagle. Deborah, Mel, Nic, Eve, and Silas all lingered with their
father and the Coterie brothers a while longer. They pressed their father for
information on the kingdoms, their expected responsibilities, and weapons
training. Though not much could be accomplished that night, they finally went
to bed feeling they had a better grasp of what was to come. Little did they
suspect the level to which they would be tested as individuals and as a family.

*

Vex
waited until the Sword Bearer’s band was well out of range before he moved from
his hiding place and ran to rejoin his fellow Riders. The news from the angel
that he had overheard would have to be shared with many, many interested
parties. Vex knew now that they truly pursued the new chosen twelve and that he
would need a force larger than just the Void Riders to bring them down.

Chapter
8

The
journey from the sanctuary, Southern Cross, to Council Rock would have to be
divided into two days. The problem this created was that there was no sanctuary
in between the two places. Over the last two generations many sanctuaries had
fallen, and travel between towns and kingdoms was becoming less frequent. So
early into the morning ride, the Koen band began to discuss what was to happen.

First
Thunder reassured David that he and his brothers would help protect his family.
Fleet of Foot also added that, by dividing the trip into two days, the children
would have daylight hours to practice with various weapons. The Coterie
brothers agreed to divide the three watches of the night between them, David,
and the Beagle. Even with these reassurances, David did not like being exposed
at night this early into the quest. It was at this point that Mel spoke up.

“What are
watches of the night?”

Rock
answered him. “When staying between towns or sanctuaries, smart travelers set
night watches, times for people to stand guard over the rest of the camp.”

David
picked up the dialogue when Rock paused. “There are three night watches. First
watch or early watch is the easiest because it lasts from six in the evening
until ten at night. Second watch or mid watch lasts from ten at night until two
in the morning. Mid watch is typically the most likely time for forces bound to
the Void to attack. The keenest of warriors are assigned this watch. Third
watch, or dawn watch, lasts from two in the morning until six in the morning,
at which point the camp should be rising in order to make the best use of the
day.”

Rock
added a final point. “Dawn watch is often given to those with the skill of
being able to sleep on their moving mounts.”

Mel
nodded his head, showing he understood. Then he spoke again. “It seems only
fair that my brothers, sisters, and I be trained to keep the watches. I mean,
since we are more likely to have to use them throughout the rest of our lives.”

The Coterie
brothers smiled at those words. First Thunder said to David, “Your son has a
good head on his shoulders. He doesn’t seek to hide from responsibility.”

David
smiled at Mel and replied, “Yes, he’s very responsible. He’s also right. Mel,
since you and Ruth are early risers I’ll start you on dawn watch. Ruth can
help, but don’t include her until halfway through. I’m only suggesting she be
included because of her habit of waking before dawn. Normally ten years is the
first time Coterie or avian include their young in active protection of the
camp. Most other races usually wait a little longer.

“Since
I’m including Ruth, I might as well train Hannah too. She, Esther, and Silas
can start on first watch. Hum, I might as well include Eve in the third watch
too. I’m not sure that girl sleeps more than four hours at a time, so we might
as well get her on a schedule here.”

Mel
interrupted his father, “Then you mean to give Deb and Nic the hardest watch?”

“Deborah
is the oldest,” David answered. “Nic is a fast sleeper and I’ve caught him more
than once prowling around that late at night at home. You’ll all get a shift in
each watch soon enough. Well, except the younger ones. You’re right Mel; there
are certain habits we’ll have to form in order to survive in this new world.
We’ll start by building on your talents and normal habits first.”

*

When the
group stopped for lunch they broke up into small groups. David took the
youngest five and reviewed camping and wilderness skills with them. He also
helped them work more on their rock throwing, stick fighting, and hiding. He
worked out code words with them and trained them only to come out when they
heard particular combinations. Toward the end of their training, David gave
Jeremiah a pouch of stones and a leather sling. He said he would work with him
further on it, but for now he could use it as a cudgel.

