Chapter Eight



“Here, throw these in as well! I like the fire to be roaring and that Scottish giant barely got it started. After all, it’s not like there is a shortage of wood around here,” Seth ordered with a snicker, chucking a couple of logs towards the man he was talking to. 

Jordan obligingly tossed the chunks of wood into the fire then leaned back to gaze into the darkening sky. Closing his eyes, he imagined he was in another world and another time; that the young man sitting next to him was his brother, one of the older men talking in the mess tent was his father, and that the delicious meal had been prepared by his mother. She seemed so contented and happy…..

“Hey you!” someone hollered.

Jordan sat up in a hurry as he felt a handful of sand thrown in his direction. “W…what?”

“Didn’t you hear a fucking word we’ve been discussing?” Spyke asked. “I asked you what you thought about the council members.”

Jordan looked guiltily around as several pairs of eyes fixed on him. He was glad the semi-darkness hid his flushed cheeks. “Ah, well…they are … er …”

“What?” Spyke said impatiently. “The twins here think they are too strict and Seth doesn’t feel that they have the right to impose punishments on the rest of us. What do you think?”

Jordan stammered helplessly. “Well …. well … I didn’t think … hmm, actually …”

Taking pity on the poor kid and not liking how he was being treated, Thad spoke up. “I thought they sounded reasonable. The rules were fair. And we do need rules, you know. Otherwise how would we get on?”

Jordan turned gratefully to Thad. He had liked this slightly older man almost from the first. “I kinda agree,” he said shyly. “I mean, it’s rather comforting to know there is someone in charge of things…ahh…just in case … “

Seth snorted. “In case what?”

Jordan found himself speaking up, much to his surprise.  He usually didn’t volunteer his thoughts unless he had no choice. “In case someone gets hurt, or is being treated unfairly. Not everyone is equal in size and strength. The smaller guys could easily be overruled or bullied.” He looked at the sand hard, feeling his heart thump in his chest. ‘There!’ he thought to himself and cringed. ‘I’ve probably given Seth cause to hate me even more!’

Seth pounced at once. “Hey, everyone takes care of himself and his own, okay? Whoever’s too weak or too chicken to do it – too bad! Only the strong will survive in this world!”

Dallas just nodded in agreement. It mirrored his personal views.

Wes bristled a little, seeing the cowered expression reflected in Jordan’s eyes. “You know, I have changed my mind actually. I can see exactly why we need the council now. It’s to keep some people in their place!”

Wayne interrupted quickly. “I may not like the rules – I mean who does?  But if we don’t organize ourselves properly, come winter we may all run into trouble. Wes and I just don’t like having rules, but we never said they aren’t good for us.”

A murmur of assent went round the campfire while Seth turned his face away, ignoring the others. 

Gille figured it was time to put his two cents in. “For me, I don’t mind having some organization so we get things done, I mean we gotta survive and all. But I don’t like a bunch of rules and I sure ain’t gonna put up with someone saying they got the right to punish me if I don’t follow their rules. I’ve always believed in live and let live! Well, I live my way and they all can live theirs.”

Spyke said uncertainly, “I suppose we do need to have some sort of leadership structure.”

“If you read your history books, you will learn that all past civilizations are borne of governance.” Brodie swept his eyes over his audience. He knew all about books, having lived amongst them for so long. “Unless we want to live like barbarians, I think we were right in appointing the council and setting up the rules. It’s all we have right now to keep us civilized.”

Seth rolled his eyes.

“I just feel safer, knowing there is someone in charge,” Thad murmured softly.

“Me too,” whispered Jordan.

Seth gathered his neglected cards, got up, brushed sand briskly off his butt into everyone’s face and took himself off. He wasn’t really interested in fraternizing with a bunch of strangers anyway, regardless of however much they did or did not have in common.

Sometime later, Wes made his way to the tent he shared. He gave a little moan as he lowered his butt down onto his pallet. The storytelling and singing was still going on around the campfire but he had decided to call it a day, fully aware he was not the only one to do so. He had never felt so tired in his entire life. Even the hard pallet, which he thought was a poor excuse for a bed, felt good to him.

“Been a good citizen, I see,” a lazy voice drawled.

Wes turned his head to locate where the voice came from. It was dim in the tent and he had not noticed the figure huddled in the other pallet across from him.

“Is that you, Seth?” Wes said as he leaned back gingerly against his pillow.

“Yeah! So what ya been doing all day?” Seth asked. “Besides letting that Nathan fellow sort through your clothes,” he muttered and shook his head.

Wes groaned. “Carrying, lifting, arranging, sweeping, washing! Ugh, my hands are ruined!”

“In other words, ‘slave labor’, right? Well,I don’t do menial work!” Seth informed his tent mate. “I use my head and gamble. It’s simple; the guys who lose, do my chores. And I always win!” the young gambler smirked.

Wes leaned over to Wayne’s pallet and grabbed the pillow there. Placing it on top of his own, he leaned back and sighed contentedly. “Ah, that feels good! You know, I used to sleep on a feathered mattress with down pillows and soft sheets.”

