Chapter Three

Aiden squatted next to the young man. While crates were being unpacked, tents erected, firewood gathered, fresh water located, livestock cared for and a meal started, the lad had spent the entire afternoon alone and sitting under the trees. His only interaction with any of the other exiles had been that short scuffle involving one of the twins.

“Would ye be up to having a meal with the rest of us, lad? Ye must be hungry, eh?”

“I’m not! So just leave me the hell alone!” The boy’s rumbling stomach belied his words.

“Ye havena eaten since afore we left the ship so ’tis safe to say ye’d be as empty-feeling as the rest of us.” Aiden smiled patiently.

“I told you to leave me alone. Now fuck off!” Spyke grabbed up a handful of sand and drew back his arm.

“Ye best be rethinking that, laddie.” A stern look replaced the smile. There was an aura of power about the man and the deep blue eyes sparkled with purpose.

“Huh? Or what?” Spyke inquired with a glower.

“Or, me lad, ye just might find yerself with a strong inclination to eat yer supper standing up.” The crinkled blue eyes that had been smiling warmly a moment before now took a cold glare, causing Spyke to hesitate. It was a moment before the true meaning of the big man’s words sunk in, and when it did Spyke coloured with indignation.

“You don’t have the right to do that!” Spyke retorted. Nevertheless, his hand was for the moment staid as he gazed at Aiden’s face. It was not the most handsome face in the world, a bit too rugged if you asked him. Still, there was something about the way this man was looking at him that held his attention.

Aiden breathed a silent sigh of relief at the boy’s hesitation. ‘Aye, ’tis wary he is and angry at the whole world. The lad wants to back down but needs to save face at the same time.’ He sat next to the skittish young man and his gentle smile returned as he calmly held out his hand. “Och, just where be me manners? We’ve nae even been properly introduced. My name is Aiden. I dinnae know about ye, but I am verra much in need of a friend.” The big man waited patiently to see if the other would respond favourably to the overture.

Spyke clutched the sand tighter as he continued to stare at the big man facing him. This was all just a little too much to process right now. ‘Friend?’ Spyke had never had one unless he counted that rich bastard who was responsible for his being here, and he did so desperately want this man with the stern eyes and gentle voice to be his friend. ‘But can he be trusted?’ Spyke’s teeth clenched and his eyes filled. ‘I want to be able to trust someone ‘cause I’m afraid of what’s going to happen to me?’ he thought and swallowed hard in an effort to keep the tears at bay.

Aiden’s heart melted as the boy’s confusion became apparent. “’Tis alright, lad,” he consoled softly, placing his arm around Spyke’s shoulders and drawing him to his side. “Come now, ye must be hungry,” he tried a slightly softer approach than what he had used originally. 

The kind words and tone were too much for Spyke.  He nestled into Aiden’s chest, buried his face and much to the big man’s abashed amazement, began to cry. 

“Och, laddie,” Aiden murmured as the young man clung to him. “There now, ye’ll be alright.” He squeezed Spyke’s shoulder and held him close. Spyke pressed harder into his chest and Aiden rubbed his back soothingly, not sure of what else to do.

It was all Spyke needed. For the first time since his parents’ death he actually felt safe and somewhere deep within, the tiniest seed of trust was planted.

Aiden’s smile broadened when he saw the fingers open and the sand slowly slip through them.“’Tis nae been so verra easy for ye, has it, lad? But dinnae fash yerself, everything’s going to be fine. Ye have me solemn promise that I will always do me verra best to keep ye from harm. ’Tis what friends do,” Aiden’s soft voice rumbled from his chest. 

‘’Tis a bonnie wee fighter ye are or like the rest of us, ye’d ne’er have made it this far.’ Aiden kept these and other thoughts to himself. ‘Only twenty-eight of us made it out of all those taken. Not necessarily the strongest or best, but just possibly the most fortunate.’

Aiden continued murmuring reassurances while Spyke cried himself out. Just when he felt the young man had settled, their stomachs jointly protested their emptiness. The resulting chuckle and giggles broke the sombre mood. Aiden sniffed the air. He glanced down at the tear-stained face and winked. “Hmmm, something ’tis smelling good! What think ye we join the others afore all the food’s gone?”