Rock
trained with Deborah, fine tuning her bow staff skills. Meanwhile, Fleet of
Foot divided his time between Mel, Nic, Eve, Silas, and Esther. He gave both
Nic and Esther several exercises to work through using nearby trees and their
weapons. Similarly, he gave Eve and Silas various targets to shoot at with
their bows. However, he worked longest with Mel, teaching him how to skirmish
hand-to-hand with a hatchet. He finally set Mel to practice throwing, but
warned him that a thrown weapon can easily become the enemy’s.

After an
hour of their various activities, the group took drinks from a nearby stream,
ate, and remounted. They traveled several more hours, but as the afternoon
began to lengthen into evening the band set up camp, having found shelter in a
thicket of trees and shrubs in the middle of a seemingly untended field of
grain. It was Hannah who asked where the farmers were.

“The
gaeder,” David began, “are highly skilled farmers and have cultivated vast
tracts of land. This wild wheat is their work. There probably isn’t a farm for
many, many more miles. A plant like this doesn’t need to be constantly
replanted, as the seeds drop to make the next year’s crop. Yet, every planting
season, roving bands will check on wild crops, saw various other hardy crops,
and let them develop naturally. When harvest season comes, those same bands
gather wagon loads from hundreds of different locations and take them to
various houses, villages, and siloes. Some crops feed only the wild animals.
Sometimes random passersby will harvest portions of fields. In this way, even
the Void’s forces can find food, though they mainly prefer raiding to the work
of harvesting.”

“You mean
the enemy can gather these crops too?!” Jeremiah’s spoke before thinking and
his shock was felt by several of the other children.

David
replied, “Yes, if they would take the time to work for it. Though, as I said,
they prefer to raid, steal, and swindle. The gaeder don’t believe raw food
stuff belongs to only one person. Remember, they value community. Therefore,
they plant as a community, and any are welcome to what they need to survive.
They’ve established a rather ingenious distribution system for raw goods. A gaeder
without anything else, as long as he’s willing to work, would never go hungry
on their home world. Besides, violators of the public trust are dealt with by
ostracism or death.”

The
activity of setting up camp was quick. All the children had plenty of experience
camping; even Dinah, the youngest, had spent some time during the last two
summers staying overnight in the woods with her siblings. Since it was warm and
they might have to leave quickly, David had the children set up their sleeping
mats out in the open. Preparing dinner was likewise quick, as the only rations
anybody had were dried foods they had packed at Oswald’s Farm. Therefore, once
camp was set up there was still some time to continue weapons practice for
some.

It being
evening and nearing what would have been six in the evening at home, David had
Hannah, Esther, and Silas working with First Thunder on the procedures of first
watch, while he and Fleet of Foot constructed a blind for a small smokeless
fire. Rock spoke briefly with the children about the importance of fire as a
weapon and how, though it may give away their position, they would not want to
be without it should forces of the Void find them.

First
Thunder had the three children each take turns with him circling the camp,
learning what was important to take note of and what were merely normal nature
sounds. Since, there were to be so many on watch duty that he also had the
children practice sentry positions up in trees, inside camp but outside the
firelight, and lying down some distance from the camp.

Each of
the children did well, earning encouragement from First Thunder. Both Esther
and Hannah smiled and bowed their heads. However, Silas commented, “I’m just
glad to be doing something. This feels crazy and cool all mixed together. I’m
glad to have something I can do, something I can take charge of.”

To this
Hannah was nodded, “Yeah, being busy helps me not think. It helps me not to
focus on what has or might happen.”

Rock,
Deborah, Nic, and David took the second watch. Being excited about the
prospects of the task, Nic had only dozed before his watch and therefore began
to battle fatigue halfway through. David caught him falling asleep in a tree
and quietly spoke with him.

“You must
learn to train yourself for watches other than first watch. Mid watch is a
heavy responsibility and requires great self-control. I know back home you
never had to go to bed shortly after dinner, but you must learn how if you are
ever called for mid-watch.”

