A Novel By Michael Edwards
"Remember to dot your I's and cross your T's."
Laughing, an old woman again offered this advice to her young daughter.
"But you don't know what it means."
"No. It is just something we have always said. My mother said it, her mother said it, her mother, as far back as anyone could remember. It is just one of those silly mother's advice."
"Maybe the whole School says it." The woman's daughter wondered aloud, then shook her head. "Maybe not though. What would it have to do with language."
"It is just one of those ancient things mothers tell their daughters." She laughed again. "The neighbor boy used to say they were magic words, like a magic spell. Maybe they were. Maybe that is why I have lived so long. And my mother. And hers. Our family legend tells of a great great great grandmother who lived to be sixty."
"That is not possible - is it?"
"No, it is just a legend, I am sure."
Mother and daughter returned to reflecting on things. "You used to be so scared whenever the neighbor boy went on his adventures. You were so afraid he would disappear like your little sister, either be eaten, straying into another School; or fall into the Bitumen Pool and drown. He would put on his little backpack he had made of sticks and head out for his adventure. And now you are getting together to create your own translation, just like your father and I did."
He started out, with his loincloth that barely covered him and with his backpack of sticks.
"Now mind your P's and Q's; and stay close to the debris piles," his father cautioned. Then he was off, on another adventure."
He encountered no one along the way to his secret hideout. His friend was waiting; his friend's loin cloth had three slits to his two; but had no backpack of sticks.
"Did you meet up with anyone? his friend asked.
"No," he said, "did you?"
"Three boys chased me, but I saw some Engineers in time and hid."
"Did they get the boys?"
"I wonder where the boys were from."
"They had four slits."
"So they were Chemists' sons. So there will be three fewer Chemists."
"Yes. Where should we go this time?" the boy's friend wondered.
"Maybe the other way," the boy said.
"So you still want to look for the Magic Door?"
"Yes, we have to. We have to find it."
"My Teachers say it is not real, it is only a myth."
"So do mine. But I know it is real or I would not be looking for it."
"And you really think it will lead out?"
"I know it will. And when I find it, I will take the healer's girl and leave here."
"Can I come too?" his friend asked; but a sudden noise kept him from answering. They moved even farther into the big debris pile.
It was a class outing of boys from one of the nearby Schools. Outings were common this time of year; and with Teachers along Students felt safe. The light just for an instant touched upon one of the boys' loincloths; it had one slit.
When they passed, the boy said to his friend one word: Technology. Awhile more and they were again on their way to find the Magic Door. In time they came to The Wall, so high they could not see the top. A metal wall, like the corrugated pieces occasionally lying near debris piles, imprinted with a pattern which no one had ever deciphered.
"We have to read these symbols," the boy said to his friend. "They are like what my Teachers call hieroglyphics. Once we learn to read them, they will tell us where the Magic Door is."
"Unless we go ahead and find it first," his friend said. "What do you think is on the other side?"
The boy thought. "My Teachers say there is nothing there, just endless debris piles, some as high as The Wall. But I do not think so. "Look," he pulled out something from his backpack. "Another one of these fell from the sky. I do not know what it is - no one does; but I think the other side is filled with them."
"I have seen them too. I asked my father; and he said there is no such color, so it cannot be real. I wish the Scientists were here so I could ask them. I bet they would know."
The boy thought about it, then shook his head. "The Artists would know," he said to his friend.
"They are all dead, my father told me. A lot of people are waiting to move into their School."
"Is your people?"
"No, it is too close to Finance."
It was getting dark so the boys parted and went home, once again failing to find the Magic Door. On the way home, the boy stopped to collect a small piece of metal of the kind that made up The Wall, to add to his collection. His aim was to collect enough pieces to decipher the pattern.
There were no classes for many days. The School was closed for repairs, its thatch roof was scorched and sagged, in places almost to the ground. The Head Master summoned all the Students.
"The School of Language will remain closed until repairs are completed," the Head Master announced. If we are vigilant we can remain in our homes; but after today there can be no gathering of Students."
"When will it reopen?" everyone wondered.
"We will not know until we have assessed the damage."
"Was it the Engineers who did this?"
"It looks that way."
"They are determined to take over every School!" someone speculated.
The boy who sought the Magic Door sat with the healer's daughter at the back of the gathering.
"We did not go near the Bitumen," he assured her.
"Who were you with?" she asked.
"That boy from Business Management. He is my best friend. We went searching for the Magic Door."
"Everyone says it is a myth."
"Do you believe it is a myth?"
The girl thought a moment. "No, I do not," she told him. It must be real or you would not be looking for it."
"I got another piece of that stuff The Wall is made of. Do you want to see it?"
"Yes. So that makes five pieces you have. Is that enough to figure out the pattern?"
"Not yet," the boy admitted. "But soon I will have enough."
They slipped away to his home. "That one is a big piece," the girl said. "how did you carry it?"
"In my backpack. I was telling my friend about you and he said he knew who you were. He has seen you out with some of your class looking for ancient hieroglyphics. He said he almost came up to you but you moved away. I think he likes you."
The little ones were not ready for more advanced learning beyond gathering sticks, stones, old cloth and loose pieces from the debris piles to be fashioned into clothing and shelter and sometimes food. They must wait until they grow out of childhood into adulthood, when the boys' loin cloths and the girls' skirts give way to more substantial attire. Then the Three R's could be taught, along with matters relating to their advanced physiology.
The neighbor boy continued seeking out his girlfriend's company at school. The Teacher asked what the Three R's were. The girl, now an adult, responded.
"Reading, Writing, Arithmetic." This was followed by the Teacher asking what each meant.
Again, the girl answered. "Reading is deciphering hieroglyphics. Writing is making slits in clothing to identify our School status. Arithmetic is placing the correct number of sticks to be used in building something."
"Very good. Now then: the boy next to you: how many sticks will it take to build your own home?"
"A hundred," the boy answered without hesitation.
"Why so many?" the Teacher asked.
"We plan on creating lots of translations - at least ten!"
The class laughed at the boy's bravado; then all looked to the girl beside him for confirmation. She nodded her agreement.
"You really mean to create as many as ten translations?" her mother asked when told of the classroom incident.
"I do mother," the girl said.
"Then you will be very busy making sure they do not wander away, like your little sister. You will find yourself dotting your I's and crossing your T's all day long!"
When the boy, now an adult wearing pants made of old cloth, with two slits in the left leg, and just having been given his name - Giovanni - told his friend from the School of Business Management of his plan for building his home large enough for ten translations; the boy, now also an adult just given his own name, said nothing.
"You think I boast," Giovanni said. "I know - everyone else does too. But I thought you would understand."
"How can I understand something no one has ever attempted before?" Giovanni's fried asked.
Giovanni was saddened by his friend's lack of understanding but quickly forgot his disappointment when they began their ongoing quest to find the Magic Door.
"What if we never find it? What if it really is only a myth?"
Giovanni thought a moment and said "Then I will find a way to climb The Wall and see what lies beyond."
A hundred foot high wall was not so easily scaled as Giovanni imagined.
Down what appeared to once have been a road, past several debris piles, stood the School of Divinity, nearest the School of Language. Their clothing had no slits: it was said to be a sacrilege to deface anything so generously provided by the Creator. Each week on a given evening the Students would assemble for a prayer and song fest to honor the Creator.
"We have been given this most wondrous of all places on God's earth to live out our lives," the Head Master again reminded his Students, as he did every week at this time. "We have land, a lake, a place for fuel for our fires and to help us make our roofs - all surrounded by a great wall God had our ancestors build to keep us safe from the void beyond. And we have sticks, and debris, and old cloth to cover our nakedness. We are truly blessed. But we must be ever vigilant, for the Great Satan stalks our land, seeking lost souls to gather and turn against the Creator. We cannot allow evil to triumph."
Several boys, and even a few girls, rose up after the lecture to affirm their belief that of all the people within this wondrous place, the Engineers were most evil, with the Technologists not far behind. They testified they had hidden when a party from the School of Engineering attacked their sabbatical and they were forced to watch five novitiates being dragged off.
By the time they were finished testifying, they were crying, and fell prostrate before the Head Master, begging forgiveness.
"Arise, my children," declared the Head Master, "for surely the Creator would not wish to suffer the loss of more of His children. You are forgiven."
They thanked the Head Master and promised if ever again they were caught they would not run off and hide, leaving their fellow novitiates to suffer alone.
Their testimonial was followed by much singing the praises of Lord Beelzebub, which could be heard down the road at the School of Language.
It was English, greatest Head Master of the School of Engineering, who began the new building initiative, exactly one hundred years ago. On a field trip he noticed the bones that rose to the surface of the Bitumen Pool, into which children had fallen as far back as anyone could remember. All children were warned to keep away; most obeyed, but some always wandered too close and fell in, and once in were trapped by the thick black goo that slowly pulled them under.
English reasoned these bones could be used to strengthen his Students' homes. He gathered a handful, took them back to his School, let them dry in the sun, instructed his Students on their use. They served his purpose well; but presented an obstacle, not in their usefulness but in their rarity, for though countless children had fallen into the Pool, not all were stripped down to the bone together, making it a time consuming business collecting the useful part.
At first English proposed collecting the corpses of deceased Students; but this presented yet another obstacle in that the bones of old people were too brittle to permit structuring into the other building materials. Yet at the same time it presented an opportunity for incorporating human skin into the design; but this too proved unsatisfactory, for the skin of old people, those whose skin remained still intact when the corpses floated to the surface, lacked the necessary suppleness to be stretched over roofs, siding and used as window coverings for when the Gray Times came.
A few children had died recently, so it was decided to use their skin and their bones. The incorporation of youthful parts proved wholly satisfactory.
English called all his Students together and, after rejecting the wanton destruction of future Engineering Students, proposed gathering children from the other Schools to be used for the Project. After some debate, his proposal was unanimously accepted by the School Board. Thus began, one hundred years ago, the systematic abduction of children from all over the area within The Wall. No structure within the School of Engineering had ever been breached, no home seriously damaged, all but impervious to projectiles, even flaming pieces of rubble set ablaze with a combination of Bitumen, used universally as fuel, and a secret formula developed by the School of Chemistry.
"I know they didn't get her," the young woman set to begin Translating with the young man who lived next door, assured her aged mother.
"I don't know," her mother remained skeptical. "I should never had begun a Translation so late in life. I was warned something terrible would befall such a Translation. And to make it worse, she harkened back to a long lost ancestor who we're told also had golden hair, and who was said to have lost all but one Translation in the Bitumen. I just don't know."
The names they chose were Lana and Giovanni; they had chosen these names while still children, but they would not become their real names until the Translation ceremony. It was possible another young man and woman might take them.
The young man, who would become Giovanni at the next full moon, told the young woman who would become Lana of his plan to find a house somewhere away from the Language School.
"You don't wish to live among our people?" she asked.
"I do, eventually," he told her. "But for now I must find a place better situated for my quest. There, I can spread my collection on the ground to look for a pattern I might decipher."
"We will be always in danger of discovery, not just by the Engineers but all who stalk others. The Technologists and the Financiers have taken to raiding other Schools. Mother has said even your friend's School of Business Management has started raiding."
"I know, he told me. They raided the School of Agronomy last cycle and took two boys and two girls, who they used to calculate their newest Business Venture. They cut off their fingers."
"Did your friend participate?"
"He refused to say; and he pushed me into the Lake for asking. That's why I was soaking wet last week."
Giovanni and Lana began their search for a suitable location the day after their Translation Ceremony. They had already watched each other undress and had washed each other, so they knew how they would look when their Translation Ceremony took place. Now they learned how each other would feel.
"We feel right for each other," they both agreed.
Lana's mother could not understand why they wished to go out from their School now that they had begun their Translation. She reminded her daughter that nine cycles away a child would come, and would be vulnerable away from School.
"Mother, we will return when it is time," Lana assured her mother. "This is something Giovanni has set his heart on, and I must accompany him."
"You must promise to visit each cycle," Lana's mother said. "The Green Sickness has already come upon me. My toes are beginning to turn. I may not be here when your nine cycles are done."
"I promise, dearest mother, I will visit each cycle at least once."
"Always remember," Lana's mother reminded her daughter, "dot your I's and cross your T's."
"I will remember," Lana promised.
"Mind your P's and Q's," Giovanni's father reminded his son, as he had whenever the boy had donned his backpack and set out to find the Magic Door.
They resolved to keep as far from other Schools as possible, especially the three most hostile. Their search took them wherever Giovanni, as a boy, had found old deserted homes, no matter how run down they were. All were in bad shape; many had fallen completely to ruin since the boy had found them so many years ago, and were little more than debris piles now. He had already mapped out, in his mind, the dimensions encompassed within The Wall, though he had no way to record his findings.
"We can now make such calculations," his friend had boasted to him the day he pushed Giovanni into the Lake. That was when Giovanni asked how they could do that and was told about the captured children's fingers.
"It is 52,800 units across and 36,960 units the other way," Giovanni told Lana.
"How did you arrive at those dimensions?" Lana asked.
"Remember when I was away a whole week? That was when I walked the length and breadth of this place, counting each step as a unit. And I also counted the size around the Lake, and around the Bitumen Pool, and the size of the biggest debris piles - though I could not retain each of those sizes. But I remember the Lake: it is 15,840 units all around. And though I do not remember the Bitumen pool, it was two thirds as big as the Lake."
First they made for The Wall farthest from their School. They stood awestruck staring so high they could barely see the top; then they attempted to discern a pattern within The Wall itself, but could not.
"I know the answer is here, but I may be too stupid to see it," Giovanni confessed.
"You are not too stupid to remember the length and breadth of this world," Lana told him.
It was growing dark. "Let us set up camp here," Giovanni suggested. When they had settled in for the night and lay together for warmth and began to feel each other again, a sudden loud noise startled them.
"Something banged against The Wall," said Giovanni.
"How do you know?" Lana asked.
"This was the sound I made when in frustration and anger I hit my fist against The Wall," Giovanni told her. Soon they fell asleep, after listening for another sound until they were convinced nothing was still banging against The Wall.
They had been followed all the way to The Wall.
Manfred was chosen for the Head Master's son, a name too ceremonial to be left to the young man himself upon the commencement of his Business Enterprise. He would have chosen Manuel had he been permitted to choose his own name. The School of Business Management was closed the day of Manfred and his Business Partner's graduation.
He hated his Business Partner, chosen for him by Management. He hated that every other young man and woman were free to choose their own name and Business Partner. He hated being the Head Master's son. Most of all, he hated that no one could ever choose a Business Partner from any other School in the land.
On the night of his graduation, his body went numb and his Business Partner, named Beulah by Management, felt cheated but said nothing. In the morning, when their Business Enterprise officially began its nine cycles to completion, Beulah cried; and Manfred left School to go in search of widgets and blodgets, which were said to have been left behind when the long ago defunct School of Economics attempted to bury its treasures.
"I am Manuel," he told his best friend Giovanni. "This is what you must call me."
Giovanni clasped his friend's hand and said he was proud and honored to call him Manuel, a declaration which felt to him like a slap in the face. But he treasured Giovanni's friendship so he merely thanked his friend.
The encounter happened the day after Giovanni and Lana lay beside the westernmost expanse of The Wall; and both were surprised and pleased to have encountered Manuel on their way to the Lake, which lay almost in the center of The Land. They invited Manuel to accompany them in their search for a new home, an invitation eagerly accepted.
"I am also in search of a new factory for my Business Enterprise," Manual told them. "It must be near a source of widgets and blodgets, which you would not understand."
Together, they searched the entire shoreline, finding several ancient dwellings too rundown to be of any interest to most dwellers within The Land; but ideal for their purpose.
It became late, so they slipped inside one of the dwellings for the night. During the night, Manuel quietly left to return home. Upon entering his Business Partner's office, he threw off his clothes and, under cover of darkness, completed his graduation, his mind the whole time back inside the dwelling where Giovanni and Lana lay sleeping.
Children were the only abundant natural resource within The Wall, save for the bitumen and the debris piles. Over time, other Schools besides Engineering devised way to make use of this resource. The School of Technology developed a method for using thin strands of gut as wiring in devices made from loose pieces of debris.
"What are they for?" the Students of Technology would ask their Teacher during class.
"They have many uses," it was explained, "some of which are defensive, some offensive. They will propel projectiles into our enemy's School Yard; and also repel projectiles hurled by our enemies at our School."
"What do you do with the rest of the body?" it was asked.
"We have yet to find a use for it; so until we do, we pile them all together in a pit outside School grounds."
The Students of Technology were awestruck at their School's ingenuity. A group of boys decided on their own to round up as many children as they could, to show the Head Master what good Students they were. Their plan was to sneak into the School of Language under cover of darkness; but their plan went awry when Giovanni and Lana returned very late to carry some more pieces of wall material to their new home beside the Lake.
Realizing their detection in time to avoid capture, the boys made a hasty retreat; but ran straight into a trap set by a party of Engineering Students also on a nightly raid for children. Three of the boys managed to escape, but were chased by three Engineers all the way to the Bitumen Pool. Perceiving no avenue of escape, and knowing what fate awaited them if captured, the three boys leaped into the bitumen, thinking they might swim to safety. But they were too quickly caught in the thick muck and pulled beneath the surface. The Engineers managed to catch hold of one just before he sank beneath their reach; and pulled him out. They quickly tied a rope around his legs and pulled him along behind them as he desperately tried to breathe through clogged nostrils and mouth. By the time they reach the School of Engineering, he had suffocated.
"We brought you a tar baby," was all the Students said as they untied his legs.
His skin had lost its suppleness from even this short exposure to bitumen and was no use as a building material; but it was discovered by accident that another property had been bestowed upon the skin in place of the one lost. And as a result, whenever children were taken, a number of them were dragged to the Pool and lowered into the bitumen. Their skin, now too brittle to be stretched over pieces of bone to strengthen walls and ceilings, was wrapped around projectiles fashioned from debris fragments to be hurled into enemy School Yards as flaming torches. The bitumen soaked skin could be set ablaze yet delay the projectile's explosive power until safely away from the Student who hurled it.
Manuel arrived ahead of Giovanni and Lana and waited for their arrival. He wandered the old abandoned, dilapidated home along the Lake's eastern shore. He lay upon the bed of wooden boards Lana and Giovanni had used their second night together, until he heard footsteps outside the door.
"Manuel, why are you here?" Giovanni asked.
"I'm on a mission from my School," Manuel answered.
"What is that mission?"
"I wish to meet with your Head Master and School Board to propose an alliance. Can you arrange a meeting?"
"Yes," said Giovanni; "though an alliance may not be possible at this time," he cautioned. "We'll go tomorrow. For now, you may stay the night here."
At daybreak, the three set out for the School of Language. They arrived mid-morning. Giovanni introduced Manuel to his Head Master and requested a meeting with the School Board. The Board was summoned; Manuel was given permission to present his request."
"I am the son of Head Master Marbus of the School of Business Management. We seek an alliance with both your School and the School of Finance, to increase our defense against a new alliance we're told will soon form between the School of Engineering and the School of Technology and may even include the School of Chemistry. Any two of the three would make them the most powerful alliance in the Land, able to subdue each of the other Schools. So far, neither the School of Agronomy nor the School of Metallurgy has indicated a willingness to join either alliance."
"What of the School of Divinity?" a Board member asked.
"They will never consent to align with any other School," Manual explained. "We will need your decision as soon as possible," he stressed.
"I believe you can carry our decision back to your father this very day," the Head Master said. "Let us retire to our inner chamber to debate the matter while you refresh yourself as our guest. Giovanni will join us, but Lana can show you a place to rest." With this, the School Board retired to a big room at the rear of the School Yard.
Lana led Manuel to a small covered place at one side of the School Yard. "I believe Giovanni is the luckiest man in all the Land," Manuel said as he took a morsel of food offered, letting his hand touch Lana's for a moment.
"The Board must be in agreement. Whatever we decide must be unanimous," the Head Master reminded the members of the Board. With this instruction, the debate began. Points were made for and against the proposed alliance, leading to a final vote. Every member of the Board voted to accept the alliance, except for one.
"They use children as resources," said Giovanni, who had become a Board member upon the recent death of his father. "They cut off their fingers in calculating their business arrangements. We cannot align with those who use children. Therefore, I must vote against this alliance."
"Once we align with them, our children will no longer be threatened by them," the Head Master pointed out.
"But others will," Giovanni, in turn, pointed out. "It is wrong to use children as resources. We do not and would never allow it. So we may not deal with those who do. Therefore my vote stands."
"We cannot impose our morality on others," the Head Master said. "We have no such right. Our ways are no better or worse than their ways. You must change your vote. The Board must be unanimous."
"I will never change my vote," Giovanni stood his ground.
"Very well," said the Head Master.
"I will relay our decision to Manuel," Giovanni offered.
"No, not yet," the Head Master insisted. "It must come from me personally. But you may go and summon the emissary if you wish. Just give us a moment to decide how best to word our rejection of his offer."
Ten minutes later, Manuel was again brought before the School Board. "What is your decision?" he asked.
The Head Master arose. "The Board has voted to remove Giovanni from the Board and furthermore to banish him forever from the School of Language," he pronounced. "Accordingly, it has been unanimously decided to accept the offer you bring before us."
Neither Manual nor Giovanni was quite sure they had heard correctly, so the Head Master was asked to repeat himself. He did so, leaving Giovanni shocked and confused, Manuel pleased on both counts.
"You cannot mean this," Giovanni muttered. "Please reconsider your decision. You are breaking every rule. If you wish to banish me, do so; but do not invalidate a legitimate vote already taken by the Board on this matter. It was rejected for lack of unanimity -"
"Now it has unanimity," the Head Master interjected.
"But it was already decided!" Giovanni insisted. "A matter decided cannot be brought before the Board and put to another vote during the current school term! It must be set aside till next semester!"
"The rules were suspended," said the Head Master, who then raised his hand to silence Giovanni. "We will hear no more of this!" he said as he turned to Manuel.
"Please inform your Head Master I wish to meet with him to work out the details of our Alliance," Manuel was instructed.
"I will do so," Manual promised, then turned to depart the School of Language. Giovanni accompanied his friend to the edge of the School Yard.
"When will your banishment begin?" Manuel asked.
"I will gather my things and together with Lana leave this place within the hour," Giovanni answered. "You will be welcome at our home anytime."
Giovanni returned to his place to inform Lana what they must now do, and to collect those of his things not already carried to their new home. On their way out, they were stopped by the Head Master and a group of Truancy Officers, who blocked their path.
"You alone are banished," the Head Master informed Giovanni. "Lana will remain."
"I choose to accompany Giovanni," Lana told him.
"You may not," Lana was told.
"Has she no say in this?" Giovanni asked.
"No," was the only answer.
Giovanni turned to Lana and said "Farewell"; then he turned and left the School Yard with the remainder of his things. He looked back once and both he and Lana nodded; both knew what was meant.
"If you return," the Head Master called to Giovanni, "you will be taken up, brought before the School Board, and executed."
Manuel reported to his father the success of his mission. He strongly suggested a permanent liaison be sent to the School of Language.
"Is that a demand on their part?" the Head Master of the School of Business Management asked.
Manuel was tempted to say it was a demand; but thought better of it and said only that he personally believed it to be a good idea since there had been some dissent among the School Board. He then offered himself for that post but was turned down by his father, the Head Master.
"You are too valuable to us for such an insignificant post," Manuel was told. "I will appoint a son of one of our School Board members."
"I should at least accompany him and make sure he is right for the post," Manuel offered. His father nodded his ascent.
Two days later Manuel arrived at the School of Language with torn clothes and in a disheveled condition. There was blood on his forehead and smeared across his chest. He was at once admitted and attended to. Lana's mother was known as the greatest healer throughout the School. Manuel was brought to her home and made comfortable. Lana washed where the blood had been spilled then turned to go but Manuel reached out and took hold of her arm and begged her not to leave him.
"Mother will tend to your wounds," Lana said as she pulled loose.
"At least stay until she gets here," Manuel pleaded. "I'm still shaken by the attack, and my dearest friend, who I grew up with, was killed right in front of me. They would have killed me too had I not escaped."
"Who did this to you?" Lana's mother asked upon entering where Manuel was taken.
"The Engineers," Manual told her and Lana both.
"And where is your dearest friend now?"
"I had to leave him where he lay. I can take a group of Students with me to show them his lifeless body when I'm up to it."
Manuel was asked to remove his shirt; but no source of the blood could be found. He started to remove his pants also; but was told it was not necessary.
"I have blood down here also," he explained as he continued removing his pants. His public hair was saturated with dried blood. Lana was instructed to wash the area.
Manuel expressed his regret for being seen like this; and for his body's reaction to Lana's washing.
Nothing wrong could be found with him. Lana's mother reported her finding to the Head Master directly. He thanked her.
Two days later a party accompanied Manuel to the place where his dearest friend, the emissary chosen as liaison, had been killed. The body had been mangled, its throat slit, its chest cut open, its arms and legs stabbed repeatedly. For just a brief moment one of the party believed the body to be that of Giovanni; he told the others but could not account for the sudden flash that made this body appear to be what it was not. As he told this tale of mistaken identity he happened to glance over at Manuel and caught his eye but the strange look in Manuel's eyes made him shiver and turn away.
The body was carried to the Bitumen Pool and thrown in, according to Manuel's instruction, when the party offered to take it to the School of Business Management.
"No," Manuel objected. "I do not wish his fellow Students to have to see him like this."
A second emissary was sent when, after more than a week, Manuel had not returned to his School Yard.
"I was sent for Manfred," this emissary said at the main Gate. The blank stare he got puzzled him. "Is he here or is he not?" The emissary was told there was no Manfred here, only Manuel, who had been attacked and nearly killed along with his companion who was killed.
