“The day we’ve long feared has come,” Father said, and the crowd quaked and held their neighbors tight.
“The Great Enemy is preparing to destroy what we have built.” He paused and looked among his kin, his western mountain tribe.
“All you common fathers must come forward, prepared to give your lives for our land, for our survival. And all you common sons must be ready to become men. Men who will offer themselves in defense of our way of life.”
The women cried.
“And all you common mothers and daughters and wives…you must prepare yourselves for that sacrifice, should those terrible days come upon you. You must be willing to feed our hungry men, and tend to our wounded. You must be willing to provide to your families that which has always, until now, been provided by your men. This is your contribution to our cause.”
The crowd whispered amongst themselves and nodded their heads in agreement.
“But there is something we must do which may prove to be most difficult, something that will require us to cast aside our pride and tradition. We will be joining forces with Those Across the Valley.”
The crowd gasped and protested, shaking their heads in disbelief.
“We will call a truce,” Father said, and so it was.
And in spite of their age-old hatred of Those Across the Valley, the tribe knew what needed to be done, and nodded in silent agreement with their patriarch.
It was a harrowing journey down the western mountain, and to traverse the valley, itself, left Father’s few chosen men on edge, for they all knew that were they to ever meet the Great Enemy – the one that threatened not only their way of life, but Those Across the Valley’s lives, as well – that it would be there in the wide-open rift between the mountains, where they were exposed.
They moved quietly through the night, the safest time. The elders of the group had seen this place before, and remarked how drastically it had changed, the ravages of time, the debris and fallout of past battles. It had become far worse than they had ever seen. But it was the younger faction that stared wide-eyed at the dark, massive gorge and the eastern mountain before them with fear in their sheltered hearts.
High above them, across the valley, was the tribe they’d been taught to hate since they could remember. They were to go there now and make peace.
Father said it would take no less than two armies to defeat the Great Enemy.
Father said that they should stand firm, but be willing to hold their hats in their hands as a gesture of respect.
Father said it was possible that the members of the opposing tribe were not as terrible as they’d been depicted for ages, and that it was possible that Those Across the Valley had taught their young to feel the very same way about them.
It was eerily quiet in the valley. A small stream of light came from somewhere in the north, but it was scarcely enough to help them maneuver around the ruins. Dust storms whipped up out of nowhere it seemed, but the group carried on, undeterred by the harsh conditions.
By daybreak they had reached the base of the mountain. The younger men had no basis for comparison, but the elders knew how lucky they’d been to make it across without encountering the Great Enemy.
They were met with cold stares from Those Across the Valley, but they were not threatened.
They learned that the patriarch from their tribe had portended the same thing.
He’d told his tribe that they’d be coming, and there would be no place for strife.
And so the truce was called and both tribes set about putting their prejudices aside in preparation of war.
On both sides of the valley, forts were built, look-out towers erected, traps set precariously along the ragged, uneven ledges of the mountains. The women gathered food and medical supplies where they could find them and began stockpiling the larders. Covert messengers bravely ran correspondence across the valley under the cover of night. Intelligence hid in caves far to the north, where the Great Enemy had oft been sighted, but it was not until the mysterious false light that came each evening, before darkness fell, that the Great Enemy would began plotting with his advisors.
What, on this night, Intelligence heard came as a shock to both tribes.
“There is dissent among the ranks. The Great Enemy sounds displeased with his advisor’s strategies,” Intelligence reported. “There is fighting within their tribe, and talk that The Great Enemy may be no more than a figurehead.”
A wave of cheers washed over the tribes, and could be heard from both sides of the valley.
But the Fathers were not so joyous.
“No, we must not pull our forces back. The Great Enemy is not gone, but merely wears a different face. We will proceed with our mission.”
So as the tribes stayed the course, preparing to defend their land, a very different sort of war was being waged in the north.
“So when are they coming?” asked The Great Enemy.
“The day after tomorrow,” said the First Advisor. “If you aren’t going to waste their time, that is.”
“I’m not wasting anyone’s time. This is what you wanted and I’m tired of fighting you.”
“You should want it, too,” said the Second Advisor.
“I just want peace, goddammit,” The Great Enemy said. “I was content with the way things were, but now I just want peace.”
The strategy would need to change. The Fathers were concerned over news of dissension within The Great Enemy’s camp, for where there was dissension there was unpredictability. And during times of war, unpredictability was a very dangerous thing.
It seemed The Great Enemy’s troops would be arriving the day after tomorrow and there was little time to waste. The Fathers met in secret later that evening to devise a new plan.
If troops were as powerful as Intelligence gathered, then drastic measures would need to be employed.