Getting to his feet, Aiden held out his hand and assisted the smaller man to his feet. Then together they walked the short distance along the shore, through a break in the trees and into the clearing where the rest of the men were gathering to partake of their first meal since landing on the island.

They arrived at the mess hall just as the men were filing past the long makeshift table. Each one was helping himself to a mug of chilled goat’s milk; ladling thick beef stew onto his plate and grabbing up still-warm biscuits, before moving on to find a place to sit and enjoy the meal that had been prepared for them.

Aiden stepped up to the end of the line with Spyke following in his footsteps. He smiled when he found himself looking into soft grey eyes as Galen watched him from over the top of his mug; those same grey eyes that dropped hurriedly when their gaze was returned. Aiden’s smile widened when Galen refilled his cup but disappeared when the younger man took barely half a ladle of stew and only one small biscuit.

“Dinnae ye think ye can handle a bit more than that, laddie?” Aiden asked out of concern, knowing full well it had been quite some time since they’d last eaten.

“No thank you, sir. This is p-plenty,” Galen quietly murmured with a blush tinting his cheeks, before wandering off to sit between Thomas and Thad.

“Och, well seems to be nothing wrong with yer appetite!” Aiden chuckled when he saw how high Spyke had piled his plate.

Larry pulled up one of the smaller crates and glanced at the food in front of him. Although he was hungry and it smelled good, his stomach began to churn. He set his plate on the ground next to him. ‘Stress,’ he thought as his eyes made a quick tour around the assembled men. Some were beginning to talk with each other, while a few others still remained isolated. He noticed a couple of younger men glaring at each other, as sure sign of friction in play. He sensed a lack of guidance and the feelings of loss that seemed to hang over the gathering.

‘What this band of misfits needs is some leadership. Not like in the military, but maybe a small assembly of men who would be willing to act as leaders; who would set a good example and come up with a set of rules for everyone to follow.’

With these thoughts running through his head, Larry decided he would make the first move in this direction. In order for all to hear him, Larry knew he had to be seen. He chuckled to himself as he looked over at the big Scotsman sitting a few yards away, talking to the doctor. ‘I guess standing on his shoulders would be sure to make me seen, but I doubt he’d comply even if I was bold enough to request it,’ he thought and opted for the nearest crate. He stepped up and after clapping his hands a couple of times and letting out a sharp whistle, he began to speak.

“If I could have everyone’s attention for a moment, please,” the ex-marine requested. “I have been observing things for the last few hours and I have concluded, as a number of you probably have as well, that we are in desperate need of some leadership. I suggest we consider electing a few men who would be willing to come forward and take on such a role. They could form a council, for a lack of a better word. These men would be there to give us some structure and stability. For example, they would provide us with someone to go to when problems arise or if certain things come up where a decision has to be made that affects all of us. They could also set up a few ground rules or laws that we all would vote on and agree to abide by. I was wondering if you all would be willing to discuss this possibility and maybe put in your two cents on the matter.”

Larry gazed out at the faces looking up at him. There was a multitude of emotions showing in them. He sensed their interest, and in their eyes, he recognised an understanding of the point he was trying to make. “Maybe it would be best if each of us briefly introduced ourselves,” he suggested as he jumped down and took his seat.

“’Tis a grand idea! And seeing ’twas yers, why dinnae ye go first, lad?” Aiden called out to offer his support and encouragement.

“Well, alright! My name is Larry West and I am a former marine. Several weeks ago, I was stripped of my commission due to choices I made which were unbecoming an officer.” Larry paused. He felt he had already said enough but wanted to add one last thing. “I would like to thank you men for pitching in and helping to get all the supplies moved up from the beach area. I am sure we will all, and I think I can speak for everyone here, be even more grateful when the sleeping quarters have been set up and a latrine dug. But that can all wait for another day, right?” His question garnished smiles and nods of relief.

“I’ll add my thanks to yours, Larry! I agree that any further work can be left for now as we are all rather tired. And I also think the idea for a council is a good one,” the man sitting next to him spoke up. “Hello, gentlemen! I am Quentin Bradley. Because of my business experience as a shopkeeper, I have volunteered to keep an inventory of the supplies we’ve been given. I must declare to being pleasantly surprised by the considerable number of crates and what they contained. Nothing fancy mind you; just basic necessities, but far more than I could have hoped for.”

“Aye, Quentin’s correct about the supplies!” Aiden concurred. “I’d be Aiden Mackenzie Shea, Master Cabinetmaker. ’Tis ashamed I am to admit I believed the captain on board the ship to be misleading me. We had several conversations during the voyage. Of course, the mon made sure to keep the same distance between us as he would have had I been afflicted with leprosy.” Aiden had to wait for the laughter to die down. “In answer to me query regarding the ship’s cargo, he claimed the good folks who had so diligently lobbied the authorities to bring in this so-called ‘humane’ sentencing of homosexuals, were also responsible for the disbursement of our liquidated assets. Aye, and they appear to have spent the money well.”

Another man, almost as large as Aiden and dressed in buckskin, lumbered to his feet. “Brock Trenton Foxx here. I’m a born and raised mountain man. I’ve scouted, trapped and hunted most my life. I’m kind of a loner and not too comfortable around people but I guess we all need to make allowances.” He went to sit down but added as an afterthought, “by the way, the first latrine has already been started.” These were the most words Brock had spoken since arriving on the island. The entire afternoon, he had devoted his time and energy to helping out where needed. He seemed to appear out of nowhere when something extraordinarily heavy had to be lifted and moved, like a cast iron stove. He’d see a need and quietly fill it, like digging the latrine. Not a talker by any means, but definitely a doer.

“Hi, my name is Kelby Curtis. I had been receiving training to follow in my father’s footsteps but have decided it is not something I really want to do. Although, I’m not exactly sure what I’ll do here. I had hoped to become a researcher someday and possibly an author or teacher.” He lovingly petted the puppy nestled against his thigh as he struggled to push down the despair he felt at not having been able to say an adequate goodbye to his lover. At least he had the memories of his year-long relationship with Jonathan to keep him company during the lonely nights ahead. No one could take those away from him even though his lover’s death had left him heartbroken. Jonathan had never had a strong constitution and had quietly succumbed to a chest infection after only a week at sea.

Still coming to grips with all that had happened, Kelby really wanted to retreat from the main group of strangers, but instead staunchly resolved to learn what his place would be among them.

Lakota had been listening carefully as each man spoke his piece. When it came to his turn, he drew himself up and spoke in his soft deep voice. “I am Lakota Evans; physician and fellow of the College of Surgeons. I have also trained with the shaman herbalists of my mother’s tribe. It is my hope that each of you will come to me over the next few weeks and permit me to perform a physical examination and collect a history of your past medical conditions. I follow the oath of Hippocrates and will honour your confidences. I have requested one of the tents be used for this very purpose. If there are any amongst you who have medical training, I would like to meet with you sometime to discuss the setting up of the infirmary. Thank you.”

Yancey smiled at the invitation just issued. He was excited about there being a doctor on the island and the plans to set up an infirmary. Raising his hand slightly, he spoke up for all to hear. “My name is Yancey Devon Hayes and I have been a nurse for the past six years. I’d be honoured to meet with you at your convenience, Dr. Evans.”

“You’re a nurse! No shit!” the young man next to him exclaimed. “I didn’t know there were male nurses.” He shook his head as if to rid it of cobwebs and gazed around at the others before introducing himself. “My name is Spyke Lambert and I used to be a wealthy man’s house-boy,” he said before adding under his breath, “which is a polite way of saying I was the bastard’s boy-toy. At least that’s how I felt most the time.”

Yancey smiled indulgently at Spyke’s outburst and sympathetically nodded his understanding at having overheard the last sentences mumbled by the young man.

“I am very pleased to know you, Yancey. Can we meet in the morning after breakfast?” Lakota requested.

“That would be fine with me, sir.”

“In this place such formalities seem unnecessary. I am called Lakota.”

“As you wish, Lakota,” was Yancey’s smiling reply.

Thomas stood and looked around at the group of men. By now he had met most of them at least briefly, both while preparing the meal and while unpacking the crates of supplies. But these introductions would help him get a real feel for the men with whom he would be building a community. ‘The future starts today. First impressions will be formed here and now,’ he thought.

“My name is Thomas Fields. I was a landowner and agriculturalist in Fullerton County. As a result, I am well versed in animal husbandry. I am a passable cook and offer my services in both those areas. I also have a great deal of experience as a beekeeper and in the collecting of honey. I am very grateful to those who have stepped up and helped today. I hope we can all work together to build a strong community, if for no other reason than to show those who sent us here, just what decent hard-working men they have lost from their society.” A cry of agreement went up throughout the large mess hall as he sat back down.

“M-my name is Galen Deon Manara. M-my b-brother, sister and I grew up on a vineyard and lived with m-my p-parents and grandparents. M-my knowledge of w-wine-m-making m-might not be very useful here, b-but I’m good at taking care of animals.” Galen figured he’d said enough and went back to picking at his food. After all, they had been asked to keep it short so everyone could have a turn. He looked at Thad who was sitting on the other side of him.

“I’m Thadeo Beau Sawyer. But, please, just call me Thad. I am a barber by trade and until my arrest, ran the shop my father had left me. I also had a small pottery business on the side as a hobby until I destroyed all the equipment that had belonged to my mother who had taught me the craft,” Thad said quietly as memories of that night of uncontrollable temper assailed him. He cleared his throat and lightheartedly added, “but I still have my scissors should any of you require a haircut.”

Kevin smiled when learning that someone had scissors and hair cutting experience. “Hi, I’m Kevin McCaw. I’ve never had a career as such. I was a rugby player on my country’s national team and then a traveller. I was brought up on a small farm and have experience in a multitude of tasks that pertain to farming.” Kevin leaned back and nodded at Dallas, encouraging him to speak next.

Dallas shrugged. “There’s nothing much to say. My name is Dallas Carter. I’ve basically been on the streets for the last five years and did what I had to survive.” Kevin frowned as he saw Dallas barely restrain a shiver. “What I am is a quick learner and quite keen to pick up medical knowledge.”

The man sitting beside Thad got to his feet to introduce himself in a soothing cultured voice. “My name is Walker Drummond. Until I was disbarred several months ago, I was the Chief Magistrate of Kingston County. Conveniently however, law is not my only interest. I am an excellent chef, if I do say so myself, and enjoy gardening. I am also very much into hunting, although in the past I’ve mostly done it for sport. Those are my dogs that young Galen has already made friends with and I am inclined to think a number of you will find the items in a certain as yet unopened crate rather interesting. I’d like to add to the information being passed on concerning the supplies. I have several influential friends and acquaintances sitting on the board of this humanitarian activist group Aiden mentioned. The group’s members are continuing to work on our behalf by investing and managing the greater portion of assets confiscated from us and I have been assured that a ship will be returning twice yearly to replenish the supplies we are unable to produce or acquire on our own. This will also allow for an exchange of correspondence with our families and loved ones. I do believe we have a group of basically good men here and together we should be able to forge new lives for ourselves.” Walker then sat down to the buzz of voices as this surprising news was digested.  

Brodie and Jordan sat side by side taking in all that was being said and realised it was only fair that they too introduce themselves.

“I’m Brodie Joel Baker and I am, that is, was a librarian. Guess I still am if the amount of books I’ve brought qualifies me as such,” the young man joked, and he nudged the man beside him.

“Jordan Kyle Adams,” Jordan looked around shyly and bit his lip. “I don’t really know how to do much except kitchen duties. I do like doing that though and I’m willing to do it here.” He blushed and covered up his embarrassment by rubbing his face against the brown puppy in his arms.

As the men had settled under the canopy of the huge tent, the twins had gravitated towards one another again. No one was really paying any attention to them and it felt strange. Usually, there would be people buzzing around them, taking charge. Looking a bit lost and bewildered, Wayne and Wesley had served themselves then dropped down onto a not-too-clean log which someone had dragged in and watched the proceedings in silence.

