The Clan of the Stone
Kurt F. Kammeyer
Copyright 2017 Kurt F. Kammeyer
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This is me, Ben, speaking. Just so’s you’ll understand how me and
Bess worked on this book, she talked me into writing this little
introduction all on my own hook, so to speak, with no corrections
from her, so’s you can hear how I really talk out loud. When you
get to the parts where Bess is talking, you’ll notice a big change,
so I figgered I better warn you now.
For the rest of this book, we sorta collaborated—she laid out her
big, wordy sentences, and I unraveled them so’s you could
understand them. When I wrote my own little cramped-up sentences, she
fancied them up so’s they’d read better. We rounded up quite a
few of our old friends, too, those who are still alive, at any rate,
to write their own parts of the book.
There’s lotsa other cultures and languages besides ours on this
world, and we tried to make them sound like they really do, pretty
much, at least when they’re talking out loud. We’ll let you be
the judge of that. Whenever we use a word you don’t know, we’ll
try to give you the translation. Without I’d explained this all to
you here, you might think we were all just talking funny and not
understanding each other.
This first book is all ’bout me growing up at Fort Kanosh, and
meeting Bess, an’ how all the Believers were looking forward to the
Visitation of God at the dawn of the Seventh Eon. Meanwhile, the
Akamerian Empire was threatening to invade us, so Pa went off to war.
Looking back, I can see that everything that was s’posed to happen,
did happen, right according to God’s schedule.We’ve been told
that these same kinds of end-time miracles happen on other planets,
but since we don’t know much about those other worlds, we’ll just
stick to our own story here.
City, in the fourth turn of the Seventh Eon
Every morning started pretty much the same for me.
“Ben! You up there?”
I could feel someone rocking my bed. Aaron, my older brother and
lower bunkmate, was pushing on my mattress ropes from below with his
feet. He did it pretty much every morning just to bother me, and most
times, I tried to ignore him—but usually, that didn’t work.
Next, I faintly heard Brother Thomas playing the “Call to Rise”
on his bugle. Still fighting the inevitable, I rolled over and
crammed my pillow over my head, and as I dozed off I thought, It
can’t possibly be five thirty …Brother Thomas must be early with
his rusty ol’ bugle…Just a few more minutes…
I felt Aaron pushing on my mattress again.
“Stop pushing! I’m getting up!” I mumbled through my pillow
even as I burrowed deeper into my straw tick.
Next, Aaron gave me a mighty heave that nearly somersauled me off the
top bunk. “On your feet!”
“All right, all right!” I grumbled as I climbed down the ladder.
I threw my smock over my head, slipped into my wooden clogs, and
ambled off to the washroom. As I washed my face and hands, I thought,
I wonder what gosh-awful task they’ll set me to this
week—planting spuds? Cleaning out the barn?
With my morning rituals completed, I shuffled into the central
courtyard of Fort Kanosh and looked around. Every morning of my
life—long as I could remember, leastways—I had watched this
familiar scene replay itself over and over.
Men, women, boys and girls emerged from the living quarters along the
sides of the compound and converged on the central building, which
served as the dining hall, school, and house of worship for our whole
community. At the west end of the hall stood the kitchen and the
bakery, with its two big ovens spreading the scent of new bread
Every morning, I cast my gaze in a circle ’round the four walls of
Fort Kanosh. Along the north wall were the boys’ and girls’
barracks. On the west wall were the cooperative store, carpentry
shop, laundry, and tailor shop. The most obvious feature in the east
wall was the great main gate of the fort. As I lifted my gaze above
the walls, I could see sunlight beginning to stream over the western
mountain peaks, bathing Amber Valley in a golden glow.
From one of the family dwellings along the south wall, I heard a
familiar hymn rising. If I plug my ears, I can still recite it from
how the morning sun,
his shining way,
wide proclaims his Maker’s praise,
every brightening ray.
Sounds like Brother Thomas’s clan. They’re always the early
risers in the fort. Guess I’d better head for home too.
My parents, Jacob and Sarah, and Jacob’s second wife Miriam had a
small shanty of their own on the south wall of the compound. Me and
Aaron always met them there for family worship time in the morning
just before breakfast. My older sister, Huldah, would arrive soon
from the girls’ barracks, along with my younger half-sister, Naomi.
I made my way to the shanty and entered, casting my eyes ’round the
interior of our humble home. It was just eight by sixteen feet, with
two rooms divided by a curtain—a front “parlor” and a back
bedroom. By Fort Kanosh standards, it was pretty fancy. Most clans
with no children or just one wife were only allowed eight-by-eight
feet of space. The sloping, shingled roof always leaked in heavy
rainstorms, even though my pa spent endless hours patching it.