“I’m
sorry,” Nic replied. “Was it like this for you when you first came here?”

“I was
lost for the first few days without a guide or any real sense of what had
happened to me. I had never seen a beach like the one I showed up on. There was
sand, but it was strewn with rocks, shells, and other flotsam, both from inland
and the ocean. I slept my first night in the shelter of a ship’s wreckage. It
took all the next day to find another soul. I had to go inland
a ways
, and the first person I met was a member of the
Coterie.

“He and
his family were trappers catching birds, small mammals, and fish coming and
going from the ocean to the small streams around there. I didn’t understand
him, but he took me in and eventually brought me further inland. He brought me
to Oswald’s Farm. Brother Oswald was just starting to take over from his ailing
father when I arrived. He spoke some English, enough to teach me the trader’s
language that has developed in the Crossroads.

“However,
having made the crossing alone, I was not harried by Dark Riders or set upon by
demons at first. That would happen later, so I had some time to acclimate
before my life was truly in danger.”

Nic
helped wake up Mel and Eve for third watch. While Mel got up fairly quickly,
Eve was grouchy for, like Nic, she had stayed up most of first watch. David
softly gave her the same speech he had given to Nic. She stared at her father
and nodded, but didn’t say anything. Fleet of Foot and the Beagle joined them
on watch.

After
their initial briefing and walk through, Mel found himself patrolling with the
Beagle. “Dad had to wake you up to take watch,” Mel commented to the Beagle. “I
didn’t know angels slept.”

The
Beagle replied without stopping the patrol circuit. “In Heaven we don’t. In
Heaven no one sleeps. We rest from activities, yes, but there is no need for
sleep as we don’t have bodies as in the corporeal realms. Here, I am in form of
a beagle and have some limitations placed on me because of it. Therefore, I
have to sleep.”

“What
powers do you have?”

The Beagle
stopped then and looked up at Mel. “I have more physical power than my form
should have. I require less sleep and very little food. As my food is converted
directly into energy, I don’t need to relieve myself. Aside from those
differences I can speak and pass on the power of tongues. My words, when
focused properly can also grant energy to others. I can also convert energies
from my soul essence into a physical weapon. However, using either of those
last two powers taxes me greatly and I require more rest and more food than
normal afterwards. The last power can destroy me if not used cautiously.”

Mel said
nothing for a few minutes and they both continued the patrol. Inevitably, Mel’s
curiosity prompted him to ask another question. “Why are you a beagle?”

“You are
starting to sound like Jeremiah. All during the trip he has been asking
question after question.”

“It’s one
of his strong suits. The scary thing is that he remembers everything you tell
him.”

“Yes, he
is very gifted in that way; hopefully it will serve him well.” The angel
sighed, then continued. “I’m in the form of a beagle because it suits both my
situation and your family’s needs. I am a young angel created only several
hundred years ago. Angels are created by the will of God and the hopes, dreams,
and faith of those saved by God’s Grace. When an angel was needed to guide your
father and his future family, I took the task. Your father had wanted a dog
since early in his childhood, most particularly a beagle. Stronger, older
angels don’t take animal forms because they are limiting.

“Now, if
you want to know more you’ll have to ask Jeremiah. I’ve already told him this
and much more. We, however, have work to finish.”

Third
watch went as smoothly as the other two watches. Ruth woke on her own halfway
through the last watch, so the Beagle walked her through the responsibilities
of a sentry. She took to it fairly well, so after their initial circuit the
Beagle paired Ruth up with Eve to finish out the watch.

As dawn
started coloring the horizon, several of the group began to stir. Fleet of Foot
took Ruth and showed her how to rekindle the fire and together they put a pot
of water on to boil. While they waited for the water to boil, Fleet of Foot
began supervising the breakdown of the camp. When he saw that everybody knew
how to complete this task efficiently enough, he brought Ruth back to the
cooking fire. Together, with a few reserved supplies, the two made a porridge
to which the dried fruits they all carried could easily be added. Everyone was thankful
for the warm breakfast.

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