(continued from part 1)
The center of town served as the focal point for any Community functions. Wooden platforms encircled the back half of a large open round area with a small depression in the middle dug for ceremonial fires.
Large tarps had been laid out, presumably while she slept. She stopped to ponder as she never had before as to the purpose of it all. The streets and the central annular clearing were surfaced with nothing but earthen ground. She wondered if the tarps were there for appearances or if they served some purpose such as to keep the clothing of the People clean.
The preparations for Declaration weren’t too complex. Wood was piled in the center pit, the tarps had already been spread and all she could see being done now was a small number of torches and lanterns being placed on the perimeter. Once these were lit, she settled low in the frame of the window to contemplate her fate as there was little to see until the People were summoned to gather.
Nothing was written in the Book of Council as to what happened to the Chosen. They either returned to their work or they vanished. Was she to vanish also? She had never thought that far ahead or in depth on the subject of the Chosen. She had never been allowed to think that much on anything.
As she pondered these things she could hear the voices of the orators outside becoming more perceptible now. Her vantage from the window was limited but before too long her assumption was confirmed. The People were being lead to the Declaration. She watched as the People filed in as directed. Each going to a particular location as they always had. As they always did at the direction of Council.
One of the members of the Council that had been placing and lighting the lanterns and torches around the circle a few minutes earlier now went to the pyre in the middle and applied his brazier to various places around the base of the wood that had been stacked there.
She watched as the flame slowly licked up and around the cluster of logs. She couldn’t help but imagine how that was the way her mind was now working. Soon the fire would be a roaring blaze as her thoughts had been in the last few hours. But it starts with nothing but a few flickers applied around the edges.
Her focus and her thoughts were fixed on the fire. So much so, that she failed to hear the Councilman coming up the stairs. The sound of the door unlocking suddenly made her realize that the orator had stopped his reading. She turned to see that the reader was now gone but instead found a man dressed in a council robe. But this man’s face seemed more animated than the one that had come to attend to her Review. His was not as lifeless…. and he smiled!
“I have come to escort you to Declaration my dear,” he said relaxing his smile seemingly in response to her surprise by it.
His initial manner was so foreign that she had to do her best not to show astonishment at it. No one was ever animated in the Community. Not even members of the Council. And he was using pleasantries in his speech she had never heard before.
‘My dear?’ she thought. The last she could recall hearing those words spoken was somewhere way back in her memory. Perhaps from her childhood. She maintained her stone-faced expression not knowing what this new twist meant for her. ‘Might it not be yet another test of some sort?‘ she thought.
In her astonishment she had not risen which is what might have been expected. She could have sworn he had to stifle a chuckle before he gained a stiffer posture that almost seemed to be half hiding a smirk.
“Alright,” he said almost to himself, pausing a moment before again extending his arm in a more formal manner. “It is the will of the Council that I escort you to the ceremony of Declaration.”
Although it, in itself was a strange way to deliver the Council’s will, it served to snap her mind back to the moment at hand. She rose slowly and solemnly and stepped forward, toward the man. Again he gave a slight smile before again returning to a stone-faced expression as he turned toward the door.
By the time they reached the front door to the building, all of the People were gathered in a semi circle around the now roaring fire. A member of the Council stood at the fore reading from the Book of Council as she had seen done at previous Declarations.
“The will of the Council is the will of the People.
The will of the People is to do what is right on behalf of the People.
To do right is to do good.
We gather for Declaration as directed by Council.
One of the people has been selected at the will of the Council on behalf of the People.”
She thought to herself how mundane it all was. As frightened as she was at what might await her, she knew that nothing spectacular ever occurred during the Declaration. The person selected stood as the book was read. The whole thing was rather clinical and scripted. Much like the rest of the life in the Community.
As they approached the fire, her escort stopped and she did also a few feet behind him. The member of the Council reading from the book temporarily ceased his reading as the head of the Council gave a small acknowledging nod to the escort.
The escort then turned to her and placed his hands on her shoulders to move her a into the position before the fire then all but gave her a wink before returning to an expressionless face and moving to take his place somewhere behind her.
She didn’t pay any more attention to the festivities going on around her than she had the dozens of times before when she had been present as another faceless member of the People. Her mind was pre-occupied with her immediate past, her immediate future and the strange behavior of the Councilman who had escorted her to the Council ring. She couldn’t help but feel he was watching her. She couldn’t help but wonder that it was another test for her.