Along the back wall of the parlor, which was also the south wall of
the fort, I saw a couple of shelves holding our family keepsakes—two
porcelain wedding plates, a tiny silver pitcher and spoon, and a
framed plaque displaying Pa’s military medals. A small, rough-hewn
wooden table, four chairs, a bench, an oil lamp, some coat pegs, and
a small iron heating stove completed the furnishings.
The back room was pretty much filled by a wooden bed frame with a
rope mattress and three straw ticks. To one side of the bed sat a
tiny corner table with a brass oil lamp that my ma had rescued from
an earlier home. On the other side was a big wooden trunk for storing
clothes and stuff. That’s the tally—every single thing in the
world my clan owned.
I sighed, and thought for the thousandth time, And it’s probably
all we’ll ever own in this commune.
It was my mother, calling me to rise. I sat up and peeked out the
window. Dawn was just appearing over the Ochre Mountains in the west.
I groaned, flopped back down on my bed, closed my eyes and covered my
face with my pillow.
In the other room I heard my mother cough. I thought, Coughing
deliberately she is, just to make noise so I cannot go back to sleep.
I heard the door to my room open. “Elizabeth, tími fyrir
I groaned beneath my pillow. “But Mömmu, there is hating
school, I do. Why must I go?”
I felt the pillow lift from my head, and my mother’s hand on my
shoulder. “Tha’ knowest the answer, Dóttir. Fáfræthi er
“Ignorance is slavery.” ’Twas my mother’s favorite saying.
She always lectured me about our escape from slavery in Akameria. She
reminded me often that although my slave-bracelet, it was gone, I was
still a slave to ignorance because girls were not permitted to attend
school in Akameria. In Deshret, I had no excuse.
Mother looked down at me. “To read and write, ’twas my greatest
wish as a child. But forbidden to me it was. Here in Deshret, tha’
canst a proper education receive with the Believers.” She coughed
again and pointed at the door. “Now, klætha thyself and
come to eat, Dóttir.”
“Yes, Mömmu…” I mumbled.
Mother retreated to the other room, and I climbed out of bed and
threw my Believer-dress over my head. It was an ugly blue sack of a
dress, just like the dresses that all the Believer girls at the fort
wore. It mattered not that my mother had stitched it herself—I had
always desired to dress like Mother, who wore a beautiful red and
black tavern dress when she worked.
One time, when my mother was gone, I tried on her tavern clothing. I
slipped her corset around my waist and cinched it up as tight as I
could, but it just sat on my hips like an old wooden barrel. I tried
on her beautiful red dress with black lace trim, but it hung limp
from my shoulders. I used her charcoal pencil on my eyebrows, and
missed badly. When I looked at myself in mother’s little
hand-mirror, I felt humiliated. I will never as beautiful as my
Mömmu be … I carefully put her clothes away and retreated to
my little room to brood.
When Mother returned home later that day, I heard her pause outside
my room. Then she peeked inside, smiled and said softly, “Some day,
Dóttir. Some day.”
I heard a distant bugle playing the “Call to Rise” at Fort
“Elizabeth, drífa!” my mother called.
“I am hurrying, Mömmu,” I called back. I tied my long
hair up in a bun and pinned it. There is looking just like a
little Believer-girl I do now, I thought.
I emerged into the front room and sat down to my meager
or oatmeal, and a cup of water. Then I spied a basket of apples on
the kitchen counter. I lunged for one, but Mother snatched them away.
“But, Mömmu!” I cried. “So hungry I be.”
“Finding them in the alley behind the tavern, I did,” she
announced. “I shall make for thee an eplakaka this evening,
“Yes, Mömmu.” I loved Mother’s apple-cakes. I gazed
enraptured at the basket of apples. They were wormy and withered, but
they still looked delicious to me.
“Finish thy oatmeal, then ’tis
off to skóla with thee.” She was suddenly
seized with a fit of coughing.
“Mömmu, art thou ill?” I said.
She straightened up and caught her breath. “No, ’tis but a spell.
I noticed her watching me eat. “Hungry art thou, Mömmu?”
I pushed my bowl of oatmeal towards her, and she pushed it back.
“No, Dóttir, eating later, I shall.” I knew that was a
I downed my oatmeal and drank my cup of water. Mother gave me a peck
on the cheek and sent me on my way. As I walked down the path and
opened our little white picket gate, I looked back and saw Mother
wave at me. I looked at the tiny cottage. It was old, and
weather-beaten, and the thatched roof leaked—but it was the only
place I had ever felt safe in my thirteen years on this Jörth.
Cottonwoods, the town that I lived in, was anything but safe. It was
a rough, primitive settlement mostly populated by displaced
Akamerians, like my mother and me. At this early hour, Cottonwoods
was just beginning to stir. The taverns were still closed, but the
dry-goods store and mercantile were open for business.