"Let me speak with this Manuel then," the emissary demanded; and was led to the School's Head Master. Knowing Manuel was the son of his School's Head Master, the Head Master of the School of Language assured the emissary that Manuel was in no way harmed and had been accorded every respect his position warranted. But when Manuel was informed his father had sent an emissary to find him, Manuel grew furious and refused to meet with this emissary.
"There are spies among our Students," Manuel insisted. "I believe that was how we were attacked on our way here. Describe this emissary to me!"
From the description Manuel at once knew who the emissary was. He nodded vigorously. "He is the very one we most suspect! Detain him by whatever means you can, but do not let him know you suspect him. And I will sneak away to inform my father, that we may seize him when he returns!"
Once a suitable plan was in place, the young emissary was led to where Manuel was believed to be staying. Perceiving him not to be there, a search was made of the entire compound; but to no avail.
"He is gone," the Head Master informed the emissary.
"Then I too will go," said the emissary, "for my mission is a failure and neither Manfred nor this Manuel is about." With this, the emissary departed the School of Language and headed back to his own School. But on the way he was attacked by Manuel, who had hidden in wait for him.
Manuel stabbed him in his eye then grabbed hold of him and slit his throat; and as the emissary lay choking on his own blood, Manuel began stabbing him all over his body from his head to his feet, so that when the stabbing stopped, the entire body was covered in blood.
"Your turn will come," was all Manuel said as he walked away.
Two days beyond this a party sent out from the School of Language to gather debris came upon the body. Among the party was the Student who had mistaken the body of the first emissary for Giovanni. This time he was certain the body lying mangled on the ground was Giovanni; and he ran to him and started to lift the boy into his arms, for he loved Giovanni as his dearest friend. But when he touched the blood soaked body he recoiled in horror, for he realized this was not Giovanni; and he realized who had murdered whomever it was. Then he thought that surely this Student must have someone for whom he was as dear as Giovanni was to him; so he lifted the body into his arms, for he knew that no one for whom this Student was dear would ever hold him again. And he wept for the nameless boy who would never know life again; and wept also for the murderer, whose soul was so burdened that it could find release only in such an act of infamy. Then he cried out in anguish as he realized one final thing: he realized why he thought both murdered boys were Giovanni. He realized it was Giovanni who Manuel wished to murder.
"Why do you cry out, Guido?" the other members of the scouting party asked. "And why are you holding this body? You cannot know him, no one can ever know him again."
"But somewhere someone would know him, and care for him; and would hold him and cry out for his loss. Now they can never do so; and because they cannot, I must do it for them. He must be held, and cried over, or his soul can never rest."
"But the other Student - the one killed when Manuel was attacked: you did not hold him, or cry out for him," the other Students reminded their fellow Student, Guido.
A sickened look came over Guido's face as he spoke to why he had done nothing. "I thought surely Manuel had already done so, as that boy was his dearest friend," Guido told the others.
"And so he would have," they agreed. But Guido shook his head.
"Not if it had been he who killed the boy," Guido said. The others laughed at Guido's foolish fancied notions.
The body was carried to the Bitumen Pool and thrown in. And unearthly chill took hold of Guido which again made him cry out in anguish. What was it now, the others wondered, when all that happened here was a body being thrown into the common grave of all the dead who had ever dwelt in this Land.
The School of Divinity was attacked. Every Teacher and every Student was killed, every woman raped, every child carried off. The School Yard and every home was ransacked, anything of use taken away. Throughout the Land it was believed the new Alliance between the School of Engineering and the School of Technology had carried out the attack, for no other School had the might or the will to effect such carnage. The Alliance offered nothing to dispel this belief; it made them invincible in everyone's eyes and in everyone's imagination. They were feared in all the Land. And had not lifted a finger.
Manuel led the raiding party; it consisted of students from his own School of Business Management, from the School of Finance, and from the School of Language. They had kept their Alliance so secret that no one suspected them of the attack; and this troubled Manuel, who wished to strike fear in the hearts of all the people. But Manuel's father would not allow knowledge of the attack to escape the confines of his School Yard.
The Student Guido was among those chosen from the School of Language to accompany Manuel; but Guido had no idea what the foray was about, and could find no one to enlighten him. It struck him as odd that they should set out after dark on any mission at all, let alone one requiring so many Students. Perhaps, he concluded, a debris pile big enough and useful enough to warrant such secrecy had been discovered; yet this conclusion did not really add up, since all known debris piles had already been found and already picked clean of any useful pieces.
On the way Guido had a vision of horror and suffering and death. He moved ahead to warn Manuel, for which Manuel thanked him and spread the word to be vigilant and to carefully mark each step along the way. Halfway to the School of Divinity, evidence of scouts watching their movement surfaced, prompting Manuel to change his plan of attack. Instead of a bold entrance of the entire party into the School Yard, only a third of his Students were sent to carry out this original plan; the rest were to wait outside the gate until the first group had been surrounded then to storm the compound in full force.
Right up to the last minute Guido remained ignorant of the true reason for this late night venture. Until he saw the first blood spilled. Even then he half thought this was a mistaken act of panic on someone's part; but when more blood began to spill, the horror hit him all at once that this was a raiding party not a search party looking to bargain for debris. He ran about wildly trying to somehow stop what was happening before it was beyond stopping; but nothing he could say or do could stop the very horror and suffering and death he had envisioned and, in warning Manuel, had brought about. A guilt so powerful overtook him that all he could do was run as fast and as far from this place as he could.
Guido ran half the night, crying out and cursing himself for what he had done. He ran in circles, but ever widening circles, until at last coming upon the Bitumen Pool. There he ceased running. He knew what he must do, the only thing left for him to do for the wickedness of his deed. He slowly moved himself step by step toward the only place on earth where he might bury his guilt.
One more step and it would be over and his guilt would be put to rest finally. A sudden chill came over him, unlike nothing he had ever experienced. This was followed by a vision which froze his foot in mid air. He saw the dearest soul in the universe being dragged to this same pool of black death and slowly forced into it, head first. He screamed and leaped back in a horror so great it numbed his guilt and his very soul.
He had seen Giovanni, bound with heavy ropes made from the guts of children, being drawn into the pool, his body being stabbed over and over and over. And he saw himself lying helpless to save this boy who had always been dearer to him than all others put together, dearer than life itself; and now, dearer than the death he desperately wished visited upon himself.
"I must live, hideous unearthly beast that I have become," he vowed. "I must live."
"But how? or where? there can be no place for one such as me," he muttered again and again through the night and the next three days as he wandered aimlessly throughout the Land.
When he came to the Lake, still muttering his question, he was spotted by another, who had been out walking along the shore looking for debris.
"Guido!" a familiar voice called after the wanderer.
Guido turned but seemed not to see anyone and continued on his way.
Giovanni ran after him, still calling his name, finally reaching him. "It's me," Giovanni said, taking hold of Guido's shoulder; but Guido pulled away as if bitten by a serpent.
"No one may ever touch me again after what I've done!" Guido cried.
Giovanni looked Guido in the eye and smiled as he playfully said "There was a time you would have relished my touch." But the look of horror in Guido's eyes made him regret what he said. His smile faded. For a long time he said nothing.
Then on an impulse he grabbed Guido and embraced him in his arms. "Kill me if you will," he said, "but I cannot stand by and watch you suffer like this."
"Nothing could make me kill you," Guido calmly said.
"Come with me to where I now live," Giovanni pleaded. "I must know what has brought a precious friend to such a state."
"We were never friends," Guido said once they had gone to Giovanni's new home on the eastern shore of the Lake. Then, slowly, as though each word were another stab wound, Guido related to Giovanni what had happened at the School of Divinity.
This time it was Giovanni who cried out. "So it has come to this! And in almost no time a whole School has turned to acts of bestiality and barbarism!"
Giovanni could no longer contain his anguish. He broke down and wept so pitifully and so bitterly that Guido took him in his arms. For a long time Giovanni wept over the death of his people's soul. When at last he could weep no more, he arose from Guido's arms and begged forgiveness for letting his own anguish wash over Guido's far greater anguish.
"What will you do now?" Giovanni asked. "And where will you go now?"
"I do not know," Guido admitted. "But, like you, I can never return to my School. Your banishment was at their hand; mine at my own hands."
"Stay here then," Giovanni offered. "Stay as our guest - for I must rescue Lana from the thing our School has become before it is too late."
"No!" Guido declared angrily. "I am unworthy!"
Before thinking, before he could stop himself, Giovanni lashed out at this fellow Student whose love had comforted him in his moment of greatest anguish. He gave Guido the back of his hand in a gesture whose violence broke the skin of both his hand and Guido's mouth. Then he recoiled in horror at his deed. It was awhile before his power of speech returned.
"I am sorry," he said in the tone of a supplicant. "I am so sorry. Please forgive me. Please. Forgive me. But don't ever again say you're unworthy in my presence. Please, don't ever."
Guido smiled, the first smile that crossed his lips since the day Giovanni was banished. "I will stay for awhile," he promised. "But only if you allow me to rescue Lana for you."
Giovanni shook his head. "You may rescue Lana with me, but not for me. I must do this. I must prove myself worthy of her great sacrifice leaving her family, her home, her entire world."
Guido agreed. As he settled in as Giovanni's guest, he stipulated two things: first that he would only remain until Lana joined Giovanni's household; and that Giovanni did not attempt to comfort him, no matter how he might cry out from his visions of everything he had witnessed.
"That is to be my punishment - to over and over relive my crime," Guido said. "And to be this near you and never to feel you close to me."
Giovanni agreed to both of Guido's conditions. On the very next day, after they had both rested and regained their strength, they began planning Lana's rescue.
Since time immemorial, the School of Engineering had taken credit for building The Wall. The construction was said to have been completed in a single day; its purpose was to keep a world gone mad and slowly dying in an endless spew of toxic materials and virulent pathogens from infecting and destroying this last pristine place left on earth. No one disputed the Engineers' claim; and because their claim was taken at face value, the School of Engineering had become the premier School throughout the Land, though from time to time other Schools attempted to challenge their claim and their consequent place of privilege inside The Wall.
The School of Technology had presented the most consistent and most serious challenge over time; but had never succeeded in supplanting the Engineers' claim or standing. The Schools of Chemistry, Agronomy and Metallurgy had each, in turn, attempted to supplant the Engineers; but had always failed. Several Schools of lesser consequence had also made the attempt; but had been destroyed for their effort, their School Yards now no more than rubble heaps picked clean over time to where no one even bothered looking for debris any longer.
It was to these abandoned School Yards Giovanni and Guido went to search for something they might use to get inside the School of Language to rescue Lana.
"If only we had a piece of equipment of the kind the Engineers must have used to build The Wall," Giovanni happened to mention in passing.
"Could we steal theirs?" Guido asked, then felt rather foolish for thinking they could just walk into their School Yard and carry off such a huge piece of equipment.
Then suddenly the two Students stared at one another and, in unison, asked the same question: "Has anyone ever seen it?"
"Where would they keep it?" Guido wondered.
"Something big enough to build a Wall so high no one has ever climbed it: where would they keep it?" Giovanni completed the question's arc.
Then they both shrugged it off. The Engineers must have dismantled it or surely it would have been seen by now.
Neither Giovanni nor Guido was aware their puzzlement mirrored that of the Engineers themselves. For as long as the Engineers had maintained their agency in The Wall's construction, they had searched for whatever equipment must have been used; but to no avail. They long ago concluded their ancestors must have driven the equipment either into the Lake or the Bitumen Pool. No one knew how deep either body was, only that bones rose to the surface of the Pool.
The other thing puzzling the Engineers was who had raided and destroyed the School of Divinity. It was one thing to take credit for the raid, as that enhanced their standing; but taking credit where credit was not due left open the question of who had actually conducted the raid which left all males over the age of eleven dead, all women impregnated, all children in the hands of another School to be used as their resources. All of which meant there now existed within the Land a force strong enough to threaten their position as the most feared School.
The Head Masters of the School of Engineering and the School of Technology cancelled all classes for the foreseeable future and set to work to discover who, now, out of nowhere, posed a threat to not only their position but their very survival. Their attentions were first focused on the Schools most likely to seek the kind of Alliance necessary to an open assault on another School: Chemistry, Agronomy and Metallurgy.
Of the three, the School of Agronomy was weakest and presented the easiest target. So a raid was planned, executed, and resoundingly successful, half the Students killed, half the children taken. Next, the School of Metallurgy was raided; but it proved more difficult. The attackers were beaten back before any significant damage was done.
The School of Chemistry was known to be as well protected as either the School of Engineering or the School of Technology. No raid on that School was planned. Instead, the strategy was to sit back and wait; and be ready for an attack by the new Alliance. But such an attack never came. It was unthinkable that two parties to an Alliance could be attacked, one half way destroyed; and no retaliation occur. An entire month went by before it became clear to the Engineers and Technologists that they must seek elsewhere for this new Alliance which had sprung up from nowhere.
That same month went by without a plan for Lana's rescue. Giovanni and Guido had scoured the whole of the area within The Wall; and had yet to find anything they could use to effect her rescue. Giovanni was growing impatient and desperate.
"We will find something," Guido assured his friend.
"But it may be too late!" Giovanni countered. "The longer we wait the greater the chance their corruption will begin to affect Lana! I have got to do something and it has to be now!|
Giovanni started for the door. Guido said give him a moment to get ready; but Giovanni said he was going alone.
"I will go to the School of Business Management and ask Manuel's help," he said.
"No!" cried Guido. "You can't! It is too risky!"
"It is a risk I must take!" Giovanni told him, and once more made for the door.
Guido stepped between Giovanni and the door. "Most aside!" Giovanni demanded; but Guido shook his head and refused to move. "Get out of my way!" Giovanni raged and began to push his way past his house guest. But Guido still refused to move. Giovanni swung his fist at Guido's face; but his wrist was caught in a vise like grip, as was his other wrist. Giovanni struggled to free himself, finally pulling loose of Guido's grip; only to be thrown to the floor and pinned down with Guido's knees on his chest.
"You do not want me to ever save her, do you?" Giovanni screamed in anger.
"I do not want you to go to Manuel for help!" Guido said as calmly as he could. The image he had seen of Manuel dragging a helpless Giovanni toward the Bitumen Pool again flooded his mind and spilled over in a flood of tears which momentarily blinded him but did not loosen his grip.
"Promise me!" Guido pleaded. "Promise me you will not go to Manuel!"
"You want me all to yourself, do you not? Is that not what you have always wanted? Is it not?" Giovanni accused.
Guido reached to grab up a piece of debris from the floor. Pieces of metal, of The Wall, were lying at random around the room. Guido held the piece of metal over Giovanni's face; his hand shook violently as his urge to smash it against that face struggled with his love for the boy lying helpless beneath him.
Something pure white all of a sudden fell from the metal and landed on Giovanni's chest. For some reason unknown to either Giovanni or Guido that one thing instantly dispelled all their rage. Guido released his grip; Giovanni reached up to gently wipe the stream of tears from Guido's face. Both arose from the floor. Both stood still and stared down at the white that had fallen from the piece of metal. Finally Guido asked what it was.
"I do not know," said Giovanni. "I found a whole stack of these white pieces hidden beneath the floor. I tried using it to capture an imprint from the metal so I could better study it. But I still can not read the pattern embedded within the metal."
"There is something sacred about this white," Guido said. Then an idea came to him. "This is how we will rescue Lana!" he told Giovanni.
"This imprint on the white: Lana will know it is of the metal, and know it means you have come for her. We can wrap this white around a rock and throw it her way; and she will know."
Another long while passed before Giovanni again spoke. "I will not go to Manuel," he promised. "If you believe to do so would cost me my life, or jeopardize my rescue of Lana, I will not go to him."
As far back as Giovanni had been going on his adventures with his backpack filled with anything he might need, and even before then, when his father took him exploring at a very young age, he despaired of the monotony and most of all the flatness of the terrain circumscribed by The Wall. No one had ever said it could be any different, or that a Land could consist of hills, even mountains; yet he just knew it could be so. He could still recall the days he believed the debris piles were great hills to be climbed, as well as the days he pretended these piles, especially the biggest ones, were hills and mountains and would do his best to scale them.
This was how he discovered his secret hiding place. When he came upon the biggest, the highest debris pile he had ever encountered, he secured his backpack tightly and began his slow ascent to the summit. Halfway to the top a huge spread of debris gave way and he fell into a deep, dark chasm, surrounded by a different kind of debris, neither pieces and shards of old wood nor the kind of sandy dirt covering the whole of the Land except where the Lake and the Bitumen Pool were.
This was unlike anything he had ever seen or even imagined. It was softly textured; and where the light shone through the chasm, it was of a color he could not name for he had never seen such a color before. It was not brown as the ground; nor was it black as the Bitumen; nor white nor yellow like the light of day; nor blue like the sky.
He was not to ever see such a color again until one day a strange object blew in from over The Wall; which, upon seeing, he rejoiced and carried this object, no bigger than a child's hand, with sections extending from a central body, to his secret hiding place and gently placed it on the soft floor of the chasm. He would return to inspect his precious object, until one day, after not seeing it for a whole week, he found it shriveled and turned brown. He cried for a whole hour, blaming himself for not being by its side when it died; then he carefully buried it in the chasm floor.
He had been injured when he fell; his leg was broken. When he failed to return home, his father came in search of him; but could find no trace of him. His father mourned for a whole week that his son had been taken by the Engineers to be used to strengthen their homes.
When Giovanni's leg healed enough that he could move, he climbed his way out of the chasm and made his way back to his School Yard. Upon seeing him, his father rushed to him and picked him up into his arms and held him for an hour, until he was forced to bring the boy to little Lana's mother to be treated.
Giovanni never told a living soul that he knew his father had passed the very debris pile where he lay injured; or that he would not let himself cry out to his father for help. So precious was his newfound secret hiding place that he did not want even his dear father to know of it. And no one ever did know of it, not even Lana, who he vowed to one day create a Translation with; until the day he showed it to his best friend, Manuel.
Neither Giovanni nor Guido slept, though both agreed sleep was essential before so crucial an undertaking. Both their minds were elsewhere; both in the same place: with Manuel. Guido was troubled that during the rescue he might be killed and would be unable to save Giovanni from the fate he envisioned. Giovanni became increasingly obsessed with why Guido had made him promise not to turn to Manuel for help in his rescue attempt. He kept muttering to himself, over and over, as if it were a chant "I have to know, I must know, I have to, I must." Finally, he could take it no longer. He arose and went to the place where Guido was lying.
He lay down beside Guido, who started to get up. "Wait," Giovanni said. "This is our last night before we may both die. I wanted to be close to you. I'm not afraid any more of what might happen. Please stay. I just want us to be close, just this one time."
Guido remained beside Giovanni, thinking how strange that Manuel should be the one who brought them both together. For he knew Giovanni would try and get him to say why he made him promise not to go to Manuel for help. But since he knew he would never reveal his vision to anyone, he made no attempt to avoid what he knew was coming.
Over and over Giovanni tried to loosen Guido's tongue; but to no avail. In anger as much as desperation he reached down and took hold of Guido.
"Tell me what I want to know!"
"I cannot. Please, don't do this," Guido begged but was powerless to pull away.
"I must know! Why did you make me promise not to go to Manuel!"
"It was jealousy, nothing more," Guido said in a heavy voice filled with gasps for air.
"You lie! There is more! Tell me and I'll release you!"
"Please - please!" Guido cried out.
Guido moaned almost as a scream.
"He means to kill you!" Guido cried out in ecstasy, a cry which saturated Giovanni from his belly down to his thighs.
Neither moved. Each got what he desperately sought. Soon they both fell asleep.
The plan was for Guido to distract the Teachers, Students, eventually the Head Master himself with a warning of an imminent attack by the Engineers and Technologists. While the entire School was distracted, Giovanni would enter through a breach at the rear of the Stockade and hurl the rock covered in white into Lana's room; then, with Lana, leave through the same breach, the irony being that first Giovanni's father then Giovanni himself had over the years repeatedly brought this breach to the School Board's attention, but nothing was ever done. Somehow it failed to occur to Giovanni that once the warning was given, Students would immediately be posted at the breach.
Guido was aware from the moment he helped devise the plan that the rescue would be thwarted; but he did not reveal this to Giovanni. He did not care, for he had kept the real plan to himself. There would be no warning of an impending attack; yet the destruction would occur just the same.
In a vision as he slept after his arousal, he saw himself being apprehended, held in a special place then brought before the School Board on a charge of desertion and cowardice. He knew he was to be found guilty and sentenced to death. He knew also, as part of the same vision, that a real attack would happen before his execution; and that he would escape. Had it not been for this last part of his vision, he would never have followed through with either the real or the fantasy plan; for either one would have left Giovanni vulnerable to Manuel's hatred.
As they made for the School of Language, Giovanni asked how Guido came to have a vision of Manuel's wish to kill him. And more so, of how this hatred came about, and what he had done to so anger and offend Manuel as to become the object of such hatred.
"We were best friends," Giovanni said. "As long as I can remember we were friends. I've known him all my life, though it's strange that a boy from another School should have become my best friend and not a boy from my School. I remember you too as a boy, how you followed me everywhere, and even tried to follow me when I went in search of adventures; but I told you I never allowed anyone to go with me. But that was a lie because I allowed Manuel to go with me. I even showed him my secret hiding place, when I would show no one, not even my father. We would lie on the soft ground and tell of our plans. Mine was to climb to the top of The Wall; his was to be King some day. How could he have come to wish my death? How? It cannot be! What could make him hate me so much he would wish to kill me?"
Guido said but one word. "Lana."
"Lana?" Giovanni repeated. "How can that be?"
"Because I followed you everywhere just to be near you, I would watch when you met with Lana and even as a boy the loving way you would touch her. One day she went with you a ways, until you met with your friend. That one time you allowed me to follow. I saw the way his eyes blazed when he first saw her. Then you embraced her and asked me to return home with her. I looked once more into his eyes and saw his look turn to hate. In the blink of an eye, everything he felt for you turned to the most intense hate I could ever imagine."
"But it was the way of our world, and still is, that one must choose another from among one's own School," Giovanni insisted. "He surely must have known that, being the son of a Head Master. He could never have chosen Lana. He would have to choose another."
A thought came to Giovanni which troubled him even more than Manuel's wish to kill him.
"He knows where our home is," Giovanni said. "I cannot take Lana there. We must find another home, away from the Lake. Manuel will know to look for us there. Maybe one of the places I saw near the Bitumen Pool."
These worlds of Giovanni sent a cold chill down Guido's spine.
As they neared the School of Language, another thought came to Giovanni, like a revelation of something which had troubled him since his banishment: why had Manuel not come after him, and why had his dearest friend made no effort to seek him out? Manuel knew where to find him, but had not come to him; and this troubled him as much as his banishment. Now he knew why. And he knew he had to get Lana out of the School of Language.
"We can meet up later today at the edge of the Lake and go to our home," Giovanni said. "And maybe you can help with moving my things to the new home."
"Let us not meet up for at least another few days," Guido advised. "If I turn around and leave right away, they will be more likely to suspect something. I will know when the time is right."
Nothing more was said. When they reached the designated point to split up, Giovanni worked his way behind the Stockade while Guido came up to the Main Gate. The guards immediately recognized him. They seized him and took him to the Head Master, who ordered them to take him to the most secure place in the compound and tie him to the post with ropes.
Meanwhile Giovanni slipped through the narrow breach at the rear of the Stockade and, still unnoticed, made his way to the home of Lana's mother. He hurled the white wrapped rock through an opening and waited.
Presently Lana's mother appeared at the opening. Looking out and seeing Giovanni, she smiled and nodded. She went at once to get her daughter, who then ran outside and straight into Giovanni's arms, followed by her mother.
"Gather what you need," Giovanni told her. "We must leave."
Lana hurried to get a few things. "We knew you would come for her," Lana's mother said. "Take care of my daughter. But beware, for another has his eye on her; and it is an evil eye."
Lana and her mother hugged; then she and Giovanni disappeared through the breach.
They made their way to the home they had found along the eastern shore of the Lake. Giovanni told her they could not remain here, for it was no longer safe. Lana did not question her fellow Translator's decision. She did, however, take from among her things the white covered rock Giovanni had hurled into her mother's home.
"Where did this white come from?" she asked.
"It is just a piece of debris I found hidden away here," Giovanni told her. "We can throw it in the Lake now that it has served its purpose."
"No," Lana said. We must save it. Are there other pieces of white like this?" she asked.
"There is a pile of them," Giovanni said.
"Show me," Lana said.
Giovanni took her to the place where he found the white and showed her the pile of debris. All pieces in the pile were also white; and, as with the piece covering the rock, all appeared to have on their back the same black markings.
"We must take this with us," Lana said. Giovanni looked disappointed. "What is it?" Lana asked.
"I had hoped to take several pieces of metal with us," Giovanni told her. "If we take this debris, I cannot carry as many pieces of metal as I hoped."
"Please, we must take this pile of debris," Lana insisted.
"What do you see in it?"
"These markings: do you not recall from our classes how we spoke of something our Teacher called hieroglyphics?"
"You think these are what he meant?" Giovanni asked.
"It may be," said Lana.
Giovanni gave it a moment's thought. "Then we will take them," he decided.
Long before anyone knew Lana had left the School of Language, she and Giovanni had found and moved into a new home on the far end of the Bitumen Pool; and had begun setting up their household.
"No one has seen your daughter in almost a week," the Head Master noted Lana's absence to her mother.