“Yeah, I’ve slept in some pretty fancy places too.” Seth didn’t mention some of the more disgusting rooms he’d spent a night in.

“My ma used to make the most delicious cakes coated with icing. We would have a cake each on our birthdays. Wayne’s was always chocolate; so boring! I asked for different cakes every year and Ma would make them. What’d you get for your birthday?”

“I didn’t have a ma and my pa didn’t do celebrations of any kind,” Seth answered somewhat wistfully as the façade he worked diligently to maintain, cracked a little. He really didn’t want to talk about his past.

“How come?” Wes asked, not at all sensitive to the other man’s mood.

“Who knows and furthermore, who gives a damn? It’s not a big deal anyway. Besides, the old man and I parted company over ten years ago, when I turned fifteen.” Seth wondered why Wes was asking so many questions. He was even more curious as to why he was answering them. After all, they had only been on the island since yesterday and although they shared a tent, up until now they’d barely exchanged half a dozen words.

Wes looked at Seth somewhat curiously. “So how did you live, I mean what kind of work did you do?”

Seth threw a smug look over at Wes and thought to himself. ‘Let me give smarty-pants here a jolt of reality and see if I can induce some excitement in his miserable existence. What the hell! Maybe if I satisfy his curiosity, he’ll leave me alone.’

“I hooked up with a gang of not-too-famous, small-time bank robbers. I never actually stole from anyone. I’d only take care of the horses and keep them ready for a quick getaway. Then a couple of years later, I met Kyler ‘Snake’ Jackson. Everything I know about gambling, guns, women, not that I was ever interested in them,’ he smirked, “and mainly just life in general, I learned from Snake.” Seth was quiet for several moments. “Got himself killed in a gunfight a little over a year ago. Stupid son of a bitch got caught breaking one of his own rules,” he murmured with a trace of bitterness in his voice.

“What rule?” Wes whispered in an awed voice.

“Never cheat! Cardinal rule and he broke it!” Seth was still angry at his friend’s carelessness and he desperately missed him to this day. Snake and he had traveled together for seven years and had become very close, almost like brothers. Snake was aware of Seth’s preference for men, but never held it against him.

“So, ever kill anyone?” Wes asked, slightly breathless.

“Nope, but I’ve been shot at a few times and run outta town,” Seth snickered at the expression on the other man’s face.

“Weren’t you scared?” Wes asked, a little enthralled.

Seth’s response was slow in coming as memories from the past assailed him. “Yeah, I was scared plenty of times.”

“I guess it must have been hard at times, huh?”

“I survived, didn’t I?” Seth snapped, unhappy with himself for momentarily letting his guard down and revealing more than he normally would.

“I understand. I was just curious, y’know? Sorry if I brought back some bad memories.”

“Forget about it! Nothing can change things!” Seth ruefully muttered.

“Hey, you okay?” Wes asked softly.

“Sure! Why wouldn’t I be?” Seth sneered as he rolled over to put an end to the conversation, the protective wall back in place.

Wes had listened politely, but he was not in the least convinced. For a moment, he had glimpsed another Seth. The one without the bravado and the caustic tongue he put on for show. ‘Not so tough after all,’ Wes thought to himself. It was all an act: tough guy and man about town; anything to hide his fears. Wes could identify with him. Hadn’t he himself done something similar for years? The only difference was he had been born with money and luck on his side, and Seth hadn’t. He had all the breaks and Seth had none.

Kelby solemnly walked along the beach until he came to a pile of rocks where he sat down to stare out over the ocean. He drew one leg up, wrapped his arms around it and thought of home. His mother and sisters were probably worried about him and missing him as much as he was missing them. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for his father, who had so quickly turned on him. It was this rejection that hurt the most. Kelby was so absorbed by his thoughts; he was no longer conscious of his surroundings.

Quentin finally succeeded in tracking down his friend. He spotted the young man sitting on the rocks, but wasn’t sure if he should get any closer, as maybe the man was the type of person who liked his solitude now and again. Although he seemed shy, Quentin wondered if maybe he was more reserved than shy. Deciding to take a chance, Quentin approached him. “Hi there, Kelby; do you want to be left alone or would you like some company?”

Kelby glanced up somewhat startled by the unexpected voice. “I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you coming, Quentin. I wouldn’t mind having someone to talk to.”

“This is a lovely spot to sit and contemplate life, isn’t it?” Quentin asked. “I found it earlier and decided to visit it again. I’m glad to have someone with whom to share it.”

Kelby smiled a little and moved over a bit to make room for the other man. He stared out over the water again, but every so often his eyes would sneak a glance at the man next to him.

“Kelby, it seems as if something is bothering you. Although you don’t know me that well, I want to let you know I’m a great listener. If you wish to share what seems to have got you down, I’m here. Or if you just wish for me to sit and keep you company, I can do that as well. It’s up to you.”

Kelby rested his chin on his raised knee and remained quiet for several minutes before finally speaking. “I was just thinking of my family. I didn’t get to hug and kiss my mother and sisters goodbye. My father couldn’t get rid of me fast enough. Can you imagine something like that?” Kelby lifted his head and bravely looked at Quentin even though tears were threatening to fall.