A man near them said he was a barber and offered his services should anyone need it. Wayne quickly took mental note of that as Wesley already knew Thad, having worked with him during the meal preparations. 

Suddenly there was a lull and several pairs of eyes rested on them. The twins were frozen for a moment. Then seeing the encouraging expressions on a few faces, particularly the giant who was called Aiden, Wayne spoke, “H-hello, my name is Wayne. Er, I mean Wayne Bentley. This is my brother, Wesley. He’s called ‘Wes’ for short.”

Wes nodded his head at the group and flashed one of his famous smiles. “That’s right, and neither of us really has a trade or any special skills. We sang for a living. We performed at concerts or special events. Um, that’s really all we did before coming here.”

Troy sat patiently on the large rock, waiting for his turn to speak. His partner sat between his knees on the ground, body turned slightly, and his head pillowed comfortably against the older man’s thigh where Troy absently stroked the long blond hair. “My name is Troy Harris,” he finally said when his turn came. “I’ve been mainly a tutor of one thing or another for the past ten years or so. I’ve taught all ages from small children to old men. I’m not quite sure what I can teach here, but I’ll do whatever I can to help. I’m accomplished at mathematics, as well as English, history and science. This is my partner, Levi.”

“I’m not sure what help I can be either,” Levi said to the group, his hand idly playing with his dog’s ear. “I was just a rich man’s son.” Then he added almost tentatively, “and by the way, my name full name is Levi Joshua Harris.” He wondered what Troy’s reaction would be to that statement. He opened his mouth but wasn’t quite sure what else to say. Hesitant green-grey eyes darted up to meet his lover’s.

Troy looked down, momentarily shocked. He watched the young man whom he loved so much bite his lip in trepidation before quickly trying to explain.

“I-I hope you don’t mind. I just.... I only wanted…” Levi trailed off, unable to fully explain himself and afraid of disapproval.

Hazel eyes bright with unshed tears, Troy pulled the man he had mistakenly thought he couldn’t possibly love any more deeply, into his arms and ran a caressing hand down golden hair. “But what about your family? What…”

“My family doesn’t want me anymore,” Levi said, cutting him off. “Besides, they are in the past. They may have wanted a different future for me, but instead I got the only one I ever wanted. You are my future, Troy, and there’s no reason to hide anymore.”

“Then from this day forward, we will consider ourselves married.” Their eyes met with a tender smile for a second before Troy leaned down and planted a gentle kiss on his husband’s lips.

Raythe didn’t so much sit as sprawl against the log his back rested on. The puppy he’d been feeding morsels of food to, was burrowed against his side. The position was more of a pose and done almost subconsciously. Long midnight-black strands framed his high cheekbones and trailed down his bare chest. “My name is Raythe deTorgul,” he said with an arrogant lilt when it was his turn. “I’m a whore,” he bluntly announced. “And I’m a damn good one.” He sent a challenging glance around the circle of men. “But I don’t think any of you have the means to pay me for my services. I’m not sure how many of you could have afforded me to begin with.”

A few of the older men nodded and smiled compassionately, having recognised the bravado being used to cover up the young man’s fear and uncertainty.

One man in particular shook his head at the words being spouted off. ‘That beautiful, overly self-opinionated, young man is in desperate need of two things,’ Brock thought as he watched the man of interest to him gently feed tidbits of meat to his dog. ‘A lot of tender loving care with a fair measure of ‘iron hand in the velvet glove’ type discipline.’ He didn’t speak. He’d already said who he was and knew word would spread quickly in this small community to those who hadn’t heard him. He merely glanced expectantly at the man standing a few feet away.

“Hello everyone; my name is Nathan O’Sullivan. I am a tailor and a designer of men’s apparel by trade. I’ve numerous bolts of cloth with me and I am willing to make clothing for those of you who were not fortunate enough to bring very much with you. I also work with fur and I’m hoping a couple of you will be able to provide me with some. I’ll see no man do without what’s needed to protect him from the elements.” The well-dressed man stood off to one side as he had by now finished his supper.