"She is in mourning still for her fellow Translator," her mother reminded the Head Master. "I myself have not seen her in as long. I leave food for her then I sleep; and when I awaken the food is gone. She may have flown for all I know; but I must abide by our rules and respect her period of mourning."
"And so we shall likewise," agreed the Head Master.
At the end of the week, just as Guido's trial before the School Board was to begin, Manuel showed up at the School of Language, accompanied by three Business Associates who, like him, carried weapons.
Manuel came upon the trial and, seeing whose it was, expressed his dissatisfaction at not being kept informed. But he was reminded this was a School matter and did not concern the Alliance.
"When a Student, even of another School, is assigned to me to help with an Alliance matter; and when that Student deserts his post, I expect to be informed if and when that Student is found. Has he said yet why he deserted?"
"No, he refuses," Manuel was told. This time, Manuel was called by his chosen name right in front of his Business Associates. This time also, he had no fear of being found out, for he had breached the subject himself to his father.
"Manfred is a sacred name among our Students," he had said. "I do not wish it pronounced by inferior tongues, such as those of the School of Language or the School of Finance. I ask your permission to adopt a name other than Manfred whenever I deal with inferior beings. If you give your permission, I choose the more common name Manuel."
As Manfred well knew, his father, Head Master of the School of Business Management, readily agreed to his calling himself Manuel when dealing with the other Schools of the Alliance.
Manuel looked the Head Master of the School of Language in the eye and offered his assistance in getting Guido to talk. "We have developed techniques working with the children we take," he said. "Allow me to apply some of those techniques to Guido."
"They are not needed," the Head Master assured Manuel. "Guido has been sentenced to death this very day; anything he knows will follow him to the Bitumen Pool, where he will be bound with ropes and thrown in."
A look of rage took hold of Manuel's brow; but he said nothing further about Guido. He acceded to the School Board's decision. Then he brought forth the real reason for his visit.
"I wish to see Lana," he informed the Head Master.
"No one has seen her for almost a week - even her own mother," he was told. "She is still in mourning."
Something made Manuel turn to Guido; and made Guido instantly turn away just as two Students were beginning to bind him with ropes.
"Wait!" Manuel demanded. "I will go now to Lana! And if, as I suspect, she is not to be found, I will make this wretch tell me where she has gone and who has abducted her!"
Manuel turned toward the house where Lana lived with her mother. Before he could take a single step, a great noise was heard at the main Gate, which everyone knew to be the sound of an enemy breaking into the School.
There was no time for anything else, neither trial nor interrogation. All efforts were focused on the attack. Every Student went at once to his assigned place, ready to commence his assigned task when given the word. Year after year, month after month, the drill had been conducted in preparation for the real thing. Now the full reality was upon them.
Weapons were distributed according to a pre-arranged scheme as each Student proceeded to the compound Gate. Fighting began immediately as the Students encountered the enemy. All that mattered was holding the line established to keep the enemy at bay. Fighting was hand to hand as, just beyond the gate, projectiles fashioned using bitumen soaked skins were being readied to hurl into the compound.
Manuel knew of this new weapon and led a small contingent through the line and out the Gate. Not expecting an attack, those readying the projectiles were unprepared, and easily subdued. They were set ablaze by their own projectiles, which once lit went off in their hands and sent them screaming in flames till they fell and finished burning, their defeat foreshadowing the inevitable rout of the attack.
There was nowhere to secure so many prisoners; therefore no possibility of keeping them alive. Any of the enemy who had not retreated in time to avoid capture were killed on the spot.
Halfway through the battle, Guido, now unguarded, managed to escape undetected the same way Giovanni and Lana had escaped. He would have willingly remained to fight, alongside those intent on executing him, in defense of his home, even know that doing so would insure his execution. But he had renounced everything else in life for the sake of preventing Manuel from killing Giovanni, a killing which almost took place because of Guido.
After nearly a week had gone by, and there was no sign of Guido, Giovanni began to fear something had gone wrong.
"I must see for myself what has happened," he told Lana. "He may be in danger. Perhaps when no attack took place, he was taken and held. I must go."
"But he chose he help you rescue me," Lana reminded Giovanni.
"It was more than that. I used him, to find out something I had to know. I used him, like he was no more than a piece of debris. I turned his love for me against him. I humiliated him, for the sake of knowing something. I must see what has happened to him; and if as I fear he is imprisoned by his own people, I must rescue him."
"And I must learn to live alone, as someday I may have to," Lana spoke to herself after Giovanni left for yet another adventure.
"When he comes for you, you must go with him," Lana's mother had said to her one evening. "For we both know he will come."
"But mother, I cannot leave you - not now, when you most need me!" Lana protested.
"You must go with him while you still can."
"I will not abandon you just when the -" Lana stopped in mid-sentence. She could not bear to pronounce the words.
"The Green Sickness," her mother finished the words for her. "It will soon move from my toes inside and, as it does everyone, move its way through my body until I die. It cannot be stopped. And because I am so old, it will move swiftly once it enters. I will not linger. This is why you cannot be here, for as my only child they will look to you to take my place as healer; and you will never leave. I cannot rob you of your life simply to have you with me at the end of mine. You will go when he comes for you."
"I cannot abandon you," Lana again protested.
"It will not be you abandoning me - it is our School abandoning both of us! You will go."
A row of debris piles marked this side of the road connecting all Schools within the Land. Across from it was a row of dead stalks said once to have been living things which, like everything else, long ago perished from the harsh conditions within the Land.
This was an ancient road; no one could say when it was made or who made it or how it came to be. The Engineers claimed it was made by their ancestors and was therefore theirs by right. Through the years they attempted to extract a toll from everyone who used it; but they had never been strong enough to force payment by any but the most vulnerable Schools. Payment consisted of the only coin of the realm - the only natural resource of this place: the children. Each year the payment increased, until the few Schools which had been forced to pay came to use the road no more.
They never left their compounds to gather debris, essential to maintaining their homes, their School Yard, their Stockade and Gate. Over time their Schools came to be unsafe for habitation and began falling to ruin around them. Many Students and Teachers lost their lives when the fierce winds blew through the Land and the Grays brought pouring rain; and their homes fell upon them as they slept or caught fire and trapped them inside. What few remained were carried off by the Engineers or the Technologists. In the course of time, several Schools had ceased to exist; and what remained of their compounds became little more than debris piles, to be picked clean by other Schools.
"I can smell him a mile off!" Manuel boasted. His two Business Associates looked in every direction but could see no sign of anyone.
"Have no fear, Giovanni approaches!" Manuel assured them. "We will subdue him then carry him to the Bitumen Pool, where I will wreak my vengeance for taking Lana from me!"
"Was not this Lana his woman?" one of them asked; and for asking was lashed across the face with the rope Manuel carried.
"From the moment I laid eyes on her, she became mine!" Manuel said. Then he stationed his Associates on either side of the road, one behind a debris pile, the other crouched low along the stalks.
"Await my signal!" he instructed. "I will stand here till he shows."
"You found us, I see," Lana greeted Guido, expecting Giovanni to be but a short distance behind. But after several minutes she asked Guido where he had stopped off.
Guido reeled as if thunderstruck and for a moment could not speak.
"What is wrong?" asked Lana.
"He is not with me," Guido muttered barely above a whisper.
"But he went to get you!" Lana cried out. "Where is he?"
"I escaped on my own," Guido told her.
"Then how did you find this place?"
"When I saw it from a distance, I just knew," Guido answered. "I must go, for now it is I who must get him!"
Guido said nothing further; he simply turned and hastily left. He knew Giovanni would have gone to the School of Language to find him. He began running. Knowing Giovanni had a head start, he dared not go slowly or carefully to avoid his own capture. In his mind, words came and went, the same words over and over: What have I done? Have I brought about the very thing I sought to prevent? Have I delivered him into Manuel's hands? He kept running as fast as the words ran through his mind.
Up ahead he saw Giovanni, already approaching Manuel. He breathed a sigh of relief, that Giovanni had forced from him Manuel's intention. But something in Manuel's posture told him to look to the side; and there he saw the Associates on either side of the road. Knowing he could not subdue both without giving himself away, he concentrated on the one at the debris piles.
Slowly he worked his way behind the row of debris piles until coming to where Manuel's Associate was stationed. Taking up a piece of metal of the same kind he had almost used to strike Giovanni, he struck this Associate on the back of his head hard enough to render him unconscious. Then he waited, wondering what to do next, until a signal from Manuel set the other Associate in motion.
He too rushed forward; but instead of helping subdue Giovanni, he attacked the other Associate with the same piece of metal used to subdue the first. This left only Manuel, facing not one but two.
Guido raised his arm to strike Manuel, as he had Manuel's two Associates; but was stopped by Giovanni.
"Let me finish this now!" Guido pleaded; but Giovanni would not release his wrist.
"Go," he said to Manuel.
"No man steals what is mine," was all Manuel said as he turned and made his way back to the School of Business Management.
A retaliatory attack upon the enemy was planned. It was decided to focus the attack on the School of Engineering, the stronger member of the Alliance and therefore the least likely to suspect an attack. Manuel coordinated this attack, working his way among the three Schools allied against their common enemy, selecting the Students best qualified to take on so formidable an enemy.
The Head Masters from each School well knew that many if not most of the Students selected would be killed in battle; but conveyed nothing of this to the Students. Instead, pep rallies were held, at which the success of their mission was emphasized, not the inevitable price they would be called upon to pay. The students were made keen and eager to meet and to slay the enemy in battle. To a man they believed they and their fellow warriors would return triumphant, whatever spoils they could carry away proof of their valor. They expected to be honored not only among their fellow Students but in stories which would be told a thousand years from now.
"They must never suspect their true fate," it was agreed. "The fighting they think will be done in conquest will be done in attempting to survive, so it will be that much fiercer, coming from a place within them stronger than any notion of triumph."
As the most strategically placed of the three Schools within the Alliance, the School of Language was chosen to host the Students chosen for the attack and their leaders in the days leading up to the attack. Its strategic location was also why it had been chosen by the enemy for their attack.
On the might before the attack, Manuel asked the Head Master to allow him to visit Lana's mother. Once admitted, Manuel proceeded to question the old woman on her daughter's disappearance, respectful at all times of her position as her School's healer.
"I know not where she is or who she is with," the old woman told him.
"Very well," Manuel said, but with a dark furl of his brow. He then showed her both his hands. "Be advised," he let her know, "these hands have within them the means to make anyone reveal whatever I wish to know."
Lana's mother looked beyond his hands directly into his eyes. "You imagine I would ever deliver my daughter into such hands?" she said.
The School of Engineering expected nothing but the rout it received from its attack; its entire purpose was to test the defenses of this, the weakest of the three Schools the Engineers had discovered to have formed an Alliance. Also, to further weaken its defenses against the day their real attack commenced. Their plan was to take out all three Schools one by one, starting with the weakest.
Toward this end, they raided the Schools of Agronomy and Metallurgy, taking more children to be used in strengthening their arsenal, a ploy whose effect was to force both devastated Schools to seek an Alliance, first between themselves and, secondly, with the much stronger School of Chemistry. Within a week of the Engineers raid, there were, rather than eight separate Schools, three Alliances in preparation for, if need be, an all out war for dominance over the Land.
Oblivious to what was happening elsewhere, Lana and Giovanni spent their days in their new home along the shore of the Bitumen Pool working with what had piqued their interest; Giovanni the pieces of Wall metal he was sure would reveal its secrets; Lana the pieces of white debris covered on one side with what she took to be hieroglyphics.
Having no idea what their correct order might be or even if there were such an arrangement, Lana could only presume their original arrangement had not been a chance occurrence; and that only the pieces disrupted by Giovanni lay outside that arrangement. In all were one hundred pieces, of which all but ten were stacked together in one bundle. Lana had no way of determining whether these ten belonged on top or underneath the stack. Nothing in the formation of the hieroglyphics, neither size nor strength of creation, gave evidence of variation. All the hieroglyphics were uniform in size, shape, boldness.
She noted immediately a repeating pattern among the various glyphs, which is what first told her these must be the elusive hieroglyphics her Language Teachers had spoken of in great detail, even if they could not say exactly what was meant by the term, let alone display any example.
"Hieroglyphics were used by very ancient and primitive peoples to express and codify their way of life, much the same as we pass along the stories of our ancestors verbally," she remembered her Teachers' exact description. Looking at these pieces, she wondered if perhaps their creators had really been primitive or possibly more advanced than her own people. More than ever, she was determined to decipher the hieroglyphics.
Guido never strayed far from Giovanni and Lana's home, never left the shores of the Bitumen Pool. Yet neither did he visit their home. They were aware of his proximity, and would see him occasionally walking along the shore line, as if patrolling. He was always looking for signs of anyone approaching the Pool, to make sure they had not come searching for either Giovanni or Lana.
Every School in the Land sent parties on a regular and predictable basis to gather Bitumen for use in heating or in cooking, or to bury their dead. And now in saturating the skins of children for making weapons. They almost always came to the opposite end of the Pool from where Giovanni and Lana now lived. It was only when they approached this side that Guido grew anxious and exercised greater vigilance.
He knew it was only a matter of time till search parties came here seeking Giovanni or Lana or both, for after they had exhausted all other areas within The Wall they must finally come here. He tried to gather anything that might be used in defense; but in the end he knew it would prove futile, for Manuel would never abandon his search, even if everyone else did; and would let nothing deter him save his own death. But he knew as well that he could not go after Manuel and kill him, for Giovanni had forbidden it; and he would die before disobeying this one dictum issued by the man he had sworn to protect.
Not even Manuel had foreknowledge of his father and the other two Head Masters' expectation of total defeat. It had been considered too delicate a matter to reveal even to him. His father hoped he would somehow survive, somehow escape the fate awaiting the rest of his warriors; but even his death was an acceptable price to keep secret the plan - the hope that the enemy would not discover the ruse and would therefore believe this ill-fated attack indicative of the Alliance's true strength.
The attack was the very soul of simplicity; it was a frontal assault on the School of Engineering, the strongest, most heavily fortified of the Alliance between Engineering and Technology. As such, it could not have been more doomed to failure had Manuel's father personally informed the Head Master of the impending attack.
Manuel led the charge, forcing their way through the Main Gate into the School Yard, killing a dozen Students within the first fifteen minutes, followed by hand to hand combat with those Students able to be roused at a moment's notice. This too proved an easy victory for Manuel and his warriors, who then proceeded deeper into the compound - and squarely into a trap hastily set for just such an attack.
Ten minutes more left the squad completely surrounded by a force ten times its size. Ten minutes of fierce hand to hand combat left twenty more dead among the Engineers, five dead among Manuel's squad. Then it was over, and the attacking force was taken to a vast holding pen, which normally held taken children. The remaining warriors were tied to pylons made from debris pieces.
Manuel was known to the Head Master and School Board. He was saved for last, forced to watch and listen as one by one his warriors were, first, blinded, then their ears cut off, and finally slowly tortured to death.
When they had finished with the other warriors, they came for Manuel. The same pointed stick with two prongs used to blind the others was brought little by little to his eyes, almost touching the lens. Manuel neither flinched nor cried out.
The Head Master stepped forward just as the stick was about to pierce his eyes.
"You show no fear, Manfred!" the Head Master said.
"My name is Manuel," came the haughty reply. "And my fear was spent watching my fellow Students die."
The Head Master motioned the Engineer wielding the blinding rod away. Then motioned another to loosen Manuel's ropes.
"You will be released," the Head Master told Manuel. "So you can return to your father and tell him our attack is coming."
"I will only make such an announcement if I lead your attack," said Manuel.
"You would so easily change sides?" the Head Master asked.
"I have no side," Manuel answered. "I knew from the moment we came through your Gate that we were purposely sent to our slaughter. For what purpose, I cannot say. But should I ever encounter my father again, it will be to kill him!"
"Then where will you go?"
"I will come to you within a week to again ask to lead your Students against my father's Alliance. If you choose to accept me as their leader, I can show you many weaknesses in their defenses."
"How do I know you were not sent here for that very purpose and willingly sacrificed the others to gain our trust?"
Manuel said nothing; but the sudden dark furrow of his brow told the Head Master everything.
Manuel made straightway for Giovanni's secret hideout from when they were boys together. He lay down and fell asleep, only to wake up screaming as one by one his slaughtered Students paraded before him, reaching out to him in accusation of betraying them. Three more times he fell asleep; three more times Giovanni's hideout muffling his screams. Until he fell asleep and was never again visited by accusation.
Manuel remained isolated in Giovanni's secret hideout for a week. At the end of his week's isolation, he returned to the School of Engineering to learn their decision regarding his offer. He was taken before the School Board.
"We have decided to reject your offer of help," the Head Master informed him of the Board's decision. "Instead, we have decided to kill you and send your head to your father as a warning."
"An unfortunate decision," Manuel replied, withdrawing a blade and moving to the Head Master so quickly no one could stop him.
"Who among you is next in line to be Head Master?" Manuel asked the Board, still holding the Head Master fast, his blade pressed against his throat.
"His son is next in line," Manuel was told.
"Then his son can have his father's head for a souvenir," Manuel told the Board as he slashed the Head Master's throat and fled toward the rear of the compound, where before entering he had discovered a breach almost identical to the one at the School of Language. He was out, and on his way to his hideout before a search party could be assembled.
When informed of his father's murder, the new Head Master of the School of Engineering inquired who among the School Board had killed him. When told it was Manuel, he showed no sign of emotion. All he said was "Tomorrow we will bury my father. The entire Board will accompany us."
Unbeknownst to Giovanni, Manuel as a boy often brought his best friend to the secret hideout. They would lie on the soft ground and speak of their plans.
"I will be King," Manuel boasted.
His friend grinned and said "You do not have what it takes."
This infuriated Manuel. "What does it take that I do not have?" Manuel demanded to know.
"A King's name, as well as a King's presence."
"My name will be Manuel and it will be revered throughout the Land!"
"Was there ever a great leader of your people with such a name?" Manuel's friend asked.
"It matters not!"
"It is all that matters. My name will be English, the greatest, most feared leader ever known."
Manuel arose from the soft ground and began pacing the length and width of Giovanni's hideout. Then they both left; and never again met to engage in telling of their plans.
"I know exactly where Manuel has gone to hide," the new Head Master told his hand picked band of guards.
"Let us go at once and get him!" they all cried out.
"No. We will bide our time. First I will take my rightful name, after I choose my fellow Engineer and we will consummate our project."
The Head Master was wrapped and carried to the Bitumen Pool, accompanied by his son and heir, the School Board, and the new Head Master's cadre of guards. When the Head Master had been buried, his son motioned to his guards, as arranged beforehand. The guards took up the members of the School Board and, one by one, began hurling them into the Pool, the members too shocked, too frightened and too weak to resist the strength of the ten chosen as the new Head Master's guards.
"I hereby dissolve the School Board," the young man said as he watched the five old men slowly sink into the thick Bitumen, flailing and crying out for help. A few minutes later the only traces remaining of the School Board, once the most powerful body in the Land, were a few bubbles generated by their sudden sinking to the bottom.
"Now I must take a partner for my project," the new Head Master informed his guards when they returned to the compound. "Bring every girl between twelve and sixteen before me."
When this was done, he ordered every girl to disrobe. Any that refused were given to his guards to do with as they please once he had settled upon his partner. He walked among the girls, inspecting each, touching each to determine her suitability. After several hours, he decided on one girl. She was fifteen and pleasing to him in both shape and face.
"Who is your father?" he asked.
"I have none," the girl answered.
"And your mother?"
"I have none."
"Then how did you get here?" he asked.
"I do not remember," the girl answered.
The other girls were dismissed. "Come," the Head Master bid his partner follow him to his home. He removed his clothes and proceeded to consummate the project. When he was finished, he again appeared in the School Yard with his partner.
"I take the name English!" he announced to all who had been assembled by his guards. They were aghast; no one had ever dared take the name of the greatest Head Master their School had known. Perceiving their consternation, he further announced that it was the only name worthy of one so illustrious as himself.
"Tomorrow," he told his guards after the name ceremony was over and the people had been dismissed, "we get Manuel and I will watch as you torture him to the point of death; then you shall carry him to the Bitumen Pool, blind him, and lower his head into the Pool, stabbing him repeatedly so that his screams fill his mouth with Bitumen until he drowns in black. After which, you will extract him and leave him, for all to see what awaits any who would oppose me."
English showed nothing of the burning rage he felt when Manuel was no longer at Giovanni's secret hideout. He merely echoed his earlier "We will bide our time."
"I have counted twenty-six," Lana told Giovanni. "Twenty-six separate characters, occurring in repeating patterns throughout the course of these pieces."
"What do you think that means?" Giovanni asked.
"I do not know yet; but it must be the sum total of characters within these hieroglyphics. There is not yet enough within the pattern of their distribution to identify what each character signifies."
"Are they like the pictographs we were taught in School?" Giovanni asked.
"I do not believe so. They are more like what our Teachers said were sometimes called letters, in that they do not represent an actual thing and only reveal their meaning alongside other letters."
"I know these pieces of metal contain pictographs," Giovanni said. "If I could only find the pattern they represent. Though I have yet to determine what each pictograph identifies. Which of us, I wonder, will succeed first in translating our language."
"You will," Lana assured Giovanni. "You began first."
Giovanni wished to go to The Wall and study the pictographs in their true arrangement; but dared not stray beyond this remote section of the Bitumen Pool for fear of being spotted by scouts from his School.
Occasionally Giovanni went to the place where Guido was staying to visit him. Giovanni's first visit unnerved him in that it revealed how easily he could be found; and therefore how easily Lana and Giovanni could also be found. Be he said nothing.
"Do you ever attempt to go among the people to learn what is happening?" Giovanni asked.
"I have gone close to them," Guido acknowledged.
"Have you seen any unusual activity?"
"Once I saw a group with no slits in their cloths enter your secret hideout," Guido told him.
"Engineers. How could they have known?" Giovanni wondered. "And how did you discover my hideout?"
Guido hung his head and admitted that as a boy he followed Giovanni and Manuel; and when they had gone, he entered and once even slept the night.
"I also saw Manuel and his other friend go inside your hideout," Guido said.
Giovanni was thunderstruck to learn Manuel had showed his secret place to another. "I wonder which Business Management Student it was."
Guido shook his head. "There were no slits in the boy's loincloth," he suddenly remembered. And this memory sent a jolt through him.
"What is it?" asked Giovanni.
"I am not sure," Guido said as he attempted to revisit his vision of Manuel's attempt to murder Giovanni; but could not see it clearly any longer, for it was now as if covered in a veil; and no face manifested beyond a blur.
"So Manuel showed my hideout, a place so sacred to me I would not even show my own father, to a boy from the School of Engineering. Had I known it had been contaminated, I would never have gone near it again," Giovanni swore.
Again Guido hung his head in shame. "Not from you," Giovanni assured him. "I only wish I had invited you, my one true friend, to come with me. But a boy is thoughtless, and insensitive. Forgive me, Guido, my friend."
"In my heart, you have done nothing to seek forgiveness," said Guido.
Long after Giovanni had returned home, Guido puzzled over who this boy of the Engineers, and his part in what was happening, might be. And especially his part in that which was foretold in a vision.
Lana had a recurring dream, a vision of her own, that made her anxious to return to the School of Language; yet she knew this was not possible. She knew if she returned, she would never again leave; and she knew as well Giovanni would come for her and, if so, would be captured this time and executed. She hesitated even telling Giovanni of her dream; but eventually decided to share it with him.
"I keep having the same dream, over and over," she told him one afternoon as they sat together. "It makes me think something terrible has happened. Both my mother and your father are standing almost right where we are sitting now. My mother reminds me to dot my I's and cross my T's. Your father reminds you to watch your P's and Q's. Then it fades; but comes again the next night."
"Does it mean your mother, too, has died?" Giovanni wondered.
"I don't know," said Lana. "But it must."
"Then I will go there and learn what has happened," Giovanni resolved.
"No," said Lana. "You must not. You may be caught."
"I shall be careful," Giovanni promised. "There are still a few among our people I trust not to betray me. I will wait along the debris piles and get their attention."
Lana regretted telling Giovanni of her dream, or her fear. She knew that once his mind was determined, nothing could stop him; for nothing anywhere could deter him from pursuing an adventure.
Desperate to find some way of dissuading him, Lana pleaded with him to take Guido with him; or at least to consult with him before going. In her mind was the hope that Guido would go in his place; but she dared not reveal this hope to Giovanni, for he would never consider allowing another to supplant his place on one of his adventures.
Giovanni agreed to visit Guido. Though reluctant to involve Guido in his adventure, he believed that to make up for all the times as a boy he excluded him, he must offer to share this adventure, perhaps his last adventure, with Guido.
Giovanni gold Guido of Lana's dream and then of his plan to return and seek understanding of its meaning from those among his people he could still trust. Guido puzzled awhile over the revelation and, as Giovanni expected, asked to accompany him.
"I do not believe Lana's dream portends evil, as all my visions seem to," Guido said. "Rather, I believe it is a message to her of something she must know. But if you are determined to set out on this journey, please allow me to accompany you," Guido asked.
Giovanni nodded his assent; but insisted they leave from his home together. Guido agreed. Together they returned to the home Giovanni and Lana had found beside the Bitumen Pool.
When Guido entered their home, his eyes immediately went to the white pieces Lana was attempting to decipher. A brief image flashed in his mind: a single white piece, which had gotten out of sequence. He reached into the stack and pulled it out, then gently placed it on top. A look of great relief spread across his face, as if a great burden had finally been lifted from his shoulders.
He said to Lana "This piece goes on top." In his mind was the joyful sense that, at last, after a lifetime filled with visions of evil, something good had come of his ability to see future events; for he knew that his vision would be the key enabling Lana to decipher the white pieces.
"What has happened to you?" Giovanni asked Guido once they started out. "I've never before seen a happy look on your brow."
"The vision I had, which made me rearrange Lana's white pieces, has dispelled my dread at seeing things. Now perhaps I can embrace this ability I never wanted and always hated. It is like I am a new man."
Giovanni never told Lana of Guido's vision. She had no knowledge of Manuel's hatred for Giovanni, let alone of Guido's resolve to save her fellow Translator at any cost. Therefore, she was neither surprised nor alarmed by Manuel's sudden appearance at the home she and Giovanni found. She presumed Giovanni had told him of their new home.
What did surprise and alarm her was a troubled look on Manuel's face. Something has happened to Giovanni, she at once suspected, and said as much to Manuel, who confirmed her suspicion with a nod.
"We must go at once to try and rescue him!" Manuel insisted, surprised at the ease with which he was able to take Lana from her home; he had feared she and Giovanni had discovered his true intentions and had abandoned their home beside the Lake precisely to escape those intentions. But if not, then why had they left, he wondered.
"Wait!" Lana told Manuel as an idea came to her. "We must take this!" she said, indicating the white pieces.
"This will only slow us down!" Manuel countered.
Lana shook her head. "It may save his life!" she said. They managed to wrap the pieces in the covering from her and Giovanni's bed; and, taking it up, departed.
Along the way, Lana asked why they were headed for Manuel's School of Business Management instead of Giovanni's School of Language. Manuel explained that Giovanni was being held there, awaiting transfer to the School of Language.
With no more than a quarter mile to go, Lana stopped dead in her tracks. Manuel prompted her to hurry the rest of the way, before Giovanni was escorted to the School of Language, where Manuel held no influence.
"Why did you need me?" Lana asked, now that the panic which had prompted her haste had lessened.
"It is known he kidnapped you," Manuel put together an explanation impromptu. "Even as the Head Master's son, I could not, on my own, have defended him against such a charge."
This seemed to satisfy Lana; so she proceeded the rest of the way with Manuel. Once inside, he asked her to wait in the School Yard while he engaged his father.
"I have brought Giovanni's fellow Translator. Her name is Lana," Manuel told his father in private. His father stared at him as if seeing a ghost.
"So you survived the attack," the Head Master spoke in a slow, hesitant tone.
"Had you reason to think otherwise?" Manuel pointedly asked.
"We were given skins by the enemy, assured they were of all the Students sent to attack."
"They would not wish to report the escape of one, especially the one who led the assault," Manuel told his father. "More so when that one killed their Head Master in making his escape."
"It is indeed good to see you," the Head Master at last thought to tell his son.
"No doubt you suffered greatly thinking your son had shared the fate of his squad. Be that as it may, I must turn around and leave for awhile. Please make a place for Lana till I return."
"Of course," the Head Master agreed.
Manuel hurried back to Lana, breathless and greatly agitated. He took her aside.
"Giovanni has already been transferred to the School of Language," Manuel told her. "I will go at once and gather some of my most loyal Business Associates to try and free him."
"I will go with you," Lana resolved.
"No," Manuel objected. "You cannot. They will keep you once they have you; and it will make Giovanni's rescue more difficult, for he will refuse to leave without you."
Lana accepted the wisdom of Manuel's reasoning; and agreed to remain here. She was shown to a place within the Head Master's home, in a room next to Manuel's Business Partner, now hidden away in mourning.
By chance, Lana and Manuel's Business Partner passed in the corridor between their rooms. "Who are you?" Lana was asked.
"I am Lana."
"Why are you here?"
"I was asked to stay," Lana answered.
"By the Head Master's son."
"You lie!" the woman cried. "My Business Partner is dead! And I am in mourning."
"I do not understand," said Lana. "Manuel and I came here together to look for my Fellow Translator. Now he is gone to the School of Language to rescue him."
"I do not know this Manuel you speak of," the woman told Lana. "My Business Partner is Manfred, son of the Head Master. And I am Beulah, daughter of our new healer."
"My mother is healer of the School of Language," Lana said in turn.
"What do I care of your mother, or any subordinate School?" Beulah replied. With this, she went to her room to continue her period of mourning.
So Manuel has two names, Lana thought to herself as she likewise returned to her room.
Giovanni and Guido made their way to the School of Language to seek out Lana's mother. Both were amazed to find the same breach at the rear of the compound that Giovanni had used to rescue Lana. It had not been repaired. Giovanni slipped through while Guido stood watch outside. He slowly worked his way to Lana's mother's home, careful not to enter until he was certain Lana's mother was still there. Then he made his presence known.
"Why have you returned?" Giovanni was asked. "Has something happened to my daughter?"
"She remains unharmed," Giovanni assured Lana's mother. "I am here because she had great concern for you. She dreamed of you, and of my father. And since my father has died, she thought perhaps you too had died."
"I will die soon enough," Lana's mother told Giovanni.
With this news, Giovanni left and slipped again through the breach. Guido was waiting for him; and together they worked their way back to Giovanni and Lana's home at the far end of the Bitumen Pool, a body almost as massive as the Lake.
Upon their arrival, both were surprised at Lana not being there. Occasionally, she and Giovanni would go in search of debris; but he had never known Lana to go off by herself. Yet he concluded she must have; there was no other explanation for her absence.
Guido was about to leave and return to his own place when it hit him that it was not only Lana missing; but her white pieces as well. He distinctly remembered it since it was his vision which had enabled its final arrangement.
"Where are the pieces Lana was working on?" Guido asked.
In seeking them within the room, Giovanni too noticed something missing: the covering of their bed. "Something is wrong," Giovanni concluded.
There were no signs of struggle, as if someone had entered while they were away and taken her. Nor was there any sign she left in a hurry to seek shelter elsewhere.
"Where can she be?" Giovanni asked.
"Someone has deceived her into leaving," Guido said.
"Who? She would never follow anyone from our home," Giovanni pointed out. "We trusted no one."
"There was one," Guido offered.
"Unless you told Lana of his treachery and deception: your boyhood friend, Manuel."
"I never told her," Giovanni admitted. "I never thought it necessary. So now, because of my not telling Lana, he has her. We must go back to the School of Language."
But Guido shook his head. "He would not have taken her there; but to his own School, where, as the Head Master's son, he could lay claim to Lana as his property."
"Then we must go there!" Giovanni resolved.
"Were you ever there as a boy?" Guido asked. Giovanni shook his head. "Then we know nothing of it. We must plan carefully before attempting a rescue from that place."
Manuel returned to the School of Business Management and presented himself before Lana in a state of shock and remorse and wore a look of guilt. He started to speak, then turned away and held his face in his hands as he spoke.
"I was too late," he told Lana. "I was too late," he repeated again and again. "They had already executed Giovanni. I failed you; and failed my dearest friend, whom I have known and held dear since we were boys together. I am not worthy to ever look upon you again. I will return you to your home, to live out your days there."
"I have nothing there," said Lana.
"Then I will take you back to the School of Language."
"No. I will never look upon that place again," Lana vowed.
"You may remain here if you wish," Manuel told her. "You may work on your pieces of white in peace."
"I may never look upon that again either," she said, "for it was the cause of sending Giovanni to his death."
After a moment's reflection, she asked what became of Guido. "Was he too executed?"
"No," Manuel answered. "It was he who betrayed Giovanni to his School, so as to get back in their favor."
Lana said nothing further; but this last revelation of Manuel's cast a shadow across everything else he had said. She could not conceive of Guido ever betraying Giovanni, even to save his own life. Yet the only way she could know for certain was to return to the School of Language; but she could not bear doing that.
Lana sat all night staring at the pieces of white which Guido had arranged for her in their proper order. I must decide whether to destroy this as the cause of Giovanni's death; or to continue deciphering the hieroglyphics. In the end, as day drew near, she decided it was her dreams and not the pieces of white which sent Giovanni to his death, for there was no reason to believe her dream of her mother and Giovanni's father had anything to do with these pieces. She then lay down and fell asleep.
Nothing happened in the Land that English, through his network of spies, did not discover. Not every child taken was put to use as a resource; some were carefully groomed to watch and listen and repeat anything out of the ordinary to children from the School of Engineering they might happen to encounter while out playing.
It was impressed upon these special children that they would suffer the fate of the other children taken if they revealed anything of their activities to anyone inside their own Schools. Sometimes they were forced to watch the children being readied for use, if they bulked at spying on their Teachers and their parents. The other children's cries and screams so frightened them that they readily agreed to any demand made of them.
It was in just such a manner that English learned of Lana's arrival at the School of Business Management and of the stack of white pieces she was attempting to decipher. English vowed to have both her and her project for his very own.
Toward this end he began receiving information daily from these children, his spies; and made it clear that if he did not receive information centered around the woman who had arrived at the School of Business Management, he would have these children taken, no matter where they might be hiding, and skinned alive. Thus, every day he learned more about this mysterious woman and her equally mysterious project, no matter how trivial. Until the day came when he obtained the very information he had sought from the beginning - information which enabled him to devise a plan to not only get the woman but bring both she and her project under his control.
"Are you certain of this?" the child bringing this crucial piece of knowledge was asked.
"Yes!" the child swore. "I heard Manfred himself tell how he would make this new woman his Business Partner even though he has a Partner already!"
"Well done," English complimented the child. "This is excellent news. And in reward," he then told the child, "it will be necessary to use you as a resource. I cannot risk Manfred, or Manuel, whichever name he wishes to use, discovering his intention has become known to me. Take this child away and fix it for use on my roof."
The child was too frightened to move and had to be dragged, screaming and pleading for help, and swearing never to tell anyone, to the place where children were made ready for use. An hour later, all was again quiet.
Manuel was watched night and day. He made no move outside the School of Business Management that was not recorded in one of English's guard's memory, to be reported at day's end. The guards took turns serving as English's eyes and ears behind every debris pile large enough to conceal them.
Most of Manuel's activities away from his own School took him to either the School of Language or the School of Finance. But there were other activities, which seemed entirely random, unrelated to anything involving the Alliance; activities which kept half of his personal guards away from his side. These were the most difficult to monitor; but also of greatest interest to English.
"He searches for something, or someone," English concluded. "And it centers around the Lake and the Pool, making it at once harder to conceal yourselves but imperative to be all the more vigilant. I must know what it is he seeks. Wait until he has found his prey before taking him. I must know what it is."
English found his Fellow Project Engineer increasingly repulsive as she slowly became heavy with child. He seldom visited her, taking instead one after another girl to be with. This was against the rules which had always presided over relationships between males and females, not only here at his School of Engineering but at all Schools within the Land. It was brought to his attention that many of his subject were distressed over his flaunting of the rules. He called a meeting to deal with the problem.
"There is talk among you against my taking of whichever girl I wish for whatever purpose I wish," English addressed his people. "I will not ask and do not care who among you has spoken against me." He then motioned for his guards to go amongst the people assembled before him and choose ten at random. The others were dismissed and sent back to their duties. These ten were bound, taken to the Bitumen Pool, and thrown in, to be swallowed up by the thick black much.
In time it was reported back to English who it was Manuel sought.
"His name is Giovanni," English's guards told him. "He is from the School of Language. This is all we know."
"This is all I need to know," English told them. "Let the word go forth that I have taken this Giovanni and will execute him on the eve of the full moon. Manuel will come for him and will be mine, to bargain with his woman."
The word went out that Giovanni had been taken and now awaited execution. Manuel heard the word; and plotted his rescue; and as night follows day was captured by English's guards waiting at the place of execution along the western edge of the Bitumen Pool. In the brief skirmish, three of English's guards were killed; but all five of Manuel's guards brought with him to effect Giovanni's rescue lost their lives. Manuel was bound and led back to the School of Engineering.
"We have business to complete," English told Manuel. "First I will have your woman and her project. Then I will personally oversee your torture and your own execution."
Lana was beginning to see a pattern among the hieroglyphics, growing clearer in her mind and centered around her mother's admonition to "Dot your I's and cross your T's." The very first two characters of the very first word suddenly leaped out at her late one evening under a candle light which seemed almost to silhouette the characters.
"This first character is a vertical line with a mark over it; the second a vertical line with a horizontal line intersecting it. Dot the I and cross the T. It is an I followed by a T. Just as my mother and her mother and hers as far back as anyone could remember foretold! An I and a T forming a word. But what is the word? An I and a T. How would it be pronounced? What is it?"
Then she stopped and leaped from her sitting position over the white pieces.
"It is 'It!' It is 'It!' That is the word! It is 'It!' It is our language, our word - all the words are ours!"
She worked through the night, searching out every place where these two letters stood separated from any other words surrounding them. Then she looked for every place these two letters appeared within another word; then for every place each letter appeared in combination with other characters but not together.
"I have found the key to deciphering these hieroglyphics," Lana said as she finally lay down and fell asleep.
She dreamed of her baby sister who had disappeared so long ago. She saw the angelic face and the golden hair; the tiny hands and feet; the tattered white cloth she wore as she crawled about her mother's home. Then she looked again and her sister was gone.
Lana worked feverously, little by little deciphering the white pieces. Without Giovanni and unable by her own decree to ever visit her mother, and without a translation to show for her time with Giovanni, this was all she had left in life. She was determined to complete this task before her and then offer it, first, to the people of the School of Business Management; and afterward to all the people within The Wall, that it might bring them together in a common purpose. This would be her and Giovanni's legacy to humanity, the ultimate proof of their love, which would stand forever as a monument to that love.
Beulah burst into Lana's room one morning and screamed at her "What have you done with my Business Partner?" Looking around Lana's room, her eyes landed on the white pieces scattered about. "Tell me where he is or I will come in here and rip all these pieces to shreds! Tell me where he is!"
Lana looked up from her work and said she had no idea where Manuel had gone, or even that he was gone.
"You lie!" Beulah screamed. "I see the way he looks at you! You have cast a wicked spell over him and have made his mind forget his name and his Business Partner!"
Beulah approached Lana's manuscript. Lana stood up and faced her squarely. "Touch one of these pieces and I will rip your face off," Lana told her.
"We shall see about that!" Beulah said as she turned and left.
Late one night, long after Lana had fallen asleep, Beulah crept into her room and gathered up the pieces of white, which each night when she had finished her day's work, Lana arranged in a stack until her work began again. Beulah made off with the white pieces so quietly, Lana never stirred. She made her way through the School Yard and then the Main Gate, moving swiftly beneath the full moon to the Bitumen Pool, where she meant to throw Lana's work.
Two of English's guards were posted around the clock at a debris pile not far from the School of Business Management. They spotted Beulah leaving. Thinking she was Lana and that she meant to retreat to another location now that Manuel had been captured, the two followed her, finally seizing her as she drew near the Bitumen Pool.
They took her back with them to the School of Engineering and presented her to English, who in turn took her at once to where Manuel was being held prisoner. Manuel looked up from the place where he was sleeping to see what the disturbance was; and burst out laughing.
English addressed Beulah. "Decipher these hieroglyphics or watch him tortured and killed," he indicated Manuel as he spoke. Beulah was dumbfounded at the prospect of having to decipher these pieces of white to save her Business Partner.
"Take your time," Manuel coached. "Make sure you get it right. This man would be King, and your work will be his first Edict to his people."
"Do not take so long that I become weary of this project," English interjected. "Or you and this man and your project will find yourselves at the bottom of the Pool."
Beulah was left unbound in the center of Manuel's cell.
The School of Chemistry was an oddly shaped compound. Where all the other Schools were rectangular, it had the eight sides of an octagon. It had once been the School of Mathematics; but long ago its Teachers, Students and children had been killed and either buried or used as a natural resource. This was at a time before the Schools became enemies of one another; a time when there was open commerce among the people of the Land; a time when no one thought to erect defenses.
The original English single handedly changed all that. Upon becoming Head Master of the School of Engineering, he at once set up building an army; and once his army was ready, he began attacking the other Schools and capturing any children playing in the open. His army destroyed several Schools, killing their people and razing their compounds. He spared the School of Mathematics compound because he liked its eight sides, seeing in the design a superior defense. He meant to move the School of Engineering to that compound. But before he could commence this, his greatest project, the Green Sickness stole upon him and took his plan with him to the grave.
Over time the abandoned compound began to fill, until halfway between the original English and his present namesake, it had ceased being a kind of way station along the route leading to all the schools save the School of Divinity to become a School in its own right. Its occupants, not wanting the ill fated name it had thrived under for so long, chose another name: The School of Chemistry. And though smaller than any other School, because of its unique shape it had never been again attacked.
When it formed an Alliance with the School of Agronomy and the School of Metallurgy - the last of the Schools to join together in a defensive pact - it was the acknowledged leader of the Alliance. Because of the School's past history, it never resorted to taking children; and would not condone the use of children as resources. Just the opposite, it took in stray children who had either lost their way or managed to escape capture; and attempted to re-unite them with their own Schools.
When Lana awoke to find her manuscript missing, she knew it was Beulah who had taken it, and that it was undoubtedly now at the bottom of the Bitumen Pool. She waited for Beulah to make her daily appearance, which never took place until the noon time. When Beulah failed to appear, she went to her room and made bold to enter without being admitted; but Beulah was not there.
Two days went by and Beulah failed to appear, not only in her room but anywhere within the compound. Word spread that she had been kidnapped. Everyone was questioned, including Lana.
"First Manfred has disappeared," she was told by the Head Master; "and now his Business Partner."
A plan came to Lana. "She spoke of going to the School of Chemistry, thinking Manfred had gone there to try and arrange an Alliance," Lana told the Head Master.
"This cannot be," the Head Master replied. "I will send a party to the School of Chemistry to inquire after my son and his Business Partner."
When the party was assembled and was leaving the compound, Lana joined them. Asked why she was accompanying them, she said the Head Master had asked her to do so. Nothing further was said. But when the party arrived at the School of Chemistry and was admitted into the School Yard, Lana stepped forward and asked to speak to the Head Master.
After some discussion, she was taken to the Head Master, who knew of her mother's renown as the greatest healer in the Land.
"How is your mother?" the Head Master inquired.
"She has the Green Sickness," Lana told him.
"How did you come to be among a party from the School of Business Management?" he then asked.
"I cannot say at present," Lana answered. "I request asylum here," she then brought forth the reason for her presence at his School.
"Asylum," the Head Master mulled over Lana's request. "I will have to present your request before the School Board. Until the matter is decided, you may remain as our guest."
The rest of the party from the School of Business Management, having presented their offer and been advised that it would be considered, was asked to leave. They were told Lana would remain until a matter she had brought before the School Board for consideration had been resolved. They were further advised to go quickly; upon looking up they immediately acquiesced. They barely made it back to their School in time.
No one had ever discovered a pattern. Sometimes The Grays would all at once descend upon the Land; sometimes their approach could be seen long before they arrived. Sometimes they last but a moment or a few moments; other times they lasted hours or days; once, it was said, they persisted for a whole month, and a third of the people perished. Sometimes they stole away as quickly as they arrived; yet at times their retreat could almost be counted in measured distances.
The winds would become strong enough to carry a child away; then all at once cease. Strange objects would often blow in from somewhere, things no one could identify, neither by shape nor color, such as the object Giovanni had taken to his secret hiding place. These things were taken up and brought to School to be discussed by Teachers; but no one had ever been able to explain where they had come from.
Giovanni and Guido had retreated to the home Giovanni and Lana had found along the edge of the Bitumen Pool to avoid the Grays' sudden appearance.
"My father spoke once of a time when the Grays lasted for forty days and forty nights and the whole world was flooded and all the people drowned except for one man who built a huge raft and sailed for years until the flood receded," Giovanni related to Guido. "I believed it all then," he added; "though now I think it was a tale meant to keep boys like me from venturing out into the Grays."
"Did you ever venture out?" Guido asked.
"Once I did; and got swept away. I remember a river where before there had been none; and it carried me to the very edge of the Bitumen Pool before stopping. I never told anyone, not even Manuel or Lana. It was my greatest adventure; and I did not wish to share it with anyone."
"Yet now you did share it," Guido pointed out. "Do you regret telling me?"
"No," said Giovanni. "Telling you is like speaking of it to myself."
This time the Grays lasted almost a week. When it finally dissipated, all the Land was covered in mud, some places several feet thick, most places no more than a few inches. Giovanni and Guido ventured out, determined at last to rescue Lana, who must surely be at the School of Language. On the way, they came upon a boy no more than ten years old who had ventured out too soon and gotten trapped in a couple feet of mud. They managed to free him; otherwise he would have gotten even more trapped when the mud hardened again, and he would have been easy prey for those who regarded children as mere things to be used.
"This is what you get for venturing out when you should have remained at home," Giovanni scolded the boy, who began crying so pitifully that Giovanni took the child in his arms to comfort him.
"I was looking for him" the boy said as if begging to be forgiven.
"For whom did you look?" Guido asked in a gentle voice.
"My dear friend," the boy answered. "I keep looking, hoping he escaped."
"Escaped? From where?"
"From over there a little ways," the boy pointed in the direction of the School of Engineering.
Giovanni held the boy even tighter and said softly "No child ever escapes from that place once taken."
"He was not taken!" the boy pulled free and screamed at Giovanni.
"I do not understand," said Giovanni.
"They use boys to tell them things."
"Things that are happening at other Schools," the boy said. "He went - I saw him go - he made me wait here. He had something to tell them that was important. But he never came out. I waited all day but he never came out. I have come here every day since and wait for him, until the Grays came. And when the Grays went away I came here again to wait. But he never comes out."
"What is your school?" Guido asked.
"The School of Business Management," the boy said.
"We will take you there; but we cannot enter."
On the way to the School of Business Management, the boy rambled on about his friend. "I hope they kill her and cut her up and throw all the pieces in the Pool! It is all her fault. If she had not come here with her white pieces, none of this would have happened."
Giovanni stopped in his tracks, stopping the boy as well. "Who is she?" he demanded to know.
"The woman our Head Master's son brought with him" the boy answered. "With her white pieces that she works on night and day."
"We must get her!" Giovanni said to Guido.
"Where is she staying?" the boy as asked. But he only stared back. "Which home is she in?"
"She is not here anymore," the boy told his rescuers.
"Then where is she?"
"I saw her being taken to the School of Engineering," the boy said.
"And you are certain it was her?" Giovanni asked.
"Yes," the boy swore. "She was carrying the white pieces, all wrapped up as they were when she came."
When the boy had been safely returned to his School, Giovanni and Guido went to devise a plan of rescue.
As far back as anyone could remember, the School of Engineering had been considered impregnable. No one had ever attacked it, regardless how many Schools the Engineers had attacked and left in ruins. To even study its walls and Gate was considered a death sentence, for it was too well guarded to ever approach close enough to find any breach, let alone to create one. So no one had ever made such an attempt until now.
Giovanni and Guido spent days and nights at a time slowly encircling, slowly working their way closer, looking for anything which might afford a passage inside. Their greatest advantage was the compound's reputation as impossible to enter from any angle or direction, for it tended to weaken their defense by rendering its guards oblivious to stealth of any kind. The only possible means of attack was a frontal assault like the one Manuel's squad attempted; and the only possible assault must come from a well organized force.
On the tenth way around the compound, Giovanni spotted something which made his heart race, both for what it signified and what it prompted. Incredibly, the same breach Manuel had used to escape his earlier capture still remained; it had not been mended, a living testament to the Engineers' sense of invincibility. This breach, so like the one Giovanni had used to rescue Lana from the School of Language, would enable him to rescue her a second time.
Unlike the School of Language, whose breach Giovanni knew would lead directly to the house of Lana's mother, there was no way of knowing where this breach would lead. He had no choice but to risk it, no matter where it led. He offered Guido the option of standing watch outside; but Guido put his hand over Giovanni's mouth in mid-sentence.
"Where you go, I will go," Guido said softly.
The breach was where two slats of the rear stockade came together in an irregular bind which, because the stockade's construction lacked precise measurements, could not fit together smoothly. Consequently, one slat had had to overlap the other. Somehow, over time or else due to poor planning, there was a slight gap where the slats overlapped. Though small, this gap allowed someone to squeeze through.
First Giovanni forced his body between the two slats and entered the rear of the compound; his entry bringing him face to face with a guard posted at the rear of a large building. This guard swiftly turned a sharpened stick on him and meant to lead him away when Guido came through the breach and, just as swiftly, helped Giovanni subdue the guard, who was run through with his own weapon.
The sight of blood, even the enemy's blood, triggered a sudden vision in Guido. He saw Lana surrounded by eight high walls.
"She is not here," Guido told Giovanni. "The boy was mistaken. We must go at once!" he prompted.
Giovanni shook his head and replied "We are here." He then motioned Guido to follow as he slowly made his way around the building to an entrance at the side where there was no guard.
Slowly they entered the building; and the first sight that greeted Giovanni was Manuel staring back at him. Then he saw a woman seated in the center of the room where Manuel was situated; before her were the white pieces of Lana's project.
Manuel looked Giovanni in the eye and, even before it could be asked, said "She is not here."
Guido took hold of Giovanni's arm and said "We must go!"
"I must get Lana's white pieces," Giovanni, in turn said.
Manuel stood up and came over to where Giovanni and Guido stood, the thick rope that bound his ankle to a post on the other side of the room permitting him to reach within arm's length.
"Lana will want her project, as they call it here," Manuel said. "But to have it we must be with it."
"We can take it from you!" said Guido.
"And I can call for the guards while you get it!" Manuel said.
Giovanni shook his head and told Manuel there was no need to bargain for the pieces. "I would free you even without this," he said, pointing to the white pieces.
"Then do it!"