Quentin’s heart ached as he saw the tears forming in the young man’s eyes. He moved closer to wrap a reassuring and comforting arm around the lad’s shoulder. “Kelby, I know it’s hard to start a new life when there are loved ones left behind. I know, because I once found myself in a very similar situation. You see, I was the middle child. I had two older brothers and two younger sisters. As I grew up I began showing an interest in my father’s merchandise business. As a matter of fact, I showed great promise in the retail field and this really irritated my oldest brother. When he discovered my sexuality, he threatened to expose me to the family. I had to leave everything behind and escape in the middle of the night without saying good bye. It was only after I started over in a new town and became a very successful businessman that I took a chance and contacted my family. I figured after all this time my brother would have joined my father in his business and he would no longer have any need to envy me. I was wrong, and that is how I ended up here.”

“It’s horrible the way families members sometimes treat each other. Why can’t they love one another enough to accept who they are?” he asked, not really expecting an answer.

Quentin began to rub the young man’s back as he spoke to give emphasis to the fact he understood what the lad was going through. Noticing Kelby was still upset; Quentin turned the other man to face him and tried once again to reassure him. “I got an idea. We’ll write letters to our families, telling them we’re alright and filling them in on what is going on here. It will be a great way to get our feelings out and at the same time, we will be able to put into perspective how fortunate we are to have found others who will help us through the loneliness and hard times. Walker has told us of a ship coming with supplies sometime in the future, so we will be able to send our letters home then. What do you say to that?”

Kelby responded in kind to the friendship and comfort being offered by smiling and nodding his head. “I think that’s a fine idea. I would like to let my mother and sisters know that I’m alright and set their minds at ease. Let them know of the wonderful people I am getting to know here.”

“Yes, and before I forget, Kelby, I want to thank you for all the help you’ve been giving me with the supply inventory. This sore wrist of mine would never have allowed me to write out that long list.”

“It’s getting better though, isn’t it?”

“Yes it is, thanks to you. Now, what do you say about the two of us joining the others around the bonfire that’s been lit?” Quentin suggested, getting to his feet and holding out his hand.

Kelby graciously accepted the hand and allowed himself to be pulled up. He was definitely in a much lighter frame of mind than when he had first come down to the shore.

The sun had been down for a couple of hours when most the men brought their day to a close. One by one or in small groups, they left the camaraderie of the campfire and went to their sleeping tents. The four remaining members of the council quietly discussed their concerns and insecurities in whether they were managing the community correctly; feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the responsibilities placed on them.

Thomas sat staring into the fire with his thoughts in the past, when he was pulled from his musings by the squirming of the warm head that lay in his lap. Galen had wanted to stay with him through the watch but had fallen asleep a while back. Thomas knew the lad had put in a full day, starting with running away into the woods and getting the fright of his life from that boar, through his physical exam and ending with their discussion of rules and discipline.

‘The poor kid’s exhausted. He really should be in bed,’ the older man thought. With that, he scooped the small body up in his arms and took him to the tent they shared with Quentin, Kelby, Troy and Levi. Once he had Galen tucked in with plenty of warm covers, Thomas returned to the fireside. This time his musing were interrupted by Aiden’s softy spoken query.

“So ye think we handled the prologue of a structured society in an acceptable manner?” Aiden asked no one in particular, as he poked at the dying embers of what had not long ago been a roaring fire. He added more wood to prevent it from going out altogether, as the night watch would need the warmth.

“I believe we gave as good an introduction as could be done,” Lakota answered. “As we said when we were first discussing this, we need to give constructive rules and discipline for us all to live by or accept anarchy, fear and loss. My mother’s people lived by tribal laws and discipline that make these seem liberal indeed in comparison. We all want to do more than survive. We want to grow and form a community and for that we must have structure.”

“Aye, and we can only do our best!” Aiden thoughtfully replied.

Thomas looked to the other men.   “We owe it to the younger men to provide them with security. Some are barely more than boys torn from their mother’s care.”

“That is true enough,” Larry quietly agreed, thinking of Jordan, Kelby and Galen. “Even the few trying so hard to be brave are really scared to death,” he murmured.

“Fear is healthy,” Lakota pointed out. “It is what will help us survive. However, it must be accompanied by hope. We must give the younger ones reason to see a hopeful future, with prosperity for all.”

Thomas sighed before sombrely adding, “I only hope we are up to the challenge. For if we are not, I fear for all our survival.”

“By working together and supporting one another as a team, we’ll do what has to be done and do it well!” Aiden stubbornly vowed.

“Well on that note, I’m going to turn in as there will be a lot to do tomorrow.” Larry spoke around a huge yawn as he stood up and stretched.

“I, too, will bid you goodnight,” Lakota said as he rose. “I have a final check of the infirmary before I can sleep and examinations to perform tomorrow.”

“I will also wish ye all a good night’s sleep,” Aiden said, lumbering to his feet.

“Good night, Gentlemen!” Thomas replied to the departing men.

“We will see you all in the morning,” Quentin called out as he returned from retrieving his inventory list to sit closer to the fire with Thomas. “And our watch begins!” he pleasantly confirmed.

TBC….

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