DAY THREE HUNDRED EIGHTY FIVE
As our survey of the north side of the city proved fruitless, the Purser wants to turn our attention to the south side today. I think it best to camp out by the northern gate and wait there but finally agree to tour the southern section – with the proviso that we make a circuit and end up at the northern gate.
The children are our paramount consideration. We looked at each route down from the escarpment and discarded them one by one as too difficult for their small statures.
We swung around to the inland side, keeping the city in view in the distance. There is a road from the city that would appear to intersect somewhere to the south.
DAY THREE HUNDRED EIGHTY SIX
The Captain has finished offloading this port’s cargo and is now loading containers for future ports.
He is convinced that his family did not come this way, so he will look elsewhere. So, he wants to get underway as soon as his freight is aboard (with or without Enoch’s party). To that end he is seeking permission to leave. So far the answer is in the negative.
We have re-evaluated at which gate to look for our travelers. The southern one seems the more likely.
It was a grueling descent, especially for the youngsters. Circumstances dictate we stay here for the night to rest and recover.
The road ahead looks straight and level. The city in sight.
DAY THREE HUNDRED EIGHTY SEVEN
Before the Purser and I left for the southern gate, the Captain called for the government guard. He will make an appeal to him for any ideas as to how to gain permission to embark.
So as we head out, it is with the knowledge that the ship may well not be here upon our return.
I had expected the children to be stirring well before the adults, but the mountain at our back has kept us in its shadow, lengthening the night.
With our late start, our walk which began under the heat of the sun, ended long after it had gone down. Elijah and the Purser ran out to greet us. The children love their papa.
DAY THREE HUNDRED EIGHTY EIGHT
We are all together again.
All of us under the blessing.
Our ship is gone, as well as every other vessel that was in the harbor. They took advantage of the narrow window of time granted to them by the robotic warship.
The Captain left word of their plan to call at a port located on the opposite coast of this continent. We will have the opportunity to rejoin them there if we so desire.
Elijah just smiles. I am convinced that he knew all along this would come to pass. For our plan now is to set out on the trail of the Hamashiachites as soon as preparations can be made.
We soon learn not to reveal our plans.
DAY THREE HUNDRED EIGHTY NINE
Given Elijah’s time in this city, as long as he showed interest in who was coming in and not considering a departure by their gates, he was ignored. But now that he or rather “we” are planning our exit, everyone asks questions about us. When are we going – and where and for what reason? In his second such encounter he learned they do not have a kind regard for the followers of Hamashiach.
The Purser tells us this is not typical to his experience in the past. But it makes sense to me. Without the stabilizing force of the Spirit to the city, those remaining are suspicious of those who “abandoned” them.
We shall depart as soon as we can.
DAY THREE HUNDRED NINETY
We slipped out of the city in the middle of the night. Elijah, the Purser’s family and myself. Not through either gate. But over the wall via the rooftop of an adjoining building.
Elijah and I have some valuable experience in this regard from our first days together.
We stumbled about a good deal until we discovered at last the road leading to the interior. From there on it was an easy march for all.
We halted at the same place that Mary, the children and I stopped four days ago.
Neither Elijah nor I know which direction we should go next. The Purser is all for striking out straight ahead. But we all agreed to await the Spirit’s leading.
DAY THREE HUNDRED NINETY ONE
The decisions have been made. We parted. The Purser took his family up to the escarpment eastward. Elijah and I took the harder climb to the north, our immediate destination the riverfront town.
We are all comfortable with our decisions. Each party discerns the hand of the One upon them. Before parting, Elijah took the Purser aside. In particular he entrusted to him a message that is to be passed on to any followers of Hamashiach they may come across.
Meridian had come and gone by the time we bid each other God speed. We were atop the escarpment with the city still in view when night fell.
Far below a large party exited the city.
Are they in pursuit?
DAY THREE HUNDRED NINETY TWO
The city has dropped from our sight as we have pushed on into the wilderness. I returned the sling to Mawuli before we parted figuring that they would require its protection should they pass through similar wild beast habitats. An easy decision. After all, we have Elijah’s staff with us.