Giovanni struggled to help Manuel pull the rope loose from the post; and while this was taking place, Guido helped Beulah gather up the white pieces and wrap them.
As swiftly as the rescue attempt began, it ended, with all four working their way between the slats of the breach. They were long gone before their escape was noticed.
Inspecting the guard house, English noticed the dead guard. He turned to the other two guards and said "Envy his fate," after which he motioned his personal guards to take the two guards whose dereliction of duty allowed his prisoners' escape. For two days and two nights their screams could be heard; then two unrecognizable forms were led to the Bitumen Pool.
Halfway to the School of Business Management the four escapees parted ways, Manuel and Beulah continuing on; Giovanni and Guido heading toward the Bitumen Pool.
"I will return these white pieces to Lana," Manuel told Giovanni, adding "Unless you wish to hand them to her yourself."
Giovanni nodded, saying yes, he would return them himself; but not yet and not here.
Beulah started to reach for them. "These are mine, to do with as I please!" she insisted. But Guido brought forth the weapon taken from the dead guard and let it be known that no one but Giovanni would hold the white pieces until they were once again in Lana's hands.
"Lana is not our prisoner," Manuel told Giovanni. "She is our guest, free to leave if she so chooses. She has no need of rescue. But be advised, if you attempt to take her, you will be taken and returned to your School to face execution."
A thought came to Giovanni and Guido both, which neither spoke aloud until they had parted company with Manuel and Beulah.
"She believes you dead," Guido said.
"Manuel tricked her into coming with him," Giovanni agreed. "She must be rescued.
Neither the home Giovanni and Lana found beside the Lake nor the one they found along the Pool could ever be used again, as Manuel knew of both. Eventually Giovanni and Guido located a place, but not actually a home, where they could remain while they planned Lana's escape; and from where they continually made trips almost to the perimeter of Manuel's School to plot their rescue.
By chance they encountered the boy whose false intelligence had led them to the School of Engineering. Seeing them, the boy attempted to flee; but was caught.
"Why did you lie to us?" Giovanni asked.
The boy knew he would now be killed. He neither cried nor panicked. He simply went numb. Perceiving his state of mind, Giovanni released him and said "You may go. We will not harm you."
Now the boy began to cry; and could barely talk. "I swear I did not know it was not her I saw. She carried the white pieces. But now she is gone. I swear this time I speak the truth."
"What do you mean she is gone?" Giovanni gently asked the boy.
"She left somehow and is now at the School of Chemistry," he replied. "I know no more than that."
"Go along home now," Giovanni told the boy. "And do not keep searching for your friend or you will end up in the hands of those who took him."
"I will tell no one I met you," the boy promised.
Giovanni again took the boy in his arms and implored him not to risk harm to himself by protecting two strangers he met on the road.
As they watched the boy hurrying on home, tears welled up in Giovanni's eyes. He looked at Guido and said "Something is gone from our world when a boy fears death simply for lying."
There was no reason to fear the School of Chemistry. They were allied with neither the School of Language nor the School of Business Management. Giovanni and Guido, instead of devising a plan of rescue and thereby risking enmity with someone neutral, decided to simply approach the Main Gate and seek admittance.
They were admitted but taken by guards to a holding area to await a meeting with the Head Master. Almost a day went by before they were taken before the Head Master. They identified who they were, which School they had come from, and explained why they were here.
"For all I know," the Head Master said, "it may have been to escape you that Lana has sought asylum."
"Then you must hold us as prisoners until you are satisfied we mean her no harm," Giovanni told the Head Master.
"And what is that you carry?" Giovanni was asked.
"It is for Lana, something she was working on," came the answer.
"Let me take it to her," the Head Master offered.
"No," said Giovanni. "I have sworn to place this in no hand but hers."
The Head Master personally delivered the news of the visit to Lana. He did not, however, name the visitors, choosing instead to let her reaction guide his decision. She followed him to the holding place, believing she would encounter Manuel.
The moment they saw each other, Lana and Giovanni wept at the joy and relief the sight brought. For a long time nothing was said. Then the Head Master motioned his guards to release the visitors from the holding place.
Giovanni took several steps and held out the parcel he carried; but Lana barely saw it.
"I care nothing for this," she finally said; "only for he who carries it."
Giovanni and Lana embraced. She whispered in his ear "I believed you dead."
"Because I took so long coming to you?" Giovanni asked.
"Because I was told you were executed," Lana said.
This was almost more than Giovanni could bear to hear. He gave a deep sigh. "Tell me who would torment you like that. Was it Manuel? If it was I swear I will kill him."
Guido, who had stood apart, suddenly sprang forward and pulled the two apart.
"Do not curse your reunion with talk of vengeance!" Guido said in a voice of anger.
Then, realizing what he had done, turned away in shame, resolving to leave this place once he was satisfied Giovanni and Lana were safe.
Lana, in turn, told Giovanni that she would not reveal how she came to believe he was dead. She then went to Guido and thanked him for keeping Giovanni safe.
The Head Master, who had moved a discreet distance from the reunion, now came forward to offer Giovanni and Guido the same asylum that had been granted Lana.
"The School Board must decide these matters," he pointed out. "But I believe they will agree to let you remain under our protection."
"I would not wish to place your School in jeopardy for my sake, Giovanni said. "Yet neither can I take Lana from a place of safety. If I feel you are threatened, I will leave, though it means being again separated from she who means everything to me."
"I will note your terms to the School Board," the Head Master agreed.
As the Head Master forecast, the School Board agreed to extend asylum to both Giovanni and Guido.
A week passed before Lana even looked at her white pieces, which she believed she had lost along with Giovanni.
"How did you come by these?" Lana asked.
"Manuel's Business Partner had them."
Of course, Lana thought but said nothing. In her jealousy she meant to destroy them. She is too treacherous even for Manuel, whose sin is his obsession for me, which drove him to pronounce Giovanni executed. I can forgive Manuel; but never the woman who would destroy the most precious artifact ever found in this Land.
Manuel would have tortured the boy who revealed Lana's location to Giovanni - tortured him for hour upon hour then dragged him to the Bitumen Pool to relish his horror as the pitch black muck slowly engulfed him. For though the boy revealed nothing of what passed between himself and the two strangers, Manuel knew from the boy's demeanor that he was guilty.
But the boy was the son of the School of Business Management's healer who had died and been replaced by Beulah's mother; and his mother's legacy passed along to her son as a kind of protection. So Manuel dared not fulfill his desire for vengeance. He did, however, convince his father and the School Board to permit him to whip the boy.
The boy was stripped and tied to a post. Manuel approached with a thick piece of rope, with which he meant to kill the boy. But after five strokes so heavy the boy lost consciousness, Manuel was stopped and the boy was removed to his home, to allow his wounds to heal.
"I have not done with you yet," Manuel swore as he watched the boy being carried away.
Barely a week had gone by when the boy again encountered Giovanni and Guido along the road which led to the Schools. Though given asylum by the School of Chemistry precisely because of the danger awaiting them should they be taken by one of the scouting parties from the School of Language or the School of Business Management, Giovanni and Guido insisted on helping with the never ending task of securing debris from the seemingly endless debris piles with which to maintain the compound.
At first the boy attempted to hide behind a debris pile; but he was easily spotted and coaxed out of hiding. Giovanni's first impulse was to scold the boy for again risking his life by seeking his young friend. This made the boy turn and walk away.
"Wait!" Giovanni called out, taking hold of the boy's shoulder, an action which emitted a cry of pain from the boy. At once Giovanni let go of the boy, assuring him that he would never harm him.
"You already have," said Guido, who at once sensed something wrong with the boy, it already having occurred to him that boys never wore garments over their upper bodies in the hot times.
Giovanni stared at Guido for an explanation. "Lift his upper garment," Guido said, which Giovanni carefully did.
"I am sorry boy," Giovanni apologized. "Who has done this to you."
"I promised I would not tell I met you," the said. "Or that I told you about Lana."
"And for this you were beaten?" the boy nodded.
"No one has dressed your wound," Guido noted.
"My mother would have," said the boy. "She was our healer."
"Is she no longer your healer?"
"No." The boy again turned to go.
"Where is your mother?" Giovanni asked.
The boy answered through a flood of tears. "The Green Sickness," he whispered.
Both Giovanni and Guido knew the social structures common to all the Schools. The healer was second only to the Head Master in importance. The healer's death left a void; and it left the healer's family with only limited protection from the wrath of any enemies unless there was another within the family to assume the healer's duties.
"Have you an older sister?" Giovanni asked. The boy shook his head that he did not.
"We cannot abandon you," both Giovanni and Guido resolved. "To do so is to send you to your death at the hands of whoever did this - and we know who that was. And if you wander from your School, and are found unattended, nothing will save you. You must come with us, boy!" The boy nodded that he would.
Together, they headed back to the School of Chemistry. On the way, Giovanni asked the boy what name he would take once he secured a Business Partner in a few years. The boy shrugged and said he did not know.
"But I know," said Guido, who needed no vision to arrive at this understanding.
"In your heart you call yourself Giovanni."
"Is this so?" asked Giovanni. The boy nodded sheepishly.
Then I too will call you Giovanni," said Giovanni. "Let it be your name until such time as you choose another."
"I will never choose another," said the boy.
Giovanni presented a case before the School Board seeking asylum for the boy. The strongest testimony came from Lana, who remembered the boy showing an unusual interest in her white pieces; and who also knew that if asylum was not granted, Giovanni would leave and take the boy with him.
Though the Board did not wish another granted asylum, especially a child, for while the School of Chemistry did not regard children as resources to be used, neither did it accord them any significance; it decided to grant asylum to this boy, who would almost certainly be killed if turned away.
As quickly as the boy had taken to Giovanni, he took to Lana even more quickly, in part because she too was of a healer, but mostly because it allowed him to help her with her deciphering of the hieroglyphics.
"This first word was the I and the T your mother told you about," the boy, young Giovanni, mulled over as he looked at the very first part of the pieces. "And because of these two, you began putting the white pieces together. But you have not found the P and the Q Giovanni's father told him about."
"Not so far," said Lana; "and I have searched every piece.
"Maybe you do not have to," young Giovanni told her. "Maybe the P and the Q are also right here, at the beginning. Here," he pointed to the beginning of the second word. "Except if this is our language, there is no word with a P and a Q at the beginning. No one could ever say such a word. So maybe the Q is at the beginning of this one," he pointed to the third word this time.
Lana had already distinguished the two types of letters - vowels and consonants; and she had determined a relationship between the arrangement of the two. So while a consonant following another consonant, in this second word, puzzled her; a vowel following a consonant in this third word offered a much better chance of decipherment.
As they both studied the second and third words for clues to their meaning, the boy arose and started for the door. "I have to pee," he said; "but I will be ..."
He stopped dead in his tracks and stared in awe at the third word.
"What is it?" asked Lana.
"It is what I was going to say," he muttered. "I was telling you I would be quick when I peed. Quick. My mother used to tell me whenever I had to do those things to 'Be Quick About It.' It was like a special code just between us. To 'Be Quick About It.' And that is the third word: 'Quick.' I just know it is!"
The boy sat back down and began trying to make sense of the elusive second word, squirming around as he did. Lana, perceiving his problem, put her hand over the first sentence and told him to go pee, adding 'And be quick about it!' A huge smile greeted her admonition.
When he returned, tears were running down his cheeks. Lana asked what was wrong.
"I just remembered something else my mother used to say. Sometimes when I had to do those things and I got back even sooner than she expected, she would scold me by saying 'That Was Pretty Quick!'"
Lana had already figured out that the third letter of the first word, though she had no name for the letter, must be a letter to produce the sound "Its" when used with the first two letters. So the first sentence read "Its Pretty Quick." She did not know what the mark separating the T from the S of the first word was; but she remembered hearing about something called a "contraction" from long ago when words were sometimes shortened to speed up their pronunciation.
Giovanni and Guido had already decided to return one more time to the School of Language, to visit Lana's mother. When Giovanni told Lana of their plan, she insisted on accompanying them. She could not be dissuaded; so at the appointed hour, the three left the safety of the School of Chemistry to make for the School of Language.
Lana told young Giovanni they would not be away more than a day. He swore he would protect her white pieces with his life. She put her hands on his shoulders and told him his life was far more precious to her than the white pieces. Then she kissed his forehead.
The first thing young Giovanni did when they had gone was to carefully wrap the white pieces in the covering Lana had used to carry them from her home by the Pool. He placed them in one corner of the room; and sat down beside them, vowing not to move until they returned.
Their movements were watched, by a solitary figure concealed by a huge debris pile. When they were out of sight, this figure made its way to the School of Chemistry's Main Gate.
"I have an urgent message for the woman who has sought asylum," Manuel told the guards. "I must deliver it at once!"
"She just left, to return to her mother's home one last time," the guard told the visitor.
Manuel feigned remorse. "Then I am too late. I ran all the way from the School of Language. I must rest before I return."
Manuel was admitted to the compound.
"What was your message?" he was asked.
"Her mother has died," he answered. He then produced an artifact and asked if he might place it in her room; he stressed that it was her mother's last request to see that she got it. He was shown to the place where Lana stayed. He went in; and began at once looking around for Lana's white pieces.
He spied them in the far corner; but had not yet seen Young Giovanni seated beside the stack. He went at once to grab up the stack. Then his eyes met those of the boy guarding it. He drew a blade and lunged at the boy, who as quickly threw his body over the stack.
Manuel began stabbing the boy while attempting to remove him from the stack. His next blow would have been to the back of the boy's neck; but the guards came in and called to him. He immediately arose and ran from the room, all the way through the School Yard, and out the Main Gate, disappearing before anyone could seize him.
The School of Chemistry's healer was summoned to attend to the boy's wounds. The bleeding was stopped and the wounds bound tightly right where he lay on top of the stack. Then he was taken to a room within the healer's home.
"He still breathes," the healer told the Head Master. "His lungs still work. His heart still beats. There is a chance he will live, despite the blood he has lost."
A week went by before the boy regained consciousness. The first sight that greeted him was Lana seated beside him. He looked up at her and said he saved her white pieces from being stolen again.
Lana took his hand and held it as she spoke. "It almost cost your life," she told him. "That is too great a price."
"But you care so much for it," the boy said.
"I care so much more for you," she said. "Had you not been there protecting it, you would not have been attacked."
"But he would have stolen it!"
"If I thought you would suffer like this, I would have taken it up and carried it to the Bitumen and cast it in."
"No, you must never do that!" the boy pleaded. "It may tell how we came to this place, and who built The Wall!"
"Let it tell what it will," Lana said. "You must promise you will never again risk your life protecting it."
"I am just a boy. It doesn't matter what becomes of me," he said.
Lana smiled down at young Giovanni. "You remind me so much of a boy I knew when I was still a girl. He felt as you do."
"You mean Giovanni?"
"No: Guido. No one liked him; no one would play with him."
"Why?" the boy asked.
"He was different," Lana explained. "He cared more for others than for himself. And for that, no one liked him."
"But you did, didn't you?"
"Yes, I did. So very much."
Manuel felt as if he could scream, so great was his rage watching Giovanni, Guido and Lana making their way from the School of Chemistry. He knew they were heading for the School of Language to visit Lana's dying mother. He knew as well that he could not subdue both Giovanni and Guido to take Lana; and that knowledge burned like a torch into his heart.
He had chosen to stake out the School of Chemistry alone. Had he brought even one of his guards, he would have attempted to get Lana. All he could do was devise a ruse to get inside the School of Chemistry and take Lana's white pieces, as Beulah had done.
Seeing the boy he hated and vowed to kill permitted the unleashing of his fury. But since he had failed to get the white pieces, he hastened to the School of Language to try and summon help; until he realized if he were successful, he would lose his chance to get Lana perhaps forever, for she would be held as a virtual prisoner and made to take over her mother's duties as healer. This only increased his rage; and his resolve to destroy Giovanni.
The way to the School of Language was clear. The three travelers arrived without incident. They made their way to the rear of the Stockade, and squeezed through the breach, entering the home of Lana's mother so silently they were heard by one person alone.
"Who comes to see an old dying woman?" Lana's mother asked.
Lana appeared before her and said "It is I, mother." She bent over he mother's bed and embraced her.
"I rejoice to see you one last time," her mother said. "Do not linger," she cautioned. "I am attended every hour to see if I have died yet. Do not let yourselves be found. You are accompanied by Giovanni, are you not?"
"Yes. And Guido," Lana told her mother.
"I feel the sickness reaching for my heart," her mother said. "I will be dead before this night is over. Go now, before it is too late."
"Then goodbye, mother," said Lana as she embraced her mother one final time."
Presently, the three travelers departed and were on their way back to their place of asylum.
English's Fellow Engineer gave birth to a girl whose hair was the same golden hue as hers had been when she was found. Upon her consummation of English's Project, she was given the name Gina, a name she neither liked nor disliked. In her heart she would always remain anonymous, for she came into this world without a name and wished to go out of the world the same way. She adored her little daughter; and vowed to take the girl and leave.
English had proclaimed the institution of Human Sacrifice, to commence six months from the birth of his daughter. The girl would be first to be sacrificed, on the night of the full moon, which was even more sacred for being also the night of the Solstice. This first sacrifice to be followed each successive full moon by another infant, chosen by English from among all the infants born six months prior.
The people were panicked by English's announcement. Stories had been handed down of a time long ago when people practiced human sacrifice; these stories horrified even the Engineers, who had become indifferent to the use of children as resources, instituted by the first English. But the thought of killing their own children, even if only one every full moon, numbed them with fear. Nothing but the whim of English stood between all their newborns' life and death. Yet they knew they had no choice but to accept even this edict. He was their ruler now; they his subjects. This was how it was to be.
Lana and young Giovanni had gone for a walk beyond the compound one evening just before dusk. He balked at leaving their work on the white pieces for even a couple hours, especially now when they had made such progress. But Lana insisted.
As they walked, young Giovanni asked why it was so important to stop their work this particular evening. Lana confessed she had no idea why, only that she needed to walk along the road at this particular time.
"I have dreamed for seven nights of my sister, who was lost as a very young child," Lana told the boy.
"You miss her very much?" the boy asked.
"More even than my mother, who I loved second only to Giovanni."
"Then I will help you find her," the boy promised.
As they talked, young Giovanni spied movement along the road, a good ways off but moving swiftly.
"We must hide!" he said. "Someone comes!"
Lana shook her head no. "But we must!" young Giovanni insisted. "They will soon be upon us!" Again Lana refused; so the boy stepped in front of her, vowing to protect her with his life.
Three people approached ever nearer; yet still Lana refused to yield. Until finally they were upon Lana and young Giovanni, a woman carrying a child and two older persons carrying parcels.
Lana at once saw the child's golden hair. She was speechless for a moment. The three stopped in front of she and young Giovanni. Finally, Lana regained her power of speech.
"Where are you bound?" she asked.
The young woman answered "We know not. We have escaped, and seek a place of refuge."
"Then come with us," Lana offered. The three followed Lana and young Giovanni back to the School of Chemistry, where they told Lana, young Giovanni, and Giovanni and Guido a terrible tale.
When Gina finished her revelation of the events that had driven her from the School of Engineering, she and her two companions were taken before the Head Master to repeat her tale, her two elderly companions confirming everything she said. They were shown to a place where they could rest while their fate was decided.
On their way back to the home Lana and Giovanni shared, Giovanni, who had remained silent since the encounter, expressed his horror at this even more heinous turn events within the Land had taken.
"Is there to be no end to the suffering we now inflict on our children?" he asked. "Ever since the first English a century ago began using children as objects no more sacred than debris lying in piles along the road, their woes have only increased, to where now they are to be sacrificed while still infants. This must be stopped, I swear it."
When Giovanni and Lana returned to their home, and Guido to the place he had made for himself behind their home, young Giovanni, given a separate room, asked Lana a question before retiring. "Are her companions her mother and father?" he asked.
"No, they are not," Lana answered. "Why do you ask?"
"One of them is a spy. Or maybe both," the boy affirmed.
"They are both loyal servants of Gina," Lana reminded him.
"They are spies," the boy continued to maintain.
"How do you know?"
"My friend told me that English's Fellow Engineer is surrounded by those who watch her day and night. She could not have escaped without their help, and without English knowing of it," young Giovanni told Lana.
"Do you believe she is a spy also?"
"No. Only them."
In but a short time, young Giovanni's intuition proved accurate; for, even as the School Board was deciding whether yet another seeker of asylum would be permitted to remain, Gina's servants were seen examining the ramparts on which sentries were posted along each of the eight sides. When questioned, they simply said they were fascinated with the layout and meant no harm; and promised to never stray from where they were staying.
It was no time, though, until they were again caught inspecting the School's defenses. This time, they were apprehended and confined within the place where prisoners were kept. For several more days, the School Board debated whether to offer Gina and her child asylum. They had already made their decision; but in an unprecedented move, had invited representatives of the other two Schools with which they were allied, the School of Agronomy and the School of Metallurgy, to join their discussion.
At the end of a week, Gina was summoned before the School Board and given their decision.
"We regret that we cannot offer you and your child asylum," she was told.
"I will get my child and go," Gina replied; then asked if her servants would be allowed to accompany her.
"They are our prisoners," the Head Master said; "and their treachery will be dealt with."
Gina accepted their judgment and left their place of meeting to prepare for leaving. Lana knew the instant she saw Gina return what the decision had been.
"Stay until we return," she told Gina, who sat down to nurse her child.
Lana summoned Giovanni and, together, they hurried to the place of meeting to request an audience before the Board. They were admitted.
The Head Master let them know they were free to go with Gina and her child; but the decision was final. "We asked our allies if they might grant asylum, and they too refused asylum to one of our sworn enemies. Nothing can change our decision."
"Then may we assist her in seeking asylum elsewhere?" Lana asked.
"You may," the Head Master agreed. "It will not jeopardize your own asylum."
"And will you allow Gina and her child to remain until we return?"
The Head Master again agreed to Lana's request.
As much as Lana regretted asking young Giovanni to once again watch her white pieces, she had no choice. "Just until we return," she added.
"I will watch over it," he promised.
Before they had even left the compound, Lana and Giovanni had resolved to go to the School of Finance, third member of the Alliance with the School of Business Management and the School of Language. This was their best chance of seeing Gina and her child accommodated; as well as their only hope of not being recognized and captured.
Guido accompanied them; but remained out of sight when Lana and Giovanni approached the Main Gate seeking admittance. He knew they could easily be there a couple days if admitted; longer than that must prompt a rescue. But since none of the three had ever been to the School of Finance, it was not possible to plan a rescue attempt; rather, it would have to be a rescue conceived in ignorance and executed all at once.
Before even a couple hours had elapsed, Guido detected movement along the road heading for the School of Finance. He swiftly moved to the Gate, about to enter when a movement within made him turn instead and hurry around to the side, intent on working his way to the rear.
He had seen no slits on the garment he saw moving within the compound. The School of Finance had five slits on their garments. Since he knew the School of Finance was not allied with the School of Engineering, he concluded an attack had occurred. But there was no evidence of ongoing conflict; so the fighting was ended and the Engineers were the victors.
There was no possibility the School of Engineering could have learned of their intention to seek asylum for Gina and her child; so the attack was merely a coincidence. Guido decided to wait until seeing who it was he had detected along the road before venturing to the rear. If it were yet more Engineers, there was little hope of effecting a rescue.
Momentarily, the movement Guido had detected stopped at the Gate; and he was able to see who it was leading the way. It was Manuel, which meant there would be a continuation of whatever battle had raged within the compound. Which, in turn, could provide the distraction Guido needed to attempt his rescue.
Lana and Giovanni were seized the moment they stepped through the Main Gate. English was not among the Engineers who had taken the School: he considered it beneath him to lead an attack on a School with such poor defenses a squadron of children could have subdued it. Nor had he sent a large contingent, satisfied that as few Engineers as possible would suffice for the conquest.
The School of Business Management was closer to the School of Finance than any other School; so a runner had been sent to get reinforcements. He had made his escape through a breach in the left side of the Stockade, the very side at which Guido had stationed himself.
At first, Guido decided to wait until the battle had started then enter through the Main Gate. But as he moved farther along the Stockade to bide his time, he happened upon the breach; and slipped in at once to assess the situation.
The first face Manual saw upon entering the Stockade was Lana's. She and Giovanni were being held captive. Instantly, Manuel realized what kind of trap had been set: to give the impression of normal activity until he and his contingent had been surrounded. So he gave the order to attack before taking ten steps into the compound.
It was at that moment Guido made his move. The heaviest fighting was still at the Gate; so he worked his way to where the prisoners were being held and released them from the post they were tied to, motioning them to follow his lead. In another few moments, they disappeared through the breach in the Stockade, and made their way to safety.
When the fighting ceased, and the Engineers were all subdued, Manuel glanced again toward the post, fully expecting to see Lana's face again. He cried out in rage that he had once again lost her. So great was his rage that he did not wait for his warriors to finish killing the Engineers. He took out his blade and began slashing and stabbing every last one of the captives, even after they were already dead. Until finally his rage had subsided and he began assessing the damage wrought upon his ally.
It had not been the marauding Engineers who apprehended Lana and Giovanni; but rather the School of Finance Accountants. They recognized Giovanni and intended turning him over to their allies; and decided to include Lana in case she too was wanted. Had the Accountants not been distracted with their apprehension of the fugitives, they may have noticed the warriors from the School of Engineering rushing their Main Gate in time to offer a stronger defense. As it was, they were overwhelmed almost at once.
The fighting lasted barely half an hour before the Accountants guarding the School of Finance were rounded up, killed and moved away from view of anyone approaching the Main Gate. The prisoners were approached with the intention of killing them also; but Manuel's arrival thwarted the Engineers' intent.