Wes pricked up his ears the moment he heard the words ‘tailor’ and ‘clothing’. He immediately looked down at his own person and suppressed a groan. He looked positively shabby! His usually crisp and impeccable clothes were limp, dirty and stained.

He looked over at his twin. Wayne wasn’t doing any better but then, Wayne did not have Wes’ penchant for style and so he did not fret as much. They both liked to dress well though. In fact, they had to in their line of business. It was expected of them, but Wes obsessed over it in a way that sometimes drove Wayne mad.

Putting his plate aside and getting to his feet, Wes sidled nearer to Nathan and observed the man more closely. Yes, there was a definite air of fashion about this man, from the way his jacket was cut to the elegant pleats in his pants. His shirt was well made too and obviously of the finest cotton. Wes was well acquainted with such stuff and realised Nathan somehow appeared less bedraggled than most of the others on the island despite having worked equally as hard.

Wes suddenly looked up from his scrutiny and flushed. A pair of smiling brown eyes was observing him. “Oh, I’m s-sorry,” he managed to stammer under the firm gaze. “Didn’t mean to, um, stare.”

“What did you say your name was?” Nathan asked, liking what he saw as well. The young man was almost as tall as he was, so they looked squarely into one another’s eyes.

“Wesley. Hi there. You said you are Nathan, right?”

“Yes, that is correct. Glad to meet you, Wesley,” Nathan answered, holding out his hand.

Wes reached out and shook hands. “Same here! Say, is it true you have a trunk or two of your own?”

“Yes,” Nathan replied.

“And you’ve got cloth and material in it? For stitching and sewing?”

“Yes, I do!” Nathan smiled at the young man’s inquisitiveness. “I imagine it will come in handy once we’re established and clothing needs to be replaced.”

“Well, I certainly need some repairs on my clothes. They are falling apart!” Wes spread out his arms to better display himself.

Nathan ran an experienced eye over the slender form before him. “Hmm …,” he hummed quietly. The young man was exaggerating slightly as the outfit he wore was in better condition than most. 

Wes started to squirm and sternly told himself to stand still. “Can you repair this tear on my sleeve? This is Egyptian cotton and very expensive. We imported it from England.”

Nathan sighed. ‘What a self-centred young man,’ he thought. ‘And what an adorable imp; totally artless, obviously too spoiled and pampered for his own good.’ Even knowing Wesley would in all likelihood be disappointed, Nathan firmly informed him, “the supplies I have in the trunk are to be used for emergencies and to clothe those who did not get a chance to bring much with them. Tell me, where is your stuff?”

“Over there. Just that one trunk, as that’s all they allowed each of us to bring!” Wes said, his eyes reflecting some of the horror he had experienced.

“One of those?” Nathan pointed to two identical trunks, placed side by side. “Well, if you like we can take a look inside sometime tomorrow when everyone is more settled in, okay? Perhaps we can find something you can wear that will be more appropriate for working. The shirt you’re wearing may do well for a fine dinner party but won’t be any good to you for daily wear here.”

Wes stared with his mouth open. “Work? We don’t work!”

Nathan raised an eyebrow. “Well, young man, best to put your past behind you, I say. None of us chose to be here and believe me, none of us was quite prepared for this bitter twist of fate. But we will survive if everyone does his fair share and maintains a group spirit. With willing co-operation on everyone’s part, we’ll do fine!”

Wes swallowed. He was an intelligent young man and easily understood the unspoken words. Time to let the past go, as the man said. A flash of utter despair shot through him. Then with a stiff upper lip, he raised his eyes and looked deep into the brown ones before him. “Yes, you are right.” Wes drew himself up to his full height. “You are certainly right. The past is dead, but we’ll be fine if we work together.”

Samuel Boyd gravely nodded when over-hearing the tail end of what Wes and Nathan had been discussing. Although being part of a society was well beyond what he was used to, he nevertheless wholeheartedly agreed with the young man’s final words.

“I am willing to support any duly-elected council. My name is Samuel Boyd and I panned for gold most my life; a trade which will prove useless now. I’ll admit I’m used to living a solitary life but will definitely try to fit in and do whatever has to be done to make a success here.”

A fancy-dressed man nearby, brushed off his trousers and straightened his silk vest. Seth had squandered away the daylight hours with meeting only his own personal needs. He had washed, shaved, and changed into a clean suit. His shoes were polished to a mirror shine, his jacket totally dust-free and not a hair on his head was out of place.

“I’m Seth Ryan Edwards. I am a gambler, a darn good one, and if anyone is interested in a friendly game of poker, I’m your man.” He gently pushed away the puppy that was sniffing around him. “You belong to that big guy over there, little fella,” he whispered for the animal’s ears only.

Preston didn’t have too much to say when it came to his turn. “My name is Preston Chadwick; my speciality is forestry. I’m a lumberjack and if it’s alright with everyone here, I’d like to offer my services when it comes time to choose and fell the trees needed to construct buildings.”

“Mitchell Wolfe!” the only black man in the crowd spoke up as he scratched behind the ears of the little dog lying beside him. “I am an apprentice-carpenter and would like very much to learn more about my trade. If Aiden would accept me as an assistant, then that is what I’ll be.”

“Aye, ’tis more than enough work for us all, Mitchell,” Aiden responded with a grin. “’Tis a team we’ll be making, my good mon.”

A man in a wide-brimmed hat and heeled boots spoke up. “I am Hendrik Van Der Berg. Until my arrest and exile, I worked as an assistant ranch foreman. I know my way around horses, of which there are none here that I am aware of, and cattle, again which appear to be sadly lacking. However, that said, I am ready and willing to try my hand at just about anything.” He stared down at his empty plate. ‘If only Eric was here, all of this would be so much more bearable,’ he thought and tried to fight back the sadness that threatened to overtake him.

Another young man who’d listened carefully as each of the men before him, decided it was his turn to speak up. They were an eclectic bunch from a wealthy member of the judiciary, a doctor, a farmer, labourers, right through to a whore. He wondered how he could fit in. He supposed he was closest to the whore since that’s how he’d been arrested, but up until then he’d never done such a thing. His late mother had taught him that to be poor did not mean you could not have values. He had tried to follow her teaching and the day he’d given up on them, had been the day of his falling.

‘Well,’ he thought, ‘I will do my best to make you proud of me again, Mama.’ He stood in his torn, filthy clothing, raised his head with pride and spoke. “My name is Gille Wheaton. I don’t have any fancy education nor do I have any great skills, but I work hard and will help wherever I am needed,” he offered and sat down. ‘Not a very eloquent speech,’ he mused, but there was really nothing more he could offer.

Galen felt his anticipation increasing as the introductions came to an end. He hoped the time for selecting a council was close at hand. He shifted around until he was sitting on his heels. “Thomas,” he hissed, pulling at the man’s sleeve. “If we have an election, will I b-be allowed to vote, too? I’ve never done it b-before ‘cause I haven’t b-been old enough. B-but I’m eighteen now.” The more excited he grew at the prospect the more pronounced his stuttering became. He took a deep breath in an attempt to calm down.

“Of course, you are allowed to vote, Galen. If you were considered old enough to be sent into exile to this place, you are old enough to help decide who will serve on a council,” Thomas replied, giving the younger man a supportive smile.

Galen looked around and wondered who would be making the announcement to start the elections. He was almost bouncing with pent-up enthusiasm.

“Well, Larry, now that we have had the opportunity to learn a little about each other, how about you move on to the second part of this hastily put together agenda?” Quentin quietly reminded their temporary, self-appointed spokesman.

“I guess now is as good time as any,” Larry commented and once again got to his feet. “I’d like to thank you all for sharing some about yourselves. I know it can be difficult to divulge personal information to others. Do you all feel that five would be a sufficient number of members for the council?”

After a few moments of murmurings, nods and various signs of agreement, Larry asked, “So who wants to be the first one to volunteer or offer a name?”