As indeed it did prove to be an aid in keeping some ravenous mastiffs away from us. And some rather big cats.
We were able to leave them and the wilderness behind before we went into camp for the night.
I asked Elijah if he had any sense for our future course once we reach the riverfront town.
He says he is still open and encourages me to be also.
DAY THREE HUNDRED NINETY THREE
This has been the longest day. Mile after mile of bush, boring in the extreme for its sameness. Visibility only dropped off in the haziness of the distant horizon to our front. And we kept a wary regard as to what lay behind us. No longer did we see the wilderness through which we had passed, but, then again, neither did we see anyone following us. A good thing, but tempered by the thought of what that meant, that they were perhaps on the trail of the Purser and his family instead.
Elijah and I did use the time to catch one another up on our doings while we were separated. What he shared about the robotic warship haunted me.
DAY THREE HUNDRED NINETY FOUR
Another long day. Though we had left the bush country behind, the bleakness continued, only changing in tenor. Our senses were overloaded with the sights, the sounds and the smells of desolation left in these fields laid waste by the locusts. I’d forgotten my first passage through them because they look so much worse than at that time. Something else has happened since then.
The stubble that was evident everywhere before, I believe has all been burnt away, if I have judged aright that the marks in the soil are indeed signs of scorching.
Elijah just made faces and kept on walking. It dried up the conversation between us.
I did find Mawuli’s snake carcass again, so we’re not lost.
DAY THREE HUNDRED NINETY FIVE
I was relieved to leave the desolation behind. And I think I speak for Elijah too. He hasn’t commented directly about it, but for a while there, he was holding his arm across his face. Now he walks unencumbered and without stumbling.
The last long stretch before the riverfront town, though lonely was a refreshing walk. I still wonder why there are no villages on its outskirts. They have the look of prime farmland.
The riverfront town has emptied out, comparatively speaking. We were probably the only ones around that could be considered refugees. We had no trouble finding a place to stay, an inn down beside the river.
We as yet have no leading as to our next step.
DAY THREE HUNDRED NINETY SIX
While awaiting direction, Elijah kept to himself and remained at the inn. I roamed the streets of the riverfront town. I think I had it covered all before noon.
I’d hardly seen any of it my first time through with the Purser’s family. Now I consider myself an expert. I could give tours.
Our inn is surrounded by markets, which are constantly supplied by traffic from the river. I took notes on schedules and fares, should we be led up or down river.
Moving out from there I finally came upon the route used by the followers of Hamashiach in their flight from the area. I have the strongest feeling that our course lays along that way.
Let Elijah decide.
DAY THREE HUNDRED NINETY SEVEN
Today was a market day. The market stalls around our inn swelled to double their normal number, and the discordant music of haggling filled the air.
Elijah had some direction from his time in the Spirit, but could not make head nor tail of the vision. It also was unknown to me when he described it. So I suggested we retrace my steps from yesterday to see if we could turn up something similar.
It took some effort to squeeze through the morning crowds on the hunt for deals.
Finally we made it out to that other route that had intrigued me yesterday. Nothing struck us of import until we turned back. There on the milestone was the mysterious design.
DAY THREE HUNDRED NINETY EIGHT
I was all for starting off immediately now we know the route we are to take. But Elijah settled me down and explained we still had some waiting to do. He needs to settle the “when” question to his satisfaction. He can’t help but feel that we have something yet to accomplish here. Together.
He did allow one concession. We changed inns – from the one along the river to another near our future path.
Our new abode has a quiet and peaceful courtyard. Perfect for contemplation. Elijah claimed it for his use. I took up my station outside to watch the comings and goings.
Thoughts came and went too.
About the Purser and his family. And the Captain and Tomas.
DAY THREE HUNDRED NINETY NINE
Elijah sent me out today to stock up on some supplies for our departure, which he believes will be soon.
Prices were noticeably higher than when the market was filled with merchants. So I wasn’t in a hurry to purchase anything. At the time I remember thinking that I would advise Elijah that we hold off until the next big market day.
I did buy a few necessities, and was about to leave when a riverboat put in and landed some passengers.