When told the real story of events, Guido hung his head for his assumption that a battle yet to be fought had already been won. Because the battle transpired away from the Gate itself, and was over so quickly, he had paid no attention to the sudden flutter of activity. Nor had he seen the Accountant leaving, from the very breach where he effected his rescue, to get help. He expressed remorse that his inattention almost cost them their lives.
"Had you perceived an invasion and acted then, we may have been killed," Giovanni consoled his friend.
The question facing them now was where to go. Gina had been denied asylum, so she could not remain within the School of Chemistry. When they returned, and told Gina what had happened, she offered a solution: if the others took her child, she would return to face English's wrath alone.
"No," the others all agreed. "No one shall willingly go to that place of madness and infamy. If need be, we will all leave our asylum to seek a place of safety."
"There is no such place," Gina said.
"Then we will make such a place," said Guido. "And disguise it that no one will ever see it as a refuge."
"For now," said Giovanni, "we must go to our home beside the Pool."
"But Manuel knows of it," Lana reminded.
"Yes - but only he. And he will not think to look there first," Giovanni pointed out.
"What of the boy, and the white pieces?" Gina asked.
"They are safe where they are," Giovanni noted.
"Unless Manuel again finds admittance," said Lana.
It was decided for the three to proceed to the Pool while Guido remained at the School of Chemistry at least another several hours, in order to make it less apparent to any onlookers that an exodus was occurring.
Guido agreed to the strategy; but determined it to be a more dangerous part of the mission because of the time factor. For while the others will have arrived at the rendezvous point before Manuel or anyone else had an opportunity to commence their search; by giving them the time to effect their escape, he and young Giovanni stood a greater risk of being seen and followed. For this reason, once Guido started out with young Giovanni and Lana's white pieces, he decided to proceed first to the home Giovanni and Lana had found beside the Lake.
He had told his plan to Giovanni privately, not wishing to worry Lana over the boy's safety. "If I suspect we are being followed, I will remain at the Lake perhaps a day before going to your home beside the Pool."
"If you are gone beyond a day, I will begin searching for you and the boy," Giovanni said. "Above all, the boy must not fall into Manuel's hands."
"If I must," said Guido, "to spare him that fate, I will kill him myself."
Nothing was said on their way to the Lake. Guido was focused entirely on watching for signs of anyone following; and young Giovanni, usually talkative, knew not to say or do anything to distract his traveling companion.
When they arrived, Guido took the white pieces from the boy and carefully returned them to where Giovanni showed him they were found. The boy expressed relief.
"If they find us, and kill us, at least they will not get Lana's white pieces," young Giovanni said.
"I vowed to Giovanni that I would kill you myself rather than let Manuel take you," Guido told the boy.
"But not before I try and help you fight him" was all the boy answered.
Soon the boy was asleep; and as Guido watched over him, he shed tears at the thought that this boy he had come to love as a son might not live through the night. If they come, Guido thought, let them come while he sleeps, so he will die in peace.
The night passed; and no one came. The boy awoke and smiled up at Guido and said he had a dream while he slept. "I dreamed Lana's white pieces told the story of how we came to be in the Land, and who built The Wall, and why it was built. But it was also a sad dream, for the story said there was no way out of here, we would be here forever. Guido, if I must die at your hand, please tell Lana of my dream."
Guido wept at these words and told the boy he could not promise what was asked of him because if he should be forced to kill the boy he did not know if he could bear living another moment.
"You must live," the boy said to him, "for who else will save Giovanni from Manuel?"
"How do you know of this?" Guido asked. "No one knows of it, not even Giovanni."
"I just know," the boy said. "I don't know how, but your life is about the moment when you save him."
No one came. No one had followed. Once Guido made certain no one was lurking about anywhere near this home on the shore of the Lake, he retrieved the white pieces and, together with the boy, made for the home beside the Pool where Giovanni, Lana and Gina were staying.
When they arrived, and went in, they found only an empty home. They waited; but no one came. They continued waiting and still no one came, leaving them no choice but to assume they had left and would not be returning, the only question whether they left voluntarily or were taken.
While Guido mulled over what might have happened and how to proceed, young Giovanni worked out a plan of his own.
"I will return to my home," the boy offered. "And while Manuel is torturing me, you can enter unnoticed and rescue them."
Though Guido's first reaction to the boy's plan was to slap him, he refrained from showing anger at the boy's plan, deciding instead on another approach.
"And if it was not Manuel but English who took them, who then shall I use for bait?" Guido asked.
The boy was dumbstruck and for a moment unable to think. "I do not know," he admitted in the tone of a supplicant seeking forgiveness for a very great sin.
"Giovanni," Guido said softly, "surely you know I would never allow you to sacrifice yourself. If they have been taken, no matter who took them, we will rescue them. But not at the cost of your life."
"But I am only a child," young Giovanni reminded Guido. "I am nothing compared to them."
Guido remembered the look on Giovanni's face when his School Board decided to ally with the School of Business Management - the horror in his eyes at forming an alliance with those who used children as objects.
"Your namesake, Giovanni, would weep at those words," Guido told the boy. "He was banished because he refused to consider children unimportant."
At these words, the boy began to cry. "I did not mean to dishonor Giovanni," the boy swore.
"Then we will never again speak of you as having less worth than the rest of us," Guido told the boy.
Giovanni, Lana, Gina and her child had fled to escape capture. All the way from their escape to the home beside the Pool, Gina was aware of something, which she reported to the others but was unable to identify. Giovanni at once took it to mean they were being followed; so in his mind it must be Manuel. He debated going directly to their home or heading someplace else; but he knew they would be followed no matter where they headed.
Once they reached the home and settled in, Giovanni began devising a plan of escape. "We must make Manuel believe he has trapped us," he told the others. But Gina shook her head.
"It isn't Manuel whose presence I feel," she said. "It is English."
"How could he have known to come after us?" Lana asked.
"Perhaps he was not after us," Gina answered. "Ever since Manuel escaped his grasp, he has become obsessed with capturing Manuel. If he, or his guards, saw us leaving the School of Manuel's ally, he would have known Manuel would come after us. So his guards followed us, to set a trap for Manuel."
Giovanni remained skeptical. "From the look of it," he noted, "Manuel's forces were winning the battle."
"English never sends his full force into a battle. A few are always held back. That way if any of his guards attempt to flee the scene of battle, they know they will be caught and what their fate would be."
"Then we must go now!" said Lana.
"No," Gina objected. "English will wait until Manuel enters this home before attacking."
"Then that is our plan," said Giovanni. "We will wait until Manuel arrives and then make our escape. Manuel will follow; and English will have no choice but to pursue."
As expected, Manuel and his guards entered the home; and as they did, Giovanni, Lana and Gina made their escape through an entrance in the rear of the home. As they were fleeing, English's guards stormed the home, taking Manuel and his guards by surprise.
A battle raged inside the home for several minutes before English's guards, outnumbered, were subdued and killed. Manuel lost half his guards.
When the last of English's guards had been hurled into the Bitumen, Manuel took out after the three who escaped. He knew from the way they had gone they would be trapped at The Wall; so he gave them enough time to think they had escaped once again before he quickened his squad's pace.
When eventually Giovanni, Lana and Gina reached The Wall, both women despaired at having nowhere farther to go. They looked to Giovanni as if questioning why he had brought them to a dead end, with no hope of escaping their pursuers.
Before Manuel reached the point of seeing them, they disappeared. They could hear Manuel instructing his men to spread out and keep searching; but could see nothing in the pitch black which completely enveloped them. Then they heard Manuel's cry of rage at having once again lost his prey; and felt the reverberation of his fist banging against The Wall.
Finally, it grew quiet as Manuel and his guards retreated. Several more moments elapsed before Giovanni, Lana and Gina re-appeared, from inside The Wall.
In his years of searching The Wall, Giovanni had discovered a secret place within The Wall. Invisible from outside, it could only be entered through a secret doorway he had come upon partly by chance.
He had noticed a tiny indentation in The Wall, which he at first took to be part of the pattern. But when he worked with it, he was able to pull outward a piece of Wall. Behind the opening was a carved out space large enough to accommodate several people. He found as well that, once inside this space, the doorway could be closed again; and pushed open. His only regret at the time of discovery had been that he had not found this secret hideout as a boy, so he could share it with Manuel.
Lana and Gina were both amazed at the opening which saved them from Manuel. When Giovanni explained how he had found it, Lana's first thought was to wonder if this were the only such opening or if there were more, as well as if this meant there existed somewhere a way through The Wall altogether. Giovanni said he had found several more like this; but nothing leading beyond The Wall.
"Where will we go now?" Lana asked.
"To our home by the Lake," Giovanni answered.
"Is that safe?" asked Gina.
Giovanni acknowledged there was no place of safety in this Land; and that no place would hide them longer than a few weeks or even a few days. But, even though Manuel knew of their home beside the Lake, it afforded a measure of safety, greater than their home at the Pool. So it was agreed they would go there.
When they arrived, and before they went in, they began to rue having come here, for there were signs of activity inside the home. Just when they were about to turn away and seek shelter elsewhere, the door opened and someone walked out. going around the home. It was the boy, young Giovanni.
Momentarily, he reappeared. In the interim, the travelers had come close enough to be seen. Young Giovanni ran to them and hugged both Giovanni and Lana; and smiled up at Gina and her baby. Together, they went in the home, where Guido was waiting with his weapon drawn, having heard their approach.
"They have returned!" the boy told Guido.
"It is we who have returned," Guido corrected the boy. "Thanks only to young Giovanni!" he added. He went on to explain that after finding their home beside the Pool empty, they saw no alternative to beginning a search. Their plan was to go to each School, starting with Manuel's School, then English's School; and stake out each until locating where they had been taken. Then devising a plan of escape.
"We came here first," Guido then explained, "because young Giovanni dreamed someone had stolen the white pieces. So he begged me to gather them up and find a safer place to hide them. I have come to respect his dreams, and to depend on them. And now, Lana, he has a dream he has been waiting to tell you about."
Young Giovanni laid his dream before Lana, of how the white pieces tell a story of the beginning of this Land within The Wall; and of everything that happened up to the time of their creation.
"Then it is a chronicle," Lana concluded, explaining the rarely used term "chronicle" as a history of a people told over time.
"Our chronicle," Gina observed. "I too should like to help decipher this chronicle. Maybe it will tell me who I am, and where I am from."
Young Giovanni took turns helping with the work of deciphering the white pieces and watching over Gina's baby. One day he told Lana he loved the baby's golden hair. Lana remarked it was unusual for a boy to care so much for a baby's hair.
"This baby's hair reminds me of my mother," he said.
"She had hair this color?"
"No. But she told me of a baby she found with golden hair, the boy said. "She found this child crawling along the ground near the Bitumen Pool, where her School had just buried one of the Teachers. She took the child with her and returned home."
"What became of the child?" Lana eagerly asked.
"No one knows," the boy told Lana. "My mother's School was attacked and the baby disappeared. My mother could never find her, and never saw her again."
As they worked, young Giovanni said something to Lana out of nowhere which frightened her.
"I wish I could be Guido," he said.
"Why? I thought it was Giovanni you liked the most."
"I do like him the most."
"Then why do you wish to be Guido?" Lana asked.
"So I can save Giovanni," the boy answered.
Lana said nothing further that afternoon. But that night, as she and Giovanni lay together, she revealed to him what the boy had said.
"I will speak to him of it," Giovanni promised, keeping his promise the next morning.
"Did Guido tell you of some danger to befall me?" Giovanni asked the boy.
"No. I just know you are in danger," the boy said.
"And you wish to save me?"
"How?" Giovanni asked.
"Somehow," young Giovanni answered.
While Lana, Gina and young Giovanni worked on the white pieces; and Guido stood watch over them; Giovanni went in search of more openings in The Wall. His hope was to find an opening leading beyond The Wall; his immediate aim to find an opening big enough to accommodate them for longer than a few hours.
On one of his searches, something caught his eye at the top of The Wall. It slowly descended until he was able to seize it. He held it as if it were the greatest treasure on Earth. It was another as the object he had discovered as a boy, with its strange shape and strange color.
He took it back with him and gave it to young Giovanni, explaining how it had come to him.
"Just like the one in your secret hideout," the boy said as he beheld it.
"Did I tell you of that?" Giovanni asked.
"No," the boy replied. "I dreamed I saw you lying in a soft place the same color as this thing, holding it in your hand."
"And now it is in your hand," Giovanni told the boy.
Young Giovanni cherished the gift Giovanni gave him beyond anything he had ever had or could imagine ever having. He slept with it beside his head every night. And even when it began withering he continued carrying it wherever he went.
Giovanni finally found what he was looking for: not a passage through The Wall to what was beyond, but an opening large enough to comfortably accommodate his entire household. And it seemed to have airflow sufficient to sustaining all five inhabitants over an extended period.
Manuel, however, failed in his attempts to find what he was looking for: Giovanni, and through him, Lana. He looked everywhere; but he had given up seeking a place where they might be sheltering. Instead, his focus was on the most difficult dynamic possible: a chance encounter. For he had concluded they were continually on the run, going from place to place daily. He knew also they were being sought by English's guards; and he despaired they might be found first by his sworn enemy.
His Business Partner, Beulah, knew perfectly well, his assurances of seeking the fugitive Giovanni notwithstanding, that it was Lana he sought. And the more desperate his search became, the stronger her hatred of Lana grew, until it finally spilled over onto Manuel himself. On the day she ceased being jealous, all her feeling for Manuel turned to hatred; and on that day she vowed to turn him over to his enemy, English.
So fierce had her hatred for Manuel grown that one day she undertook to venture from the School of Business Management to the School of Engineering. She was admitted and immediately brought before English.
He sat on a raised seat which he called his Throne, at the far end of an oblong space he called his Throne Room. All who entered his presence bowed before him.
"I am here to deliver Manfred into your hands," Beulah spoke before King English.
"What makes you think I care?" English asked.
"He is the only one in the Land able to stand up to you," Beulah answered.
"Where are your white pieces?" English asked
"They were never mine. They belonged to another. I was set to destroy them when your guards took me," Beulah told him.
"Whose were they?" English demanded to know.
"She who Manfred wished to supplant me with," Beulah told him.
"Then Manfred loves another," English considered Beulah's words. "So you would not be able to deliver him to me. You have just sealed your fate!"
"I would deliver him through the woman he chases after," Beulah calmly offered. "Unlike him, I know how to find her."
"Then we will torture this knowledge from you!"
"And have you so refined torture to where you can extract a woman's intuition from her?" Beulah asked. "I cannot reveal to you how or where to find this woman; I can only show you, for I can only discover her in the process of seeking her."
The entire time Beulah spoke, English became increasingly enthralled with her physical aspect. Not just her beauty but a quality he would wish in his Queen. This was not lost on Beulah.
"Perhaps I should make you my Queen," English speculated.
"Or you could make me a Queen in my own Kingdom once Manfred is destroyed," Beulah countered.
"Where were you?" Manuel demanded to know when Beulah returned from her visit with English.
"I was out doing your job for you," Beulah answered, knowing full well that Manuel had had her followed both to and from the School of Engineering.
Manuel just glared at his Business Partner but said nothing further. Beulah took the initiative and told him of her visit with English, leaving out the part where she promised to deliver him to his enemy.
"I offered to help him regain the white pieces, plus someone to decipher them," Beulah said.
It was all Manuel could do to restrain himself from taking out his dagger and cutting her to pieces.
"Is not an alliance with English in our interest?" Beulah asked.
Manuel said nothing. He stormed out and went to the place where prisoners and children awaiting disposal were kept; and grabbed up the first person he came to and began stabbing and slashing until all movement ceased.
His anger at Beulah's plan to turn Lana over to English finally spent, he departed to resume his search for the fugitives.
Something told him to return to their home beside the Lake. Instead of going alone, he summoned ten of his guards to accompany him.
In the middle of the night, young Giovanni awoke from a dream. In turn, he awoke Guido and told him of the dream.
"Manuel is coming here to look for us," the boy said. "He will be here at daybreak. We must go!"
Guido at once informed Giovanni, who was standing watch. Together they roused Lana and Gina and, gathering what they needed, including Lana's white pieces, they departed before the night ended, going directly to the large opening in The Wall that Giovanni had located.
At daybreak, Manuel mounted a surprise assault on the home beside the Lake. Finding it empty, with no sign anyone had been there, he nonetheless concluded the fugitives had escaped him yet again. This time he showed no rage; only the bewilderment of someone who has come to wonder if what he sought was but a phantom or even a figment of his imagination.
"If only I had someone with the power to foretell events," he thought to himself.
He decided to go among his people, which he never did any more, and inquire if any such person existed among them. Everyone said they knew of no one with this ability; except for one old woman, who knew of only one such as Manuel sought.
"The dead healer's child," the woman said. "She told me the boy had strange dreams and even visions sometimes. But he has disappeared; no one has seen him."
Manuel was filled with a dread upon hearing that his only hope of finding Lana rested with a boy he had killed with his own hands.
His despair drove him from his School. He could not bear to look upon any other human or to be beheld by another. He sought solace everywhere, even going to Giovanni's secret hiding place; but nothing eased his burden.
Eventually he made his way to The Wall; but could go no farther. "I will climb this Wall!" he cried; and began digging his way into the grooves within the metal. All he could do was raise himself a few feet until he fell back to the ground, where he lay weeping until the light faded from the sky and it grew dark.
But it was not night. It was The Grays come out of nowhere. Lightening and thunder filled the sky; and rain began to fall, followed by a torrent then an absolute stillness which was broken abruptly by a great roar cast by a swirling wind which picked everything from the ground and hurled it everywhere.
Manuel could barely manage to avoid the pieces and shards this wind had picked up from the debris piles and carried to The Wall. Suddenly, the force of the wind as it bared down on Manuel and was about to swoop him up into the swirling debris, pulled a piece of The Wall outward. Manuel leaped into a small opening and huddled as low to the ground as he could until, finally, the wind moved away and he could again step onto the ground outside The Wall.
He examined the opening and retrieved the door which the wind had broken loose then deposited on the ground a hundred feet away.
"Could this be where they hide?" he wondered.
The same great wind that almost carried Manuel off struck many places throughout the Land. It ripped old homes along the Lake and the Pool to pieces, leaving nothing standing. It tore away whole sides of Stockades at the School of Technology and the School of Finance. And it pulled one of the eight sides of the School of Chemistry from its foundation, leaving a gaping hole in the most impregnable fortress in all the Land.
The wind left the entire population of the Land in a dazed state, which was all that spared the School of Chemistry from being at last overrun by either or both of its enemies: the School of Engineering and the School of Business Management. Those two Schools had minor damage to their Stockade, which, owing to their vulnerability to each other, had to be repaired before their pillaging o the other Schools could begin.
Consequently, the School of Chemistry was able to repair and reinforce its damaged section before the inevitable attack. The other two Schools badly damaged, Finance and Technology, were unable to effect the needed repairs in time to avoid being overrun. Each could have been saved had its ally sent its force to protect it; but in both instances their ally chose instead to attack the vulnerable enemy rather than save its own ally. So in less than a week. the two damaged Schools changed hands, Technology going to Business Management; Finance to Engineering.
None of the other Schools - Language, Agronomy, Metallurgy - had suffered any damage. Life went on as usual for their people; except that the School of Language lost one of its allies and gained another in its place.
One other problem arose for the School of Language, precisely because it had suffered no damage.
When Manuel returned to the School of Business Management; and after he led the attack on the School of Technology, and installed his Business Associates as that School's Head Master and School Board; he was sent to the School of Language to learn why it had failed to attack the School of Chemistry when it was most vulnerable.
He began his mission by voicing his School's displeasure over Language's hesitation, even accusing it of cowardice; and ended by threatening to break the Alliance, thus leaving the School of Language to fend for itself. This put the Head Master and School Board in desperate need of something, anything, to boost its value, not just within the Alliance but within the Land itself; a need that was met in the most unexpected manner.
Lana and Young Giovanni had reached a point in their work with the white pieces where they were beginning to decipher not merely sentences and paragraphs, but entire passages. This they accomplished by painstakingly correlating words they encountered within the white pieces with words they spoke on a daily basis; which, in turn, gave them a greater understanding of the various sounds attaching to each letter, depending upon its context within a specific word.
Though Giovanni, Lana, Guido, Gina and young Giovanni lost both their homes to the wind, they were able to find shelter among and even within the debris piles created by the wind. This kept them from having to spend extended periods in the open or inside The Wall; especially so when Giovanni spied Manuel working with The Wall in such a way that it became clear Manuel was beginning to understand the mechanism responsible for opening the doors shielding these recesses.
One afternoon, when Lana realized she was almost to the point of deciphering the white pieces completely, she made a decision, which she relayed to Giovanni.
"I will return to the School of Language," she said. Giovanni was horrified and reminded her that the place had become a prison. But she persisted.
"I will offer them my work," she said, adding after a pause, "in exchange for a pardon for you and Guido both; and asylum for Gina and young Giovanni."
"If they refuse?" Giovanni asked.
"Then you and young Giovanni, who I will leave the white pieces with, can seek another School to bargain with," Lana answered.
"We must all decide this together," Giovanni insisted.
"It is my decision alone to make," Lana countered. "If it goes badly, then you must decide if you wish to risk yet another rescue."
Giovanni smiled; and this was all the reply either needed.
A day later, Lana walked through the Main Gate into the School of Language. She stood in the School Yard, looking around as if she had never seen the place before; remembering when Manuel had told her Giovanni had been executed and that it had been Guido who betrayed him.
While Lana waited, the Head Master was summoned. Presently he stood before her, a guard on either side. He asked why she had returned.
"You surely must have heard your mother died," he said.
"I wish to present a proposal to the School Board," Lana told him.
A meeting was arranged for later that day. Lana was brought before the Board.
"I have been working on hieroglyphics Giovanni found," she advised the Board. "I have determined the markings represent our own language, not some ancient hieroglyphics; and that it is the story of how this Land came to be, how The Wall was built, who our ancestors were, how they came to be here, what happened a hundred years ago, and why the hieroglyphics remained hidden for so long. It is almost entirely deciphered; and will be finished soon."
"Show us this work," the Head Master insisted.
"As you saw when I entered, it is not with me," Lana responded. "It is with Giovanni, and three others. I offer it to you first since this was my School. But it comes with a price."
"What is this price?" the Head Master asked, though he had already surmised the price.
"You must pardon both Giovanni and Guido," Lana said. "And you must agree to accept two others: a boy who helped me decipher the hieroglyphics; and a woman with child."
"They are not from here?" the Head Master asked.
"No, they are outcasts: the boy is from the School of Business Management, and the woman is the Fellow Engineer of English."
"English will want his child returned!" one of the Board members noted.
"He plans to sacrifice the child," Lana explained. "And this is why the child's mother fled."
"And what of the boy?" asked another Board member.
"Manuel has attempted to kill him," Lana answered.
"Then we cannot take him!" the Board member insisted. "If Manuel finds that we have this boy, he will attack us."
"He need never know," Lana, in turn, insisted.
Lana was dismissed while the School Board made their decision. A day and a half passed before she was again summoned.
"The School Board has decided to accept your proposal," Lana was advised. "The boy must be shielded at all times whenever visitors from the School of Business Management are present," the Head Master stipulated.
"You may inform these others that they are welcome," Lana was told.
"Then you have pardoned Giovanni and Guido?" she asked.
"Yes, we have," the Head Master replied.
Following a pre-arranged plan to insure that Lana was not followed, Guido had posted himself within sight of the School of Language. Lana, instead of leaving the compound, proceeded to the Main Gate, as if about to leave; then returned to the School Yard.
"Are you not going to inform the others?" the Head Master, who had watched Lana's movements, asked.
"I will go to them when I sense we are not being watched," Lana explained.
"You think we are being watched?"
"Yes, we are," Lana told the Head Master.
Three hours later, Lana returned to the Main Gate. Just as she did, four figures came into view along the road. She awaited their arrival; then, after telling the guards these travelers were now welcome, took them before the Head Master.
The Head Master first addressed Giovanni.
"You have been granted a pardon," he said. He then turned to Guido and told him he was no longer under suspicion of colluding to kidnap Lana. Finally, the Head Master turned to Gina and the boy, offering them both asylum within the School of Language.
Lana had already established herself as the School's new healer; and had taken residence in her mother's home. She invited the others to stay in her home, at least until they could establish their own homes.
In the course of her stay with Lana and Giovanni, Gina displayed a skill in healing unusual in someone of another discipline. Lana asked her how she had come by these skills; but she did not know she even possessed such skills until now.
Young Giovanni, too, assisted Lana with her healing, some of his mother's skills having been passed along to him, even though it was generally considered unbefitting a male to be a healer.
From the start, Guido refused to remain in Lana's home, though he had no place of his own, the home he grew up in having been allotted another. There were small sheds near one side of the Stockade, where the indigent were allowed to shelter themselves; this was where Guido came to reside.
Young Giovanni visited Guido every day. "Why do you come to see me every day?" Guido asked. The boy hung his head and turned to go; but Guido stopped him.
"I do not mean I wish you to cease coming to me," Guido told him. "I just wonder what it is that draws you to me."
The boy was reluctant to divulge his reason for these daily visits.
"There is nothing you cannot say to me, surely you know that," Guido gently prodded.
"I want to learn what it means to be you," the boy said.
"The day may come when I must become the one to protect Giovanni from Manuel," the boy told Guido. "I must know what it is to be that one."
"If that day comes, your love for Giovanni will teach you everything you need to know; just as my love for him has taught me," Guido assured the boy.
