Elai the Builder
Rejection stung harshly like the wintry chill we were forced to endure as we followed the Attle river northward. Soloma
was far behind us, but it remained impossibly near to our hearts and minds. Many had given up and were simply ambling forward as though their marching feet had taken over entirely. The motions remained much the same while the pace had been slowed. I admit than I was no exception to this misery.
When in just six nights there had been three occasions of the tent losing one of its grounding posts, I knew that my motivation was shot. My performance was dwindling right before my eyes, and yet I cared so little to do anything about it.
Another night came upon us, and the camp was gathered around the light and warmth of the fire. The smoke rose up in almost a perfect line on this calm and silent night. The snow had begun to melt in the day, but the night remained frigid and unbearable without a nearby fire, warm clothing, or a companion; I was blessed with all three.
I looked over the group of us gathered around the fire. We had all taken to a fallen log or a stump to rest our tired feet. If this had been just a year ago, drink and song could have been had. How was it that nearly fifteen people could be in talking distance with one another and yet no words spoken?
My hand rested on Essika’s cold fingers to warm them with mine. I found her attention lacking seeing that she still gazed at the burning embers rising and flickering out against the dark of night above. It was up to me to break this downward spiral.
“I’m sure the trading town that Harold spoke of must be near,” I said boldly. It had been quiet for so long that it rang in my ears afterward.
“What does it matter?” Ezekiah asked bluntly.
“What does it matter,” Annette repeated softly and then followed with a rising voice. “What does it matter? Why are we all out here if not to find a new home?” Her eyes were alight with rage and pinned on Ezekiah.
“We’ve been wandering for so long and have nothing to show for it. Many seasons have come and gone, and we’re still facing yet more.”
“And so you would just give up? What is wrong with you?”
“We might as well because hoping for a new home won’t give us one, and that’s just about all you’ve ever done.”
Her mouth hung agape at the slight. When she looked to the rest of us for back-up, she eventually found my eyes. The obligation was powerful. Someone had to say something. Anything.
“Okay, that’s enough,” I said, holding up both hands peacefully. “Annette has done plenty for us. You should thank her for the clothes you have on your back for that matter. All of us should. We still need the clothing she makes just as much as we need the hope that she provides. If hope is really all we have, I’ll take what I can get.”
“Thank you, Elai. That was very kind. But we all play our part out here.”
Ezekiah stood up with a hearty laughter that seemed just as mocking as it was obnoxious. “That’s right! We all play our part here, don’t we?” He pointed at Annette, “Our Tailor for when we’re cold,” he said as his pointed finger found the next face he named. “Jeremiah feeds us when we’re hungry. Elai gives us shelter while we sleep. Essika collects various foods when animals aren’t nearby.” He paused, his finger pointed at David. The rise of his voice and the aggression behind it was more than evident as he shouted into the empty lands surrounding them: “And David … who mucks up the only good chance we had of having a home because he just couldn’t convince one man of our value!”
“Ezekiah, you piece of-“Jeremiah shouted in what sounded like a jumbled growl of syllables and lunged into Ezekiah using his shoulder to knock him off balance onto the flat of his back while David sat in astonished quiet.
“Stop!” Essika shouted just as Jeremiah was descending upon the sputtering laborer to introduce his fists to the mix, her voice rose above the squabble. The fair-featured woman looked over the men who had stopped at her command and were peeling themselves away from one another—perhaps more to Ezekiah’s benefit than anyone else’s.
“This is tearing us apart,” Essika said, a hand gesturing to the involved parties of the conflict. “We cannot go on.”
“We can’t give up, Essika—please,” I said in a near plea that my wife still maintain hope against all odds lest she be lost to despair’s grasp.
“I haven’t given up, my love,” she responded, finally providing me with the warmth and brilliance of her smile. For just that second, life was beautiful and good again.
“What do you mean then,” David asked. Looking him over, he still seemed a little awe-struck about the fight moments ago.
“We build here.”
“We can’t build here. Can we?” David looked at me for answers, and I looked behind me at the line of trees and the stones that could be found here and there.
“I suppose it’s possible,” I said hesitantly. “But why would we give up trying to find an established settlement to take us in?
“We have all faced banishment and rejection by all we have met, and we have grown weak and weary over the months; it’s time to build our own future here.” There was quiet reflection afterward, and clearly there was some indecision as we considered the point and possibility of staking a claim to the land around us.
“Building a village would take years. I just… I don’t think that’s the right thing for-“
“I’m with child.”
Never before had the crackling of the fire been so loud against the silence left in the wake of her words. I wrapped my arms around her and kissed her forehead gently. The wonder of life and fatherhood filled everything inside me—the imminent hardships be damned.
“We build here tomorrow.” I said softly with my lips pressed into my wife’s blonde hair. “Any who object, speak now.”
No more words were spoken that night. It was the last night we slept as nomads, and it was followed by the first morning as citizens of Attleport.