Curious, I stayed to look on. One figure stood out from the rest. Whereas most left the riverfront and dispersed, he went into the inn where we first stayed. It was the young man with a beard, Stan.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED
Elijah and I have come to the same conclusion. Stan is here to extend and widen the reach of the world government.
But we disagree on what to do next. I believe his appearance was the answer to our “when to leave” question. Now.
Elijah clings to the notion that we still have a responsibility. What that is exactly, remains a mystery.
In my considered opinion, all followers of Hamashiach are safely out of his reach.
A case in point, the former owners of this inn were believers that left. The current possessors, we have learned, simply took over.
All the remaining denizens in this town are ripe to receive the “mark” for his promises.
What is left to do?
DAY FOUR HUNDRED ONE
A raucous rally kept us awake last night. We could hear Stan’s voice excite the crowd with his promises. As he wound up, he announced his intent to hold enrollments at the riverfront inn later on this afternoon.
Elijah and I debated whether or not to drop in on this event. He wanted to. I didn’t. I could see no reason to want to do so. As for his reasons, they sounded to me like simple curiosity. When he confirmed that understanding, I countered with the observation that the only reason to be there at all would be for an all-out confrontation. This brought a twinkle to his eye.
And so he went. I await here for his return.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED TWO
We are on the road, and traveling the route that other followers of Hamashiach have taken before us. We left shortly after Elijah returned from Stan’s meeting at the riverfront inn.
The whole town had been there and eager to receive the mark.
However, Stan was only able to bestow the “honors” upon one couple – the very ones who possess the inn in which we last stayed. Stan had no sooner finished with them when the meeting was broken up by a hoard of bees that filled the riverfront area.
Elijah sensed an immediate release. Me too.
Unlike the other route, there are lots of villages lining the road. We shall look for an inn in the next one ahead.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED THREE
We have reached the last village on this plateau. Ahead a vast wilderness awaits. I figure it must be part of the other one we crossed a few days ago further to the west.
The locals tell us that we must plan for at least three days to pass through to the other side. They also inform us to be prepared to ward off wild animals.
As we have dealt with that type of problem before, we are unconcerned. I am concerned, however, if Stan is in pursuit. It wouldn’t do to be overtaken in such a place.
For now Elijah thinks he is probably too busy trying to pull things together after his failed meeting in the riverfront town.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED FOUR
So far, so good.
One day into the wilderness and with the exception of a boggy area, we have made good progress.
Wild beasts appear to go out of their way to avoid us. Leastways I think they are there because I hear rustling in the undergrowth.
At one point we overtook two other travelers. They were not as fortunate. One had been wounded, fighting off a big cat. Elijah applied a balm and bound up his wound. They wanted to pay Elijah for his ministration, but he refused.
We kept company until a fork in our path. They headed east towards the coastal port. We kept on towards the interior.
Had the Purser and his family passed this way?
DAY FOUR HUNDRED FIVE
We are exhausted. I believe we got better than a day’s march in. So we are very close to the end of this wilderness. Perhaps by midday tomorrow.
There are now indications that a great number of people have passed this way. Such a fact goes a long way to explain why we have had no sightings of wild beasts. They have fled deeper into the wilderness.
I will take the first watch while Elijah turns in. Throughout the day our discussions revolved around what may lie behind us. So my vigilance will be focused in that quarter. And not simply because we believe Stan will eventually follow us.
We have passed by sojourners from the west bearing the mark.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED SIX
I was a late riser this morning. Elijah, having the last watch, let me sleep in to recover from yesterday. So when preparations were complete, we got off to a good, though late start.
Even so we came out of the wilderness well before midday, which was ahead of our expectations. But the view that greeted us was completely surprising. An extensive and empty salt flat.
That it was empty was most unnerving. I had expected to see multitudes awash in this interior expanse. All of the evidence we had passed on our route called for that conclusion.
Elijah took in the scene and was pragmatic. All it meant he shrugged was that we still have a ways to go.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED SEVEN
The crunch of our footsteps upon the caked salt, kept us company as we stuck to the tracks of the many who have passed before us.
It was easier to keep our heads down and eyes focused on the patterns on the ground rather than the over bright whiteness stretching beyond, made worse by the glowing haze that hugs the horizon.
That’s probably why we did not see the muddy quagmire until we almost stumbled into it. I looked up to see a man buried up to his neck in the sticky mess.
Elijah and I freed him with some risk to ourselves. He barely nodded his thanks as he sped away.
Does bearing the mark always make one surly?
DAY FOUR HUNDRED EIGHT
At one point we considered switching our travel time to the night hours, but our mishap with the quagmire decided us against that strategy. It would be unwise in the extreme. Instead we will move in the cooler parts of the day and so continue until we get to the end of this salt flat.
We feel it is slowing our passage, but it is difficult to measure, for we can’t tell how far we’ve traveled today. We can’t even make out our morning starting point. And when we look before us it is impossible to judge how long it will take to put this all behind us.
It all makes one wonder out loud how the Purser’s family fared.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED NINE
The end of the salt flat is in sight. And so is the first hint of what is most likely the goal of our recent wanderings. In this long day Elijah has used the time more wisely than me – fasting both food and conversation. His attention has been elsewhere.
I have been chatty, voicing my thoughts out loud, though not really expecting an answer in reply. I can look at my friend and for the most part know what he is thinking. And for sure l know what his answer would be to my rather rhetorical questions.
Now we are stopped for the night, Elijah has ended his fast and declares to me that we will see the Purser tomorrow.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED TEN
Well, perhaps Elijah meant instead that we would catch up with the settlement of all the Hamashiachites. For that indeed was what we made out from the edge of the salt flat yesterday.
It was a welcome change to walk on firmer ground and without that incessant crunching noise.
The settlement grew enormously upon our approach. It seems much more had been hidden from our sight as it extends around to the east behind a rock formation that juts out onto the plain.
A crowd greeted us when we entered the encampment. Elijah immediately pushed on further into the maze of tents, leaving me here.
Hold on, as I am writing this, Elijah has returned with the Purser in tow.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED ELEVEN
The Purser took us into their commodious tent where we shared a meal, then turned in for the night.
First thing in the morning he and Elijah went off to a meeting with the many leaders of the settlement, while I stayed with Mary and the children. I caught them up on our adventures and they filled me in on theirs.
Only a couple of days after our parting they had met and joined a large party from the north. This group rejoiced greatly over the message her husband shared with them, and made him their leader upon learning its source was Elijah.
Retha proudly informed me that her brother is famous among them for his prowess with the sling.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED TWELVE
While Elijah again accompanied the Purser to meetings, he assigned me the task of going through the entire camp seeking for people bearing the mark.
They have been plagued by lone wolves coming into their midst, feigning allegiance to Hamashiach, and sowing discord instead. My mind sprang back to the man we rescued from the quagmire as a likely example.
Elijah deputized me with his staff. I will take it with me on my assignment as a sign of authority.
It was not long before I knew that this was going to take more than a day to accomplish. At the same time that realization was paired with an unshakable burden. I feel that my every movement is being watched.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED THIRTEEN
Upon my return last night I reported to Elijah that I still had more than half the camp to cover. And when I launched out this morning I was not confident that I would be able to complete my task. All the more so when I gave in to Mawuli’s begging me to be allowed to go along. A propitious decision as it turned out.
Mawuli’s knowledge of the layout of the camp sped us along. And the curious children who at times impeded me yesterday, presented no problem today because of his presence.
At day’s end we were heading back, when something glinted overhead. I pointed to a drone and Mawuli brought it down with a well aimed stone.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED FOURTEEN
The broken bits of drone raised a ruckus when Mawuli and I brought them in. The leaders of the settlement dispatched men to look for its base of operations. The results were inconclusive as night overtook their efforts.
They went out again today. And Mawuli and I did also but on another tack. Elijah thought it best that we check the high points around camp, starting with the promontory that juts out into the plain. And that is indeed where we found a base camp of sorts, a fully automated one.
I removed its batteries and Mawuli stepped back and used the remainder for sling target practice.
Our find was welcomed upon our return, the batteries put to good use.
ON TO MONTH FIFTEEN