The boy continued his daily visits to Guido, even though he was assured he needed no teacher to learn caring for another more than for himself. Besides having grown fond of Guido, he wanted the security of having someplace to hide when Manuel came to the School of Language, which was increasingly frequent since Lana's return. He managed to always keep out of sight during these visits by Manuel, in part because he always sensed when a visit was imminent. Until the inevitable encounter.
Lana, with help from young Giovanni, was nearing completion of her deciphering of the white pieces. The boy was filled with a sense of excitement. Even so, he sensed Manuel's approach; so he made haste to get to Guido's shed. Lana promised to wait for his return before finalizing their work.
Manuel remained an unusually long time, even feigning an injury to his ankle, which he pleaded with Lana to examine.
"Our new healer has much to learn before I trust her with my injuries," he told Lana. But Lana could find nothing wrong with his ankle; so he finally left. When he was gone, young Giovanni re-appeared and was making his way back to Lana's home when Manuel suddenly re-entered the compound. He immediately saw the boy and, at first, turned pale, for he thought he had encountered a spirit. Momentarily, he regained his composure and hastened to the boy.
Young Giovanni saw his approach and froze. But when Manuel reached the boy, he had tears in his eyes. He immediately took the boy in his arms.
"I thought I had killed you in my rage," he said in a voice that convinced the boy of Manuel's sincerity. "Please forgive me. And come with me," he pleaded. "I will adopt you as my son," he promised. "And no harm will come to you - this I swear on my life!"
The boy looked up into Manuel's eyes and nodded his assent. Manuel kissed him on his forehead. The boy asked his permission to tell Lana himself.
"I will wait here for you," Manuel told the boy.
Presently, Lana and young Giovanni re-appeared; with them was Giovanni, who said nothing but only stared into Manuel's eyes as if asking what he had done to generate so much hostility from his dearest friend."
"The boy wants to go with you, so I must allow him to go," Lana said to Manuel. "But I fear for his safety."
"You need not fear," was spoken by Guido, who had witnessed the boy's encounter with Manuel. "This boy is in no danger from Manuel."
"You may visit my son if you wish," Manuel told Lana. "And he is free to visit with you. But only you."
In a sudden flash, Guido realized why Manuel wanted the boy so badly as to adopt him as his son. He said nothing; but he despaired at the boy's great gift being made to serve Manuel's rivalry with English. He looked deeply into the boy's eyes, as if imparting his revelation. Young Giovanni nodded his understanding.
Upon his return to the School of Business Management with young Giovanni, the first thing Manuel did was to formally adopt the boy as his son and heir. The second thing was to inform his Business Partner, Beulah, of his decision.
Outwardly, Beulah welcomed the boy and expressed her approval. Inwardly, she began immediately plotting his murder. Young Giovanni recoiled from her embrace, for he saw with absolute clarity what her plan for him was. But when Manuel told Beulah of the boy's parentage, she remembered something which at once changed her plan for the boy.
He was the boy who had taken so keen an interest in Lana's work when she was Manuel's guest. He could therefore become the instrument of delivering Manuel to English, a decoy in getting Lana under her control. From that moment, Beulah feigned an interest in advancing the boy's position within the School of Business Management. Young Giovanni knew, however, that her real interest was in learning everything she could of Lana and her work.
Innocently, and unintentionally, the boy said something which made her realize he had seen her abscond with Lana's white pieces.
"I never knew how you came to be at the School of Engineering with Manuel," the boy happened to note.
"I was to meet Manfred along the road," Beulah answered. "Neither of us could have known English's guards were watching us both."
The whole time she spoke, Beulah's attention was focused on the boy's reaction. And, sure enough, though he said nothing, the boy's face betrayed his knowledge that she was lying. From that moment on, she endeavored to feign a lack of interest in both Lana and her work in order to better gain the knowledge she sought.
Young Giovanni, when alone, often cried for having to give up his dearest friends in order to better serve their interest. Once Manuel happened upon him while he cried.
"What is wrong?" Manuel asked.
"I am sorry," the boy said. "It is unbecoming the son of a great warrior to shed tears. Forgive me."
Manuel took his son in his arms. "Do not seek forgiveness," he gently told the boy. "You have suffered much; your tears are well earned."
When Manuel left, the boy fell to his knees in sorrow. "How can I betray my own father?" he muttered to himself. "Yet I must if I am to one day save Giovanni. If only I had drowned in the mud, before ever meeting Giovanni, this burden would not be mine."
Lana arranged with the Head Master to give a presentation of what she had deciphered before the School Board. She asked for Giovanni and Guido to be present as well. In addition, owing to the frequent visits by Manuel and young Giovanni, they too were invited to attend the presentation.
Lana began her presentation by explaining that the work consisted of three parts. First was a history of the Land and The Wall; second was a description of the social ordering of the people within the Land; and third was an account of how and why the white pieces came to be written.
"I have chosen to call this work, consisting of these white pieces, a term our Teachers are already familiar with," Lana told the gathering. "That term is manuscript. I will read each of the three parts exactly as they are written. Owing to the length, the School Board may wish each part read at separate times rather than all together. I leave that to the Board to decide."
With her introduction finished, Lana began reading.
"It's pretty quick. I begin by noting the two maxims that have become common talk among some of the people: 'Remember to dot your I's and cross your T's'; and 'Mind your P's and Q's.' It is well known how we the people of this Land came to be here, and how and why The Wall was built, as well as who built it. The day may come when all that will no longer be known; so I must write it down here and now.
"This place within these hundred foot high Walls, which has become and will always be our Land, was once a forest and a grassland with a Lake and with streams which once fed into the Lake. It was lush and green and filled with trees, plants, flowers and leaves. But many years ago, perhaps more than a hundred, a substance was found beneath the ground. The substance provided energy to power whole sections of the nation this place was but a small part of; and because of the great value placed upon this substance, the ground was torn open, to get at it. Trees were cut down to provide lumber for the enterprise; the streams became choked with debris and dried up; the Lake became foul with runoff from the operation.
"Hundreds of people were brought to help with the task of bringing forth the black, tar like substance. Groups of investors would come to inspect the progress of the operation. Eventually, a great Pool of this substance was brought to the surface to be sent to refineries throughout the nation. We now call that substance Bitumen.
"No one knows how long the substance was mined from the Land. What is known is that at some point the nation, and perhaps all the nations of the world, decided it was wrong to destroy so much for the sake of one substance alone. That was when it was determined to build a great Wall to seal off this place forever.
"This Wall was designed to stand one hundred feet high. It was made of metal, without any opening to the world outside the Land that lay within. It was designed so that it could not be climbed. There was no way in, and no way out.
"When The Wall was finished, all the people who had worked on the enterprise, and all the people who had invested in and made a profit from the enterprise, plus their entire families, were gathered together and brought to this Land in flying crafts. They had only the clothes on their backs and whatever they could carry. When they were all set within the Land, the flying crafts all left. They were on their own, with no help from the outside world. They would either survive by their own hands or they would all perish."
Lana stopped reading here, advising those who listened that this was the end of the first part. It was decided to wait a day before hearing the next part read; this would give the School Board a chance to discuss what they had already heard, as well as to make recommendations concerning the text itself.
When they met again the next day, the Head Master informed Lana of the need to change certain portions of what had been read previously. This greatly disturbed Lana. She endeavored to remind the School Board that this was a document written a hundred years ago, which she had worked well over a year to decipher, and which had been faithfully reported to them.
"Nevertheless," said the Head Master, "it will be necessary to make these changes."
"How do you propose the changes be made?" Lana asked. "It is only because it is written in our spoken language that I was able to decipher it and read it aloud. I do not yet have the means of writing words and phrases in even this our own language. In time, I hope to learn how to write; but that time has yet to arrive. Besides, how can you know the passage contains errors?"
"We have our oral history," the Head Master reminded Lana. "This history has been passed down for generations. The written word must conform to our traditions."
Lana proceeded to read the second part of the manuscript, which now felt as though her deciphering had opened a vein and her reading drew blood.
"Villages were formed throughout the Land, as those among the people who knew one another congregated in small clusters apart from the others. Yet all these villages kept in close contact. At first, people used electronic devices they had brought with them to speak village to village; but as the power within those devices wore down, the devices became useless. Over time, communication became more infrequent. Sharing and cooperation among the people began to give way as each village endeavored to become self-sufficient. Eventually, smaller villages joined together to form a larger village; or else were absorbed by nearby large villages, until what began as dozens of villages ended up becoming a single dozen.
"Through this process of forming a few villages from many, every attempt was made to preserve a civilized world within the confines of The Wall. Books and papers and manuscripts of every description had managed to have been brought from the outside world. These were stored alongside books and drawings and equations which already existed inside the buildings throughout the Land. Rooms were set aside as libraries to store the written material.
"Each village had its own governing body, chosen by the people of the village. Each village chose a name for itself, for its gathering places, and even for its people. Since the villages still communicated with one another, it was decided to adopt a uniform method of naming places and even people. Because the central point of every village was its library and the central purpose was teaching the children, it was decided to name each village a School. Each School adopted its own variation. Every gathering place was called the School Yard. Every governing body was called the School Board. Every leader was called the Head Master.
"The twelve Schools came to be called the School of Engineering; the School of Technology; the School of Business Management; the School of Finance; the School of Language; the School of Chemistry; the School of Agronomy; the School of Metallurgy; the School of Divinity; the School of Humanities; the School of Arts; the School of Philosophy.
"Each School chose its designation of its people; and even the naming of its people. The names were derived from variations of the School's name; the designations from the School name itself. Marriages between men and women were designated as some manner of union consistent with the School's primary focus. In time, it came to be, throughout the Land, that only adults were to be named; and only upon a union between two. No child was deemed worthy of a name as they were still too young to contribute to the School's mission.
"Over time, great rivalries developed among the Schools, which often resulted in battles. Much attention was paid to the development of weapons; and there evolved among the Schools a warrior class which was greatly revered. Some of the Schools devoted most of their resources and energies to the development of their ability to defeat other Schools. A few Schools neglected both offensive and defensive skills; and were at first overrun then destroyed completely.
"The School of Arts fell first, its people carried off to become slaves. Then the School of Humanities fell. Then the School of Philosophy. All three Schools became debris piles, sources of raw materials to be used by the other Schools.
"Then everything changed. And that change is what brought me to write a history of this Land."
As with the first part, Lana ceased reading and announced to her audience that the second part had come to an end. As before also, she suggested they wait to hear the third and final part until another day had passed. And also as before, the School Board agreed. This time, however, even before the Board met in private to discuss what they had heard, the Head Master made it clear there would need to be extensive revisions to this second part. Again, as before, Lana pointed out the difficulty of revising anything before attaining the writing skill needed to undertake such a task.
"Everything written herein must conform to our oral history," the Head Master repeated his previous injunction.
This time, Manuel spoke up as well.
"I am willing to work with Lana, and my son if he so chooses, to help with the revisions," he told the Head Master. "There is indeed much here which is at odds with my own School's oral history. Other Schools may also wish to involve themselves with such revisions as are needed. Such an endeavor might serve to bring other Schools into our Alliance."
Manuel had been told by his adopted son of Lana's hope that having a written record of their history could become a catalyst for ending the constant warring among the Schools, which had been going on for at least a hundred years. He personally relished the warfare, and meant to ultimately triumph over all the other Schools; but his lust for Lana was almost as powerful as his ambition for glory. So he feigned an interest in the kind of reconciliation Lana envisioned.
When the third and final reading took place the next day, Manuel brought his Business Partner in addition to his adopted son. This was at Beulah's insistence; and a matter of little concern to him. For just as he knew nothing of Beulah's hatred of him, so too did he not suspect her rivalry with Lana.
The boy knew; but said nothing, for he knew as well that Beulah already suspected him of having the ability to see things before they happened. And as she had powerful allies among Manuel's own guards, she could easily arrange his death, leaving no one but Guido to safeguard Giovanni.
Lana already suspected this the third and final part of the manuscript would elicit the strongest reaction from her audience. So she prefaced her reading with a warning that this part would likely draw much resentment and even hostility from those who listened. Nevertheless, the Head Master indicated for her to proceed.
"The School of Engineering has always been the major source of conflict within the Land. Its Head Masters have constantly sought to establish their dominance among the Schools. It has instigated the bulk of the wars fought inside The Wall. The other Schools have attempted to form alliances against its attacks; but because of their ongoing conflicts among themselves, they have never succeeded.
"A new Head Master has taken control of the School of Engineering, calling himself English. He has disbanded the School Board; and allows no opposition to his rule. His word is Law among the Engineers. He has begun a practice never before seen or heard of within this Land. Not only does he take slaves, and make use of children as beasts of burden; he now uses children as resources in the maintenance of his School, stripping away their skin and cutting out their bones to be used as building materials. No child anywhere in the Land is safe any longer.
"Not content with attacking the other Schools, or taking their children, he has initiated a program designed to destroy all the Libraries of all the Schools within the Land. He is said to have already emptied his School's own Library of all its contents. All books, all manuscripts, all papers have been carried to the Bitumen Pool and disposed of. He then set his sight on every other Library, one by one attacking each School and either burning its Library to the ground; or setting its Library's contents on fire as the price of calling a truce.
"English has already destroyed all Libraries except for two, those of the School of Language and the School of Business Management. When those final two Libraries are destroyed, there will be no written word anywhere within this Land.
"He not only destroys the contents of Libraries, he tortures and kills everyone who works within the Libraries. As well as anyone he discovers to possess any written material of any kind. His aim is to become not only the ruler of this entire Land; but its only source of knowledge as well. His word is to become absolute; what he says is to be not only the only pronouncement made but the only pronouncement that has ever been made or ever will be made.
"It is to preserve something of our world that I have undertaken this work. I can only hope English never finds these pages. But perhaps at some day in the future someone willing and able to understand its significance will succeed in recovering this brief history of our world."
Lana ceased reading. The Head Master of the School of Language thanked her for her work in deciphering the manuscript. As before, he said the School Board would have to meet separately to discuss this part. As before, also, he told Lana there would have to be revisions to align this written history with the School's oral history.
"There will need to be extensive revisions to this last part," he added.
Yet when next they met, later the same day, the Head Master announced that there would be no revisions to this final part. Rather, the entire passage would have to be removed and destroyed.
"This cannot be allowed to exist," he insisted. "There is too great a chance the School of Engineering will learn of it and, consequently, will attack us with its full force for our having it in our possession. It must be destroyed!"
Manuel stepped forth. "We must have a say in this as well," he advised the Head Master. "The knowledge contained in those final pages can be used to ally ourselves with the other Alliance. Our combined strength can defeat the School of Engineering once and for all. As your partner in our Alliance, we demand the right to present this entire work to our School Board."
"We will consider your request," the Head Master reluctantly agreed.
When next Beulah appeared before English, she was asked when her woman's intuition would deliver Manuel to him.
"Sooner than I expected," Beulah answered. "Where before I would need to devise a plan to get the woman Lana away from the School of Language; now I need not trouble with her. Manuel has adopted a boy who he has come to adore. I need only get him to a place where you can take Manuel."
"Then do it!" English demanded.
"As you wish," Beulah acquiesced. "However, there is another matter you may wish to attend to first."
"What is it?"
"The woman Lana has deciphered a written work - the very work I was set to destroy before your guards took me."
"What is this work to me now that I have Manuel in my grasp?" English asked.
"It contains a history of our world. Much of it, I suspect, is at odds with your School's history; in particular, the final part. It tells of your ancestor, your namesake."
"Then it must speak well of him!"
"It does not," said Beulah. "It portrays him as the destroyer of our civilization. It says he destroyed all books and all written works."
"Whatever he destroyed contained lies!" English concluded.
"Nevertheless," said Beulah, "Manfred sees it as a chance to form an alliance with all the other Schools against the School of Engineering. It is as much to be hated as is Manfred. And it should be destroyed along with him. This is why I wish to wait until he has it in his possession to deliver him to you."
English considered Beulah's offer; and approved her plan, advising her not to try his patience lest he think she was attempting to deliver him into Manuel's hands rather than Manuel into his hands.
"This would be most unwise," he assured her.
"Manfred cares nothing for you," Beulah, in turn, assured English. "He only seeks to destroy Giovanni that he might claim Lana."
"You cannot even consider doing such a thing!" Giovanni told Lana.
"It may be the only way to bring all the Schools together," Lana replied.
A week had gone by since Lana first read the manuscript. Manuel proposed a meeting of all the Schools save for the School of Engineering, which no one dared approach. At that meeting, Lana would again be asked to read the manuscript.
"There is no one else who knows the words," Manuel explained to the Head Master and School Board of the School of Language.
"Did your son not help with the deciphering?" he was asked.
Manuel acknowledged that the boy had helped; but insisted that the boy's ability to actually read the words was too limited to entrust him with such a task.
"If Lana agrees, we will allow the work to be taken to the School of Business Management," the Head Master and Board approved. "But only because that School offers greater protection should the Engineers attack. You must first arrange for representatives to attend before we can allow Lana to go, if she so agrees."
Manuel accepted the Head Master's stipulations and proceeded at once to make the arrangements.
While Manuel slept that night, his son came into his room and sat on the floor beside him, awaiting his arousal from sleep.
Upon perceiving the boy in the very early morning, Manuel beckoned his son to come lie beside him.
"Were you lonely for your father?" Manuel asked.
"That and more," the boy answered.
"What is it?"
"I had a dream and came at once to stand by your side," the boy told his father.
"What was this dream?"
"I will become the instrument of your being taken by your enemy," Manuel was told. "I would sooner die than become a weapon against you."
"I know this," Manuel acknowledged. "But I will take care against letting it come to that. I promise you I will be on my guard. Now let us both sleep until the day breaks.
Manuel slept soundly, while his son's sleep was troubled by what he failed to tell his father about his dream. The whole time he lay quietly beside Manuel, he wondered how he might tell his father it was Beulah who would betray him; or even if he dare tell him.
Representatives from the Schools of Chemistry, Agronomy and Metallurgy agreed to meet at the School of Business Management. The School of Finance, taken by the Engineers, was not represented; nor was the School of Technology, which, though Manuel had taken it, he did not trust, its loyalty still in question.
Giovanni insisted on accompanying Lana to the School of Business Management; but she persuaded him to let Guido go with her. Though Guido was reluctant to allow Giovanni out of his sight, he agreed; and set out with Lana and a small contingent of guards, arriving at the Main Gate without incident.
Young Giovanni had waited anxiously for their arrival; and ran to them, embracing both Lana and then Guido.
"Where is Giovanni?" the boy asked.
"He did not accompany us," Lana replied. As she spoke, her eyes met those of Manuel, who had come to stand behind his son.
"He will be missed," Manuel said.
Manuel offered his home to the arrivals during their stay; but they refused his offer, preferring to remain together with the four guards who accompanied them.
Early the next day, the representatives from the other Schools met with the Head Master and School Board to hear Lana's reading of her manuscript. Besides Manuel and his son, Beulah was also present.
When Lana's reading was over, each representative expressed the same concern: could she be certain her deciphering was correct. Their concerns paralleled the School of Language Head Master's main concern: the manuscript's deviation from their School's oral history.
"Changes must be made to align this written work with the history that has passed down to us for generations," became the consensus viewpoint. "We cannot be expected to change what we know to be true; therefore the written word must be changed."
Lana attempted to explain to this audience, as she had to her own School Board and Head Master, that she was not able to write these words, only to read them; and therefore she could not change anything within the work. But this was unacceptable to the representatives.
"Any part that does not agree with our true history, if it cannot be changed, must be removed and destroyed," it was agreed.
"And if your separate histories differ, whose will prevail?" Lana asked. "The work cannot accommodate conflicting histories."
"Then the strongest among you must prevail!" Beulah, who had remained silent throughout the discussion, told everyone.
"If need be, then yes," everyone agreed.
Lana could see her dream of uniting all the people of the Land with these written words starting to crumble. Her belief that all knowing their history would finally bring them to realize their common heritage had not reverberated throughout the Schools. Each School, it appeared, preferred it own separate heritage to a universal heritage. But she refused to give up hope that these written words could still unite all the people. She vowed to find a way to convince everyone of the veracity of this written work; and to somehow show them that its variance with their separate oral histories was not as great as they at first concluded.
Toward this end, Lana resolved to visit each School and read the manuscript before each School Board; and read it as many times as necessary to demonstrate its essential alignment with each history. But when she proposed doing so, all the representatives declined her offer. Instead, they all made the same counter proposal that she re-write the manuscript according to their individual specifications, in particular the first part.
Everyone found it unacceptable that The Wall was built by the outside world as a prison - if there even was an outside world; and that their ancestors were brought here essentially as prisoners. Instead, each School was to be presented as the primary architect, The Wall the product of its unique vision.
Lana again attempted to point out that the separate histories could not all at the same time be the correct version of events. But this attempt again failed to dissuade them from their resolve. Eventually, all the representatives began arguing among themselves, each claiming his School's history was the only true history.
Again, Beulah came forth to repeat her earlier solution, which Lana had tried to counter with the logic of the situation. Again, all representatives agreed the strongest among them would prevail, and would dictate to Lana how to re-write the manuscript.
On the third day of their visit to the School of Business Management, Lana, Guido and their four guards left the compound to return to the School of Language. Manuel had desperately tried to convince them to stay longer; but the representatives, too, were preparing to leave; and as no one had invited her to read the work before their School Board, there was no reason for her to remain any longer.
As they were leaving, Manuel whispered to himself "Soon you will have no one to return to." Only his son heard him; and his words were like daggers piercing the boy's heart.
A sound arose late into the night, not every night, but some nights. Young Giovanni, who had been named Manuel after his adopted father, heard these sounds but could not tell if they were dreams or if they arose from somewhere within the compound.
One night he left his father's house while Manuel and Beulah slept and wandered throughout the compound, listening for the sound's source, until he came upon the place where prisoners were kept. He realized what made the sounds. It was the screams of children. He entered the prison place and saw a child's fingers being cut from his hands. He looked around and saw four more children whose fingers had already been cut off. The children all looked at him, as if pleading for help. He walked up to the man whose blade was cutting the children's fingers and held out his hands.
"Cut my fingers off," he said to the man, neither as a command nor a plea but as a simple request.
The man laughed and told the boy to go on home. Two other men, who had been standing in the shadows at the farthest corner of the prison, approached to escort the boy from this place.
The next day, the boy related the incident to his father and asked what it meant. Manuel explained that children's fingers were used as counting devices in school.
"I wish to have my fingers cut off too," the boy said matter of factly.
"Why?" Manuel asked.
"To understand what it is like for these boys to have no fingers," young Manuel replied.
"They do not live long enough to experience what it is like," the boy was told. "They are turned away from their School and either starve or are taken by the Engineers to be used as building materials."
"Can we not use sticks for counting, as others do?"
"You would have us return to a more primitive manner of schooling our Students?" Manuel asked his son.
"If it would keep boys from screaming," young Manuel told his father.
Manuel smiled at his son's childish notions; and promised to bring the matter before his father, the Head Master.
When young Manuel had gone, Beulah, who had overheard the exchange, approached her Business Partner.
"You would humor that boy's absurd request?" she asked.
"If it disturbs my son to hear those children's screams, I will consider his request, however absurd it may be," Manuel answered. "We did not always use children's fingers. If my father agrees, we will return to our previous ways of counting."
"And in so doing, you would allow other Schools' usage of the resources we might have used!" Beulah observed.
Manuel had no response to Beulah's observation other than to repeat "He is my son."
Young Manuel followed the five boys whose fingers had been removed. They knew he followed; and they were frightened for he was older and bigger than they were. They turned to him and held up their hands.
"We have no more fingers!" they pleaded.
He came to them with tears in his eyes. "I will not harm you," he promised. He then asked them to follow him as he led them to a section of The Wall where Giovanni had shown him the recessed place. He opened it for them.
"You can hide here," he told them.
He no sooner opened the compartment than his mind's eye saw guards approaching. He made the five boys enter the compartment with him, then closed the door behind them.
"Say nothing," he warned.
Presently, the sounds of footsteps reverberated through the compartment; and the boys trembled in fear. Manuel shielded them with his body as much as he could, until the footsteps receded. Then he pushed the door open and led the boys out from the compartment, after which he again closed the door.
"There are many such places within The Wall," he told the boys. "They can shelter you if you are in danger of being taken."
But the boys just stared at him, as if he had ordered them to leap over The Wall. Finally, one of the boys spoke.
"We have no means of opening this door," the boy said as he held up his hands.
Young Manuel fell to his knees and wept bitterly. "Forgive me," he pleaded, "for what my School has done to you."
He never saw any of the boys again.
It was the hour of sacrifice. The Winter Solstice. English led the procession from the School of Engineering to the Bitumen Pool. His guards carried a big basket; in it were ten chosen for sacrifice.
The ten infants squirmed and rolled and cried. Then the basket was set before the King-Priest. It was opened. One by one each sacrifice was taken up by the foot and, after an incantation, hurled into the Pool by the King-Priest. When all ten sacrifices slowly sank into the thick black liquid, the basket was closed and again taken up by the guards. English led the procession back to the School of Engineering. The basket was set upon the altar to await the Summer Solstice; beside it was a smaller basket, used for each full moon.
"The sun stands still twice each year for us, and us alone," English told his people. "It requires a sacrifice of ten newborns each time it stills its movement, to insure it continues its motion around our Land; where only one sacrifice is required to keep the full moon from exploding each cycle. As your King and High Priest, I must choose from among all newborns ten most worthy of enticing our sun to resume its course, five girls and five boys."
The people were speechless upon hearing this pronouncement. They already knew one infant was sacrificed each full moon; now they learned that twice a year ten would be sacrificed; but they dared not speak out for fear of being carried to the Bitumen Pool by English's guards.
The Winter and Summer Solstices were times of celebration. No commerce, no construction, no warfare could be carried out until the sun rose on the day after. On these days, the Main Gate was shut and not opened again until the following day.
This routine established by English was known throughout the Land. Even with the Main Gate shut, each solstice witnessed a raid on the School of Engineering by one of the other Schools.
This Solstice raid was conjured in a boy's dream. Manuel's son told his father of a weapon he saw in a dream, a weapon like no other. It was a stick so big it needed many men to move it and to use it. Young Manuel saw this weapon beating against the Main Gate of a School compound repeatedly until the Gate was pierced and the weapon was thrust through the Gate into the compound.
Manuel told his son he too had had such a dream as a boy; but thought nothing of it. Yet now that his son also dreamed of such a weapon, he saw it as a sign, as more than just a boy's fancy. And he was determined to create such a weapon. He expressed surprise that his son, who seemed so peaceful, would conjure up so powerful a weapon.
"I have given you so little, father, that I could not withhold a weapon my dream created, when it might help keep your people from harm," the boy explained. But he told his father nothing of his true reason for offering a warrior so formidable a weapon; for it was his hope to somehow save the five boys whose fingers were cut off from being taken by the Engineers. The boy knew his father well enough to know his weapon, once made, would be used on the Main Gate of the School of Engineering.
And so it was.
The Engineers saw the huge stick being carried by ten of Manuel's guards. They knew from the three slits in their clothing which School had sent them. They only laughed at how awkwardly the stick was being maneuvered. But when the stick began beating against the Main Gate, their laughter changed to concern.
English was summoned. He watched with interest the repeated beating against his Gate; but, seeing no damage, lost interest. Then, as quickly as the attack had begun, it ended and the guards retreated with their stick, to great laughter from within the compound.
What no one inside the compound understood was that this raid was no more than a test, to determine the stick's effectiveness as a weapon. Once Manuel was satisfied with its proportions and suitability, he called the retreat and returned to his own compound, convinced he had created from the debris piles in the wake of the great wind a weapon with which to vanquish the School of Engineering and become King of all the Land.
Lana went to each of the Schools, attempting to persuade even just one School Board to accept the written work as an accurate depiction of the Land's history; this, despite its rejection by all the Schools' representatives.
None of the School Boards would accept the manuscript as written; each insisted on changing certain passages to accommodate their oral history, the essence of all oral histories being The Wall's creation by their School alone.
Unbeknownst to Lana, her persistence had opened deep seated rifts among all the Schools, based upon each School's insistence of being not only the driving force behind The Wall's creation but the impetus for the very idea of a Land separate from the rest of the world as well; rifts long buried within the people's memories, brought suddenly to the surface by this written history. As a result, both Alliances crumbled completely as each School became unwilling to ally with any School not accepting its oral history.
The Schools of Language and Business Management dissolved their Alliance, the School of Finance already outside the Alliance since its capture by the Engineers. Likewise, the Schools of Chemistry, Agronomy and Metallurgy dissolved their Alliance.
"Perhaps Lana should display her white pieces before the Engineers, since no one else will have them," Beulah observed to Manuel. The anger her observation cast over her Business Partner's face pleased her. Manuel said nothing; but in his heart vowed to keep trying to convince his School Board to adopt Lana's written history as his School's own history.
"Will we now go to battle against our allies?" young Manuel asked his father when he heard of the decision to dissolve the Alliance with the School of Language.
"We may have to," Manuel told his son. "Have your dreams foretold such a battle?"
"No, father," the boy replied. But his dreams had touched upon it. He saw Manuel and Giovanni engaged in a fierce battle to the death. He saw Guido start to intercede on behalf of Giovanni; then Guido was pulled by English away from the battle. He had awakened in fright and longed to go to his father's side; but he dared not, so he kept his dream to himself.
The first battle between former allies was fought in the mud. The Grays had come again, as the battle was beginning; and though both sides would have retreated had the rains come a few minutes earlier, the fighting had already begun. The two sides were locked in combat and neither could pull away from the other as the rains poured down on fifty warriors, half from the School of Agronomy, half from the School of Metallurgy, two traditional enemies united in Alliance for a short time, now united in their death throes as the rain soaked ground turned to a thick mud that kept pulling them farther down until only their heads remained above ground as the rain washed over them in a raging torrent that drowned all fifty as they struggled to free themselves from the mud.
For almost a week it rained, sometimes barely a trickle, other times a downpour like the one that killed fifty warriors. For a month after the Grays finally moved away no one dared step beyond the Main Gate of their School for fear of becoming wedged in the mud. And even when it was safe to again venture beyond their compound, pits of mud littered the landscape, making all travel perilous. Boys going out to play at being warriors would sometimes become wedged in a hidden pit which, once they stepped upon it, held them fast until they were rescued; or until they were taken. Dozens of boys were grabbed up so forcefully from the mud pits that they lost a foot or even a leg; they could be heard screaming as they were dragged to meet their fate. Very late one night, as Gina slept, her child crawled from her room within Lana's home; through the rest of the house; and out the back door. She crawled toward the back of the Stockade; and came upon the breach which Giovanni had used to rescue Lana. She paused a moment then crawled through the breach. From there, she kept going.
When Gina awoke early the next morning, she went to retrieve her daughter, who occasionally ended up in Lana and Giovanni's room. Seeing that the child was not there, she searched the rest of the house. Then she walked outside and began looking; but could see no sign of her daughter. Something drew her to the breach in the Stockade. She stepped through, but still could see no sign of the child.
She returned to Lana's home and began crying. Both Lana and Giovanni heard her and came to see what had happened. Gina looked up at them and said "He has taken her."
At first neither Lana nor Giovanni understood what she meant. Then Lana noticed the child missing.
"Your daughter has been taken?" she asked.
"Yes," answered Gina. "He has her. He will now sacrifice her."
"It is not possible for anyone to enter, take your child, then leave without notice," said Giovanni.
"I have looked throughout this place," Gina told him. "I have found no trace of her."
"We will go and search every home, every building," Giovanni assured her. "We will find her."
By mid-afternoon, every place within the compound had been searched, still with no sign of the child. Lana and Giovanni looked at each other; both had had the same thought. They hurried to the rear of the Stockade and went through the breach. They could see nothing; so they returned to Lana's home, to find Gina gathering her things.
"I must return to English," she told them.
"He will kill you," Lana warned.
"I will die with my daughter," Gina said.
"She was not taken," Lana attempted to assure her. "She crawled through the breach behind my home. We will begin a search for her. We will look everywhere. She was not taken. You must not return to English. We will find her. I promise you: we will find her."
Giovanni, Lana, along with Gina and Guido, set out that very day in search of Gina's child.
All the mud had dried, so there was no danger of entrapment. But in drying the ground was again too hard to show any tracks left by even four adults, let alone an infant crawling.
They searched everywhere, careful to avoid any patrols they might encounter. They searched every debris pile; they searched the entire shoreline of the Lake; they searched the circumference of the Bitumen Pool; they even searched the recesses in The Wall Giovanni had discovered. For a week they searched; but found no sign of the child.
"There is no place else to look," Gina finally admitted. But Lana countered by saying there were many more places to look.
"I will go to each School," Lana resolved. "We will find her."
Young Manuel told his father of a dream he had the night before. In his dream a golden strand appeared from a place where there was nothing. This strand wound its way throughout the Land until a young child out exploring came upon it. This child took hold of the golden strand and carried it to his home to play with it as a toy.
"What do you think that means, father?" young Manuel asked.
"It means nothing," Manuel told his son. "Nothing in this land is gold."
The boy started to reply that there was something gold; but thought better of it, since no one was supposed to know of Gina and her child except for those at the School of Language who had given them shelter.
Beulah had overheard young Manuel telling of his dream. At first she thought nothing of it; but then she remembered English telling her about his Fellow Engineer and their child with golden hair.
"So it is with a golden strand I will deliver Manuel to his fate," she said to herself.
The boy who found Gina's daughter sometimes brought her outside his School's compound to play. When he did, he watched her carefully lest she crawl away from him, for she always seemed eager to explore.
Once, when the boy had taken her farther than he normally did, he saw on the road ahead some boys from one of the enemy Schools. He hurriedly hid the child at a big debris pile and took off running toward the School of Finance, for he knew he had been spotted by the boys; and he knew they would chase him but ignore the child.
He made it to the Main Gate in time to avoid capture. But he was accosted by three of English's guards, who were visiting the School of Finance to collect tribute.
"Why have you entered here?" the guards demanded.
At first, the boy was dumbfounded and could not speak. Then he thought of a ruse. "I allowed myself to be chased by boys from the School of Chemistry," he said.
"Why?" the guards again demanded.
"I hoped to deceive them into being taken," the boy explained.
The guards laughed. "We will tell English of your exploit. He may reward you. Or he may have us kill you for letting them get away! Now go on home or we may eat you!"
The boy ran from the School of Finance, stopping only to retrieve his toy from the debris pile. But the child was gone. He panicked and began to cry, for he was not liked by the other Engineers' sons, and had come to care greatly for his new toy.
Then he saw the child, crawling away from the road toward the areas where no children were ever allowed to play. He quickly went and picked her up, and returned to the School of Engineering, vowing to never again venture beyond the Main Gate with his golden toy.
"Send the boy to me," English instructed his guards upon hearing of his exploit.
"What made you imagine you could deceive those boys?" English demanded to know.
"I had seen it in a dream," the boy explained. "But when I saw the boys, I failed to look carefully at their slits, for in my dream the boys wore three slits. But these boys wore four slits. I failed your majesty; and must now be punished."
"Your punishment shall be the destruction of your favorite toy," English pronounced sentence upon the boy. "Go and bring it to my guards, who will tear it to pieces."
The boy delivered, not his favorite but his second favorite toy to English's guards. It was a round object within a square object within yet another round object his father had made for him the day he was born. He watched as they smashed it to bits. Tears streamed down his cheeks. When it was all broken, he asked if he might have the pieces. The guards said yes, he could have all the many pieces; so he knelt down and carefully picked all the broken pieces from the ground. But having nowhere to put them, he removed his loincloth and carefully wrapped them in it.
The guards laughed at the boy's nakedness; and invited all who beheld the boy to join them in laughter. Soon everyone in the School Yard was laughing at the boy's shame. When he returned home, his favorite toy was still fast asleep. He hid the broken pieces of his second favorite toy from her, for she had come to love that toy his father made almost as much as he loved it.
Lana, Giovanni, Guido and Gina continued searching for Gina's daughter until there was no place left they had not searched. Even so, they vowed to continue their search, thinking perhaps they had just missed her if she crawled between places. The only place they had not looked was the School of Engineering, which was the one place they desperately hoped she had avoided owing to the fate awaiting her should she have ended up there.
Gina announced to the others she had resolved to return to English. "I must know if my daughter has returned home."
"But you'll surely be killed if you go there!" the others pleaded.
"Knowing I have forsaken my child is worse than death," Gina told them. "I will go home now."
They said their farewells and Gina departed their company, knowing she would never see them again. Slowly she made her way to the School of Engineering. She stood a moment outside the Main Gate; then walked through.
The first person she laid eyes on was her daughter, who was playing in the School Yard with the boy who found her and had taken her as his favorite toy. Gina longed to go to her and hold her again; but she dared not, for to do so would have been to jeopardize her daughter's life. Instead, she continued on through the School Yard until she came to English's palace.
She was taken by the palace guards to English's Throne Room, to stand before him in judgment.
"Where is the child?" English asked.
"She is dead," Gina answered.
"Then you will be sacrificed in her place at the next Solstice," King English passed sentence on his Fellow Engineer.
Gina bowed to his will, then asked where she would be imprisoned awaiting execution.
"There is a room in my palace you may remain until the appointed hour," English told her. She was led to a small room at the back of English's palace, which would be her home until the Solstice.
There was a small window in the room where Gina lived. She would look out from time to time; and sometimes she could see her daughter playing happily with the boy who found her. She could tell the boy cherished her daughter; and this was her comfort.
Once the boy noticed Gina watching. Instead of going away, he brought the child up to the window and introduced her as his favorite toy.
"I found her one day and she has been with me since," the boy explained. Then, all of a sudden, for no reason, he told Gina that they were both orphans, he and his favorite toy; and that he wished they could be adopted by her.
"But you know nothing of me," Gina told him.
"I know you would care for us both," the boy said.
"How do you know that?" Gina asked.
"You are also an orphan," was all the boy answered.
"I will carry that knowledge with me till my last breath," Gina, in turn, said to the boy.
A few days later the boy appeared again at Gina's window with his favorite toy.
"I must ask you something," the boy said when Gina appeared.
"What is it?" Gina asked.
"Is it bad if I tie this my favorite toy?"
"Why would you tie your toy?"
"If I don't watch her every minute she is awake, she will crawl away," the boy explained.
"Is there no one who can watch her for you?" Gina asked.
"Only you," the boy said.
"I can never watch her for you," Gina told the boy.
"Then there is no one," the boy concluded. "So I must tie her, for now; until you are free to watch her."
"How do you know I will ever be free to watch her?" Gina asked.
"I just do," was all the boy answered.
Once more young Manuel dreamed of the golden strand and of the young child who found it. But this time he said nothing to his father, even though this time he watched the child carry the strand to his place within the School of Engineering.
"I must find this child," young Manuel resolved.
He was still allowed to visit with Lana, Giovanni and Guido, although the Alliance between the School of Business Management and the School of Language had been dissolved over the manuscript Lana had deciphered. Manuel had worked to try and salvage the Alliance. But his father, the Head Master, and the entire School Board voted to end the Alliance; so there was nothing he could do to preserve his contact with Lana, except accompany his son on the boy's occasional visits.
Young Manuel asked if he could see Gina and her child; but was told about the child wandering off and Gina returning to the School of Engineering. Upon hearing this, the boy turned ghostly white and for several moments could say nothing.
When finally he spoke and his color began to return, "That was my dream," he told Lana. "I dreamed a boy found a golden strand and carried it to the School of Engineering. So Gina's child is now where Gina is. I must find this boy before he exposes the child to English!" young Manuel resolved.
"How will you do that?" asked Lana.
"I must find a way into the School of Engineering," young Manuel explained.
Guido overheard their conversation and stepped forth. "No," he said. "I must find a way into the School."
"But I saw the boy in my dream! I know him! I can find him!"
Guido smiled down at young Manuel. "I, too, will know him," he assured the boy.
A battle raging between the School of Chemistry and the School of Technology gave cover to Guido to seek a breach in the School of Engineering Stockade. Fifty warriors from each School battled a short distance from the Main Gate of the School of Engineering. The battle was watched carefully by English's guards, who, following English's lead, hoped it would prove successful for the Chemists, as any weakening of the School of Business Management's hold on the School of Technology would strengthen English's chances of retaking it.
With English's guards distracted, Guido crept unnoticed through a breach in the Stockade and made his way to where the boy with the golden strand stayed. Coming upon the boy, he witnessed him attempting to place a piece of rope around the child's waist.
"What is that for?" Guido asked the boy.
"She will not stay when I'm away," the boy said. "I'm afraid if English's guards see her."
"They will know she is my favorite toy. And English told them to destroy my favorite toy; but I gave them my second favorite toy."
"Then I must find a way to keep her safe," Guido told the boy.
"You cannot," the boy told Guido.
"Because English will kill you when you save your friend," the boy answered.
"How do you know this?" Guido asked.
"I just do," the boy said.
"Then you must tie her with a rope," Guido finally agreed. "And never let English find her."
"Unless the boy who dreamed about me can watch her for me," the boy added, mostly to himself.
"What boy is that?"
"I don't know," the boy admitted. "He has two names. The name he chose and the name his father gave him. And he will finish what you began; and maybe take your name when you no longer need it."
Guido smiled, for now it was his turn to reveal something to this boy who seemed to know so much about him. "This boy you speak of: he already knows this child who is your favorite toy. He watched over her himself for a time."
"Then you know this boy."
Nothing further was said. Guido left, as silently, as stealthfully as he arrived. He went directly to the School of Language; from there, to Lana's house, where he found young Manuel still engaged in conversation with Lana and Giovanni. He was surprised to find the boy still there after so many hours.
"I asked my father if I could remain overnight; and he agreed to allow it," young Manuel explained. "He will return for me tomorrow."
"A boy, much like yourself, watches over Gina's daughter," Guido related.
"So Gina is with her daughter!" Lana exclaimed.
"No," said Guido. "Only the boy watches her. He will tie her with ropes to ensure she does not crawl away. He fears if English finds her. He says he will only entrust her to the boy who dreamed about him.
Guido then told of the battle he witnessed between the School of Chemistry and the School of Technology; though he could not say who was victorious.
"Father's guards came with news of this battle, which was why he allowed me to remain while he returned to our School. The Chemists won the battle. Father was greatly concerned with that outcome."
Countless small skirmishes occurred almost on a daily basis; until, inevitably, a battle was fought between the School of Language and the School of Business Management, officially destroying almost any chance of salvaging what was left of their Alliance.
"You must lead in our fight against the Linguists," the Head Master of the School of Business Management told his son.
"I will obey you," Manuel answered. "But what is the reason for an attack on our ally?" he asked.
"No reason is needed," the Head Master replied. "The School Board has decided. But as you are my son and heir, I will confide in you. The School of Language will not accept our history as superseding either theirs or the history in the white pieces. We cannot allow any history to circulate in the Land which contradicts our own. We have no choice therefore but to force their acceptance of our history. To that end, we must destroy the white pieces."
The night before the attack Guido ran barely half dressed through the School Yard to Lana's house. He had awaken with a vision of imminent doom and hurried to warn Giovanni and Lana.
"You must gather the white pieces and leave at once!" he cried out his warning.
"What have you seen?" Giovanni asked.
"Manuel prepares to attack tomorrow!" Guido insisted.
"Then we must warn the Head Master!" Giovanni, in turn, insisted. "And help battle our enemy!"
"You and Lana cannot remain!" Guido told his friend. "This compound will be overrun! I will remain and fight alongside the others; but you must go! They mean to destroy Lana's history! And it must be saved - and hidden until it is again found!"
In the end, Giovanni agreed to leave with Lana and her manuscript. They made their way through the breach behind Lana's home and escaped what was coming.
When they were safely away, Guido went to inform the Head Master of what he had seen in a vision. By morning, all the Students had been placed on alert.
This time, Manuel used his battering ram in earnest rather than simply to test its effectiveness, as he had before. And as happened at the School of Engineering, the guards stationed along the Stockade periphery laughed upon watching the cumbersome device banging against the Main Gate. Several times the battering ram was thrust against the Gate with all the force the ten men who held it could muster, all to no avail. Yet still they kept at it, until at last the Main Gate buckled and then began splintering under the constant pounding.
Almost an hour after the assault began, the Gate was breached enough to allow Manuel's warriors to storm the School Yard. There, the fighting began; and raged for three more hours, as the advantage passed back and forth between Manuel's troops and those of the School of Language, until the tide turned in Manuel's favor. The Linguists were vanquished, and the compound captured.
When the Head Master surrendered his School to Manuel, he asked why they had been attacked.
"Yours is the strongest Gate," Manuel told the Head Master. "If your Gate can be breached, all the other Gates can be breached."
"How can you know which Gate is strongest?" he was asked.
"I visited every School to assess their gate," Manuel answered.
Once the terms of surrender were set, Manuel made for Lana's home, only to find it empty.
Guido had been taken prisoner along with the other Linguists. Manuel asked him where Lana and Giovanni were, as well as what had become of Lana's white pieces. But Guido said he did not know where they were.
"You lie," Manuel angrily insisted. "I will personally torture you until you tell me their whereabouts!" he threatened.
He had Guido taken to the place of interrogation and began at once inflicting whatever torture was needed to make him tell what he knew.
"You will tell or you will die in agony!" Manuel kept repeating as his torture became gradually more intense. Then all of a sudden he ceased torturing Guido, turned, and hurriedly departed the School of Language, leaving no instructions to his guards how to proceed. They therefore assumed Manuel had gotten the information he needed; so they released Guido, who staggered away from the place of interrogation.
When Guido had recovered sufficiently, he made his way unnoticed to the breach in the rear of the Stockade and left the compound, to begin his search for Giovanni and Lana.
Manuel had been alerted by one of his guards that his son had gone in search of a child with golden hair and had been taken by a squad of English's guards on the lookout for children.
The moment Manuel returned to the School of Business Management, he gathered several of his guards and headed toward the Bitumen Pool, where his son was said to have gone in search of the child with golden hair.
"Who told my son of this child?" Manuel asked. But none of his guards could say where the information had come from; only that young Manuel heard the rumor and took off on his own to find the child.
Beulah had given young Manuel the information; she had also reported the boy's sudden departure, after which she sent one of her trusted operatives to follow the boy and report his capture by English's guards. All according to the plan she and English had worked out to effect Manuel's capture by English.
Young Manuel was being held where English's guards took him, a few feet away from the Bitumen Pool. English had been apprised of the capture; and set out to join his guards, in anticipation of Manuel's arrival. He arrived minutes before Manuel's arrival with his contingent of guards, which evenly matched English's own guards.
Giovanni and Lana had instinctively headed to where their homes had been, first the one beside the Bitumen Pool, then later to their home site on the shore of the Lake. When they noticed activity farther along the Pool, they concealed themselves as best they could behind the debris left when the great wind tore their home to pieces. Their ultimate aim was to find a place to hide Lana's white pieces. They hoped they might find a safe place among the debris left of their homes; if not, they meant to seek out one of the recesses within The Wall and hide the pieces there.
Guido, as well, made for the Bitumen Pool, thinking this was the most likely place to find Giovanni and Lana. His attention was immediately drawn to the activity at the Pool, though he was too far away to determine the precise nature of that activity. Watching what was taking place, he concluded it to be simply a skirmish between rival Schools; and was about to move past when he spotted something which stopped him in his tracks. It was one of Lana's white pieces.
He lifted it from the ground; and as he did the same vision he had had which warned him of Manuel's wish to kill Giovanni came to him again. He threw the white piece down, as though it were something taboo; and began to devise a plan for saving Giovanni, who he now believed to have been captured by Manuel and readied for execution.
As he drew nearer, though he saw no sign of Lana, and was yet unable to identify Giovanni, he did get a brief glimpse of English, as well as the figure of a boy from the back. He knew at once this boy was Manuel's adopted son, who he correctly identified as the bait to draw Giovanni out from hiding, without realizing it was Manuel, not Giovanni, who was English's prey.
Suddenly another contingent approached and Guido was forced to seek shelter among some of the debris piles surrounding the Pool. These were small debris piles, so Guido had to crouch very low, too low to maintain his perspective on the battle being waged beside the Pool.
Unnoticed by Guido, this second contingent of English's guards sprang the trap laid for Manuel and sealed his fate. In a matter of minutes, Manuel's guards were subdued and Manuel captured.
Manuel was tied with thick ropes and laid flat upon the ground, helpless to resist. Momentarily, English ordered his guards to escort their prisoners back to the School of Engineering to be tortured then skinned then dragged back to the Pool for execution. This left only English, Manuel and young Manuel beside the Pool of thick black Bitumen.
English took out a blade and, as he stood over Manuel, methodically explained to him the elements of his fate.
"First I will only slice your skin," English told his helpless victim in a cold voice devoid of all emotion save a hint of gloating. "Then, as your son watches, I will bring you to the very edge of this Pool. I will then lower your head to the surface; and as your head slowly sinks into the Bitumen, I will begin stabbing and cutting you until you start screaming. As you continue screaming, your mouth will begin filling with this Black Death, until you choke on it. I will then take my blade away and watch until you cease all movement. I will leave your lifeless body where it sits until you rot. And I will take your son and skin him and cut away his flesh to get to his bones, which I will use to destroy your School once and for all."
As English readied to carry out his plan, his guards with their prisoners retreated beyond Guido's perspective. Guido arose and beheld in the distance the very scene of his vision, except it was English and not Manuel fulfilling it. He took of running; and as he neared, English caught sight of him and readied his blade, so that when Guido reached him, he swung it around and slashed Guido's throat.
Guido fell to the ground as blood gushed from his throat. As he lay there dying, he saw English beginning the assault which would lead to Giovanni's death. He summoned all his strength; and as English pushed his victim to the very edge of the Pool, he leaped in one final effort to save his beloved friend, who meant more to him than everything else in the universe.
His body rammed that of English with such force that both were propelled over the body lying tied with ropes and into the Pool.
In one last vain attempt to stop Guido, English again swung his blade, this time striking Guido in his right eye. Guido let out a piercing cry; but then grew still as with his left eye he finally saw the face of who he had taken to be Giovanni. And the horror he beheld with his left eye cast an agony over his soul which drowned out the searing pain in his right eye.
As he and English sank down into the Black Death, he turned his eye to young Manuel, desperately pleading with the boy to carry on his sacred duty of saving his beloved Giovanni. The boy understood; and nodded that he would. Then Guido and English were gone.
Young Manuel released his father from his bondage. Manuel rose, but only to his knees. He took hold of his son and began weeping.
"Were it not for Guido, it would have been you I beheld offering your precious sacred life for mine. Please - please, my dearest son - promise me you will never die in my place. It would be as a dagger piercing my heart; and I would not - I could not - live one moment beyond such a thing. Promise me, my son. Promise me you will never die for me."
The boy, young Manuel, young Giovanni, now become young Guido, promised his father he would never die for him. And as he did, a great dagger pierced his own heart.
October 8, 2020 5:55 P.M.