She stood and stared into the flames, the heat from the blaze upon her face, the crackling of the dry logs ringing in her ears. She thought briefly of what was in the minds of the People gathered, but she had a pretty good idea what they thought. She had been one of them. They were as she was. Following along, following the direction of the Council for the good of the People. She considered again the concept for which she had no word.
As the reading continued on, she again thought of the strange councilman. She considered further the pleasantries of his manner. She tried to picture him in her mind and found that she could. Even his face struck her as different.
He wore a short, graying beard and matching gray splattered hair – not in itself an oddity for a member of Council – but it framed skin that seemed more touched by the sun and aged. Had she known the word for it, she would have considered it as ‘weathered’. She watched the head of Council and his unwavering stance and contrasted it in her mind to that of her escort.
When she did stop to consider what might happen after the Declaration, she had no more answers than she did questions. ‘What led some to return and others to vanish? What was it all about anyway? It was all so stiff, as stiff as everything else in the community. Unwavering as the posture of the head of Council.‘
The reading from the Book made up the bulk of the ceremony. Truth be told, reading from the Book made up the bulk of life in the Community. She didn’t hear any of the words. She realized she hadn’t really heard the words all her life. She knew what they said, yes. But they were just part of what being in the Community was. One did not need to stop and consider them. One needed only to do as they were directed.
She wondered what it was all for. The question “Why?” came back to her mind and the wordless concept. As all these waves of thoughts — the mysteries and questions — passed through her head, she completely lost track of the passage of time. Before she knew it Ceremony was reaching it’s conclusion and her mind was suddenly struck with the imminence of the ‘unknown’ that would visit her next.
The people began to rise from their positions as directed by the various Council members distributed around the circle. They rose and began to file off to their sleeping quarters. Declaration was over. The People began to file out.
She no more looked upon them than did any of them pay any particularly obvious notice of her. She was just one of the Selected, they were all just members of the People.
As groups filed past, she felt a body crowding against her right shoulder. She assumed it was someone stepping out of the way of the passing groups when she felt the hair of a beard lightly against her neck and heard the whispers of the escort in her ear.
“I must leave you now little one. You are not yet among the Chosen but should that become your fate, we will likely meet again. Even the will of the Council must obey the letter of the Law.”
She continued to stare forward as he did this and noticed the head member of the Council turn his attention toward her and the escort. As quickly as the Council head’s glance landed upon them, the presence on her back moved off. The escort was moving away somewhere behind her. She could tell this was so as the Council leader’s eyes followed him for a few seconds longer before returning forward again to oversee the last of the procession.
She pondered the whispered words and wondered what they meant and why he had said them. ‘the Law?‘ What was meant by that? She had a vague recollection of the word and remembered it having a context with that of ‘rules’. But even the words of the Council were no longer spoken of as rules. It was simply the Council’s will. It simply represented the will of the People.
As the last of the People were led off by their respective foreman from the Council circle, the Council leader finally turned to speak some words of direction to one of the men at his side then directed a few others to begin the process of dousing the flames and clearing the ceremonial grounds.
She was expected to do nothing more than stand and wait for further direction so she held her vigil. When he eventually finished giving his directions, the chief Councilman finally turned to walk over and to stand before her. He examined her face at length, his expression not changing. She was no longer thinking of anything else. She just focused on him to await whatever came next.
After a few more moments passed, he said in the manner of a cold statement of fact, “The Declaration is now complete.”
He paused and didn’t even seem to breath as his stare went right through her. He continued, “When you were selected you were at the task of making gloves for the benefit of the People. The work station was relieved by another member of the Community but your work is not yet finished.” He seemed to add emphasis to the word ‘your’. “It is the will of the Council that you return to the workstation and finish the day’s task as you were directed by the foreman. The foreman is waiting there. The foreman will provide further direction as is necessary should it be required. When the work has been completed as directed, it is the will of the Council that you report to the dormitory for the night’s rest.”
He paused a moment, still watching her face to make sure she understood her direction. She could not quite decipher if he was still adding an emphasis on every use of the word ‘you‘ or if it was simply the lack of such a word being spoken frequently by a member of Council that drew her own attention to it.
She nodded slightly to acknowledge that she understood and he added, ” The will of the Council is to do the will of the People. The will of the People is to do what is good .”
With that he raised his right hand in the direction of the workshop but his composure did not change. She stood only briefly but noticed upon her momentary pause that the Councilman’s brow seemed to stiffen to add further emphasis to the directions.
‘Go finish your work and go to bed?‘ she thought to herself as she turned to comply. Nothing made any sense anymore so she resolved not to try to unravel it. Instead she turned and did as directed. She turned to go back to work.
(continued in part 3)