“I do!” Galen rose up on his knees and waved his hand. “I vote for Thomas Fields!” He quickly sat down as a deep blush stained his cheeks. He wondered what everyone found so funny.

“And does Thomas accept the nomination?” Larry asked, trying to keep the smile off his face.

Thomas was surprised at the sudden boldness of his newly-found young friend. He gave the redden-faced lad a smile. “Thank you, Galen. It was very nice of you to do that.” He looked towards Larry and nodded. “Yes. If I’m wanted, I will accept.”

In his excitement, Galen barely prevented himself from throwing his arms around the bigger man’s neck. He was used to spontaneous signs of love and affection from family members but was resigned to it now being a luxury he would have to forgo.

Quentin turned to Larry. “I think since you showed great initiative in starting these proceedings and were also willing to quickly volunteer in so many areas, you should be considered for the council. What do you have to say about that, Larry?”

Larry thought about it for a moment before he answered with a positive nod and an “I’ll be proud to serve!” verbal reply. He then announced, “I’d like to nominate Aiden Shea!”

Sensing Aiden’s hesitancy and before the other man could respond, Quentin spoke up. “I second that! Aiden, I know you’re not a talking man, you’re a doer, and as such I believe you would set an ideal example for the rest of us to follow. I do hope you’ll accept this nomination.”

Tempted as he was to decline, Aiden answered in the affirmative. “Aye! I accept!”

“Would anyone else like to put forth the name of someone to be considered for the council?” Larry asked once again, looking out over the gathered men.

“I’d like to nominate Walker Drummond!” Thad called out. He enjoyed working with the man while supper preparations had been underway and instinctively recognised the leadership qualities this man possessed.

“As honoured as I am, I’m going to have to decline.” Seeing the crestfallen look on the younger man’s face, Walker leaned over, put his arm around Thad’s shoulders and gently explained, “I’m not saying I’ll never serve on the council. It is that the present time is just not right for me.” He smiled when the explanation was reluctantly accepted.

Thomas looked towards Troy. The man had shown himself to be a strong force that afternoon and he was also quite impressed by how much Troy was admired by his young partner. “I’d like to nominate Troy Harris to join the council.”

Troy sat up straight in surprise. “Yes, I’d be honoured to be on the council.”

“Excuse me, please. I’d like to be nominating Doctor Lakota Evans!” Aiden quietly stated.

Larry looked over at the man sitting next to the big Scotsman. “What do you say, Doc?”

Lakota was taken back to hear his name as he was used to being passed over due to his mixed heritage. “Thank you for the nomination. I will accept.”

Several other names were put forth, but most were politely declined by the one nominated and no others step forward to volunteer. Quentin counted and kept tab of the hands raised in support for each candidate as he individually presented the men willing to serve in this capacity. He then announced those voted in; Lakota Evans, Thomas Fields, Troy Harris, Aiden Shea and Larry West.

“Grand! We now have all seats on the council filled. Thank you to all those who let their names go forward and to everyone who participated in this process.” Larry brought the election to a close. “Now, does anyone have any questions to ask the council or any ideas of when you would like us to meet?”

Thomas spoke up. “I should think it would be wise for the five of us to talk first thing in the morning and discuss what needs to be done to make a viable community for ourselves.”

Aiden slowly nodded his head. “Aye! I agree with yer suggestion. We can select a facilitator, come up with several guidelines and report to ye all tomorrow evening,” he firmly proposed as Larry and Lakota also murmured their agreement.

“Sounds like a plan,” put in Troy, reflectively nodding his head.

With the election behind them, an agreement was unanimously voted on that no one would go wondering off until exploration teams had been put together. A night guard was determined with Preston and Mitchell taking the first watch.

Each of the men assumed responsibility for washing up their dishes and leaving them spread out on a large overturned crate to dry. A couple of men volunteered to clean up the bigger items used for cooking and baking while a few others cared for the livestock.

Finally, everyone gathered up their personal belongings and found a space to bed down for the night. They’d put in a busy day and were exhausted. Tomorrow loomed on the horizon and the majority of the men looked forward to it with heartwarming expectation.


No comments:

Post a Comment