The tribes would not surrender their home, their land, but if that landscape needed to change for the good of their civilization, then change it must.
The Great Enemy and his army would come through the valley, and when they did, the tribes would be waiting.
They would sacrifice one of the mountains and bury the enemy alive.
“I can’t even imagine where they’ll start. This is unreal,” said the First Advisor, as she surveyed the valley.
“How did you ever let it come to this?” said the Second Advisor.
“This is my home, my realm,” said the Great Enemy. “Time passes and you can’t expect things to stay the same. I wish you could just let it be.”
The decision of which mountain would be sacrificed was not an easy one, emotionally, for either tribe. However, the practicality of engineering prevailed and it was decided that the eastern mountain’s foundations had not held up as well to erosion and changes in the land and would be the easier of the two to fell.
From then on, the tribe of the eastern mountain would cease to be Those Across the Valley. They would become as one with the tribe of the west; their Fathers to be as brothers.
But there would be a greater loss than that of a mountain. It was the bravest of each tribe that stepped forward to be there on the eastern mountain to see the collapse through. There was hope – there was, and is, always hope – that these soldiers might be agile enough, quick enough, strong enough to survive the avalanche, but each understood the realities of such a monumental task.
To say farewell to their loved ones was too morbid, like foretelling a death sentence, but to not would risk leaving too many loose ends. Too many broken hearts. In the end, each soldier said what was in his heart, and that was the best anyone could ask for.
At first light, their world would change forever.
They heard the coming of the troops from miles away, it seemed. They had one chance, and one chance only, to claim victory and they readied themselves for whatever would come. There were no tears, no protests, only strength and resolve. The tribes had made their Fathers proud.
There was nothing else to do but wait.
“Why don’t we start over here,” a strange woman’s voice bellowed.
The tribes imagined her to be a general. She was clearly in charge.
“Go ahead,” the Great Enemy said. “You’re going to do whatever you want anyway.”
“God, they’re here to help you!” This time, it was the familiar voice of the First Advisor.
“This isn’t helping!” the Great Enemy yelled back. “I gave you everything you ever asked for and now you come in here and try to take away what’s mine? Well, that’s just perfect.”
The General held her troops back while the Great Enemy and his advisor argued.
“That’s it,” cried the Second Advisor, “You can do this without me. I’m leaving!”
The General sent one of the soldiers after her.
One soldier and one advisor down, they were moving into the valley.
The tribes silently readied themselves.
The Great Enemy, his First Advisor and the General made their way through the debris and dust first, closer and closer, with the troops not far behind.
They never heard the battle cry over their own footfalls.
Now was the time.
The mountain began to crumble and the tribesmen ran with all of their might as the Advisor and the General screamed and covered their heads with their arms.
“Oh my god! They’re everywhere!” the General cried, coughing, suffocating.
The tribe’s soldiers lunged for the safety of the western mountain, crashing into The Great Enemy’s army as they leapt and ran. The enemy troops thrashed around wildly and retreated in the chaos.
“Jesus Christ, dad!” shouted the First Advisor. “There are mice everywhere! Do you see how you’ve been living? Hundreds of mice just living in these piles of trash!”
The Great Enemy himself had evaded the collapse and was heading north, presumably back to his camp.
“It’s not trash, goddammit!” he shot back. “It’s my stuff. It belongs to me!”
“It’s trash, dad! Mouse-infested trash! And you’ve already driven out one daughter with it. You want to drive me out too?”
The General-woman regained her composure and motioned for the cleaning crew to wait outside.
“He’s not ready,” she said to one of the crew, her hand cupped over her nose and mouth to escape the stench. “We can’t force him to throw this stuff away. Just tell the rest of them that it’s done. We’re calling it off.”
“God, dad…at least let’s get the mice out of here,” the daughter-advisor pleaded.
“What for?” the man who had once been, but was no longer, The Great Enemy said. “All of this stuff belongs just as much to them now as it does to me.”
The daughter brushed years of dust and skin cells, hair and waste and lint from her face and arms. She kicked a path through the empty cans, the water-damaged boxes and plastic bags and torn up books and shredded shirts, and shook her head.
“Fine,” she said as she waded towards the door through twenty years of her father’s life. “Live in your mountains of trash. You win. I surrender.”
The once and former Great Enemy waved his hand, dismissing her from his lonely kingdom, and turned away, coughing up dust from his own collection of memories and debris.
And with that, a chorus of victory cheers rose from the ravaged lands – one that could be heard as far away as the kitchen.
This can be downloaded as a epub document for portable devices here.
Copyright Donna Lynch 2011