Every day I walked this path, fearing for my life. As I passed the
blacksmith shop, I knew what was coming. Edmund Ragnarsson stepped
out of his smithy and leered at me. He was a dirty, evil toad of a
man, and he wore a filthy, blackened leather apron over his Nordish
tunic. In his right hand he held a pair of long blacksmith’s tongs,
which he waved at me. He blew a kiss at me. “Eliza, komdu
I ignored him and continued down the street. Edmund laughed. “A
thræll ye’ll always be, girl. Riveting tha’
slave-bracelet back on, should I? Would ye like that, eh?”
I increased my pace. “Fara í burtu! Leave me alone!”
As I fled down the street, Edmund laughed again. “An’ ye and yair
móthir, base-born you both are, too!” My cheeks flushed at
this insult. To be base-born, without a father, was the most shameful
thing in Nordish society.
It also humiliated me that everyone in Cottonwoods seemed to know
that I was once a slave. And being a slave-born woman besides, in a
culture ruled by men, just added more shame. Here in Deshret,
thankfully, slavery was outlawed, but the men of Cottonwoods didn’t
much care. To them, I was just an object to be used. I glanced down
at my ugly blue sack-dress and was suddenly thankful for it. The less
attractive I was to men, the less I would be forced to endure their
As I left Cottonwoods, the road curved to the east, and I spied Fort
Kanosh in the distance. “Welcome to school, Elizabeth Erne,” I
said to myself. “More education than many at that school already,
When my ma saw me arrive at the shanty, she gave me a peck on the
forehead and hugged me. “Good morning, my little Benji!” she
“Ma…” I hated being called Benji.
“I know—you’re thirteen turns old now, which is far too old for
hugs and kisses, but I’ll give them to you just the same. Come,
children! Today’s hymn is Endless Love.”
Ma hummed the pitch, and we all gathered ’round the table and
God, how endless is Thy love,
like the morning dew,
glorious gifts come from above,
all thy mercies too.
Pa attacked the hymn with vigor in his strong baritone voice while
Huldah sang the alto line. Midway through the second verse, Aaron
crossed his eyes at me, so I stuck out my tongue in reply. Huldah
kicked me under the table. Aunt Miriam scowled at the three of us,
and I smiled like an angel and continued singing a bit off-key.
When the hymn was done, Pa intoned, “Let us pray.”
As we all knelt, I thought, Please, Pa, don’t drag us all the
way through the Norm from front to back. On this morning, Pa only
prayed about a chapter’s worth, to my great relief.
When Pa finished, Aaron spoke. “Pa, what’s the news from the
Pa replied, “Well, ‘cording to th’ heliograph reports, Emperor
Theobald is tryin’ to enforce the chain law in Frieland, just o’er
the mountains from us. Any woman not chained to ‘er husband in
public can be sold into slavery. Th’ Frielanders are fighting
Huldah shuddered. “How awful…”
Pa spoke. “I been there, you know. I grew up in the middle o’ all
that evil. Just be thankful ‘at here in Deshret, we’re still free
from the chain law an’all ‘tother wicked Nordish customs. God
willing, we’ll stay free until the Visitation.”
Ma and Aunt Miriam both locked eyes with Pa and nodded. They did this
a lot, I’d noticed, almost as if all three of ’em somehow knowed
what each other was thinking.
At six thirty, all the citizens of the fort lined up on the east side
near the main gate and turned to salute the flag. Brother Thomas, who
was pretty much the sum total of our musical talent at the fort,
played the Title of Liberty Anthem on his trumpet as the color
guard raised the flag of Deshret—a blue-and white-striped banner
with a white field carrying twelve blue stars surrounding a single
I cringed as Brother Thomas muffed the last line of the anthem. Every
day, he makes the same dumb mistake. I can always feel it coming.
Next, we all recited the Title of Liberty in unison:
In memory of our God
And our peace
And our children
The Grand Hegemon of Fort Kanosh, Brother Elazar, said a brief
blessing on the meal. Then everyone filed into the dining hall for
breakfast. Inside, there were three long rows of tables stretching
the full length of the room. The young boys found their places at one
outside row, the young girls took the far side, and the adults took
their seats along the central row. Each place setting had an
overturned plate with a knife, fork, and spoon, with a single rose
petal in the center of the plate.
Nice touch. Yesterday, it was pakaat blossoms. Tomorrow, daisies.
You can always tell the day of the week by the flowers. It’s all so
On cue, everyone turned their plates over, and the cooks began
ladling out the morning meal—biscuits and gravy. First breakfast
of the week: biscuits and gravy. Second-day is grits; third-day,
flapjacks. If the flower petals aren’t a clue, I figger the food
sure is. Nothing ever changes here.
Promptly at seven, the overseers filed down the three rows of tables,
giving out the weekly work assignments. When my overseer, Brother
Saul, reached the thirteeners’ table, he squinted at his list for a
moment, looked up, and announced, “Thirteen-year-olds! Mornin’,
fields! Affernoon, school!” Then he moved on to the next table.
Brother Saul was a man of few words.
I groaned. Not field work again. Why can’t I ever work in the
carpentry shop, or the smithy, or even the harness shop? I hate
grubbing in the dirt. Leastways, I’ll be back here for school by
noon. That’s good.
As I trudged out of the dining hall, my cousin Levi gave me a shove.
“Hey, digger boy!” he taunted me.
“Hey, scum-face!” I replied, and meant it. I was in a really foul
mood this morning.
I picked up my straw hat and headed for the front gate, where the
field bosses were handing out tools. My heart sank as Pa handed me a
long-handled hoe. No, not my own pa, I thought desperately.
He’s gonna ride me all day, I just know’t.
“Pa, do I really hafta go with you?”
Pa clapped me on the back. “Let’s go hoe us some spuds!” I
tried to smile through my clenched teeth, but it warn’t too
convincing an act, I reckon.
“Cheer up, son—it could be a whole lot worse,” Pa said.
I don’t see how. I just warn’t in a mood to be cheerfulled
by anyone this morning, ’specially my pa.
“Mount up, boys!” Pa said, and me an’ a half dozen other
thirteeners reluctantly piled onto a buckboard. The eastern gates of
the compound creaked open, and I squinted and covered my eyes as the
morning sun burst through the open gate.
It must be hot enough outside to boil water already. I’ll be
fried by noon. They’ll serve me on the table for dinner tonight.
Just stick a fork in me.
Pa took the reins and gave a quick whistle to the two horses. Then
the buckboard lumbered out the gate toward the fields on the south of
Since I was facing backwards, I could now see all of Fort Kanosh—a
massive blockhouse ten rods square made of adobe footings, topped
with wooden palisades fifteen feet high. On the south side was a
large clapboard barn. Abutting the fort on the west was a jagged line
of red sandstone cliffs. About three rods from the corners of the
fort were four thirty-foot high watchtowers built of huge logs sunk
deep into the ground.
I turned my gaze back toward the southwestern sandstone cliffs, which
rose in towering pink spires and outcroppings called “hoodoos.”
Every time I saw them, I remembered the time ’bout eight turns
afore when I got lost, and then got rescued by that very strange man.
I still remember getting lost in the hoodoos.
I was five turns old. Pa had repeatedly warned me and Aaron never to
go there, but Aaron easily persuaded me, his younger brother, to go
play hide-and-seek with him. I’d never seen the hoodoos up close,
and this sounded like a great adventure to me.
Aaron warned me to look out for the hoodoo men as we penetrated
deeper into the twisty rock canyons. “The hoodoo men’ll get you
if you don’t watch out!” Aaron whispered, making a thrill of fear
run through me. I bravely armed myself with a whacker stick just in
case any hoodoo men tried sneaking up on us.
The rocks were cool to my touch, ’cept where the sunlight hit them,
and they were layered in fantastic swirling shades of white, pink,
red, and yellow, like great big mounds of taffy. The rocks cast
weird, disorienting shadows—one moment, we boys would be in bright
sunlight, and the next moment, in inky blackness. Our voices echoed
off the spires and down the winding, narrow passages, scaring me even
“Shh! The hoodoo men’ll hear you!” Aaron warned.
At last, we paused, and Aaron whispered to me, “All right, now you
go run and hide, and I’ll try to find you!”
I hitched up my young courage and ran off down a side passage. Soon I
found a small cave under a big rock outcropping. I crouched down
there and waited patiently for Aaron to find me. And waited, and
After what seemed like ’most forever, I thought I could faintly
hear my brother’s voice, but it sounded real strange to me:
“Benbenbenbenben . . . wherewherewherewhere areareareareare
I was still playing hide-and-seek, so I retreated even deeper into my
cave and waited quietly. And waited . . . and waited …
Soon, the shouting stopped. I kept waiting, but Aaron didn’t come.
I waited some more. And he still didn’t come. By now, I was getting
real scared. What if Aaron don’t come for me? I thought.
What if no one finds me? What if the hoodoo men get me?
I watched the cave opening for what musta been hours as the light and
dark patches in the canyon slowly shifted. It was real quiet in the
cave, 'cept for the sound of my breathing. I was just screwing up my
courage to head outta the cave so’s I could find my own way home
when I heard gravel crunching and saw a figure slowly moving through
the shadows toward the mouth of the cave. All I could see through the
opening were his feet and legs.
It’s a hoodoo man for sure, I thought, terrified. Aaron,
please don’t let him get me…
I covered my eyes and crouched down, hoping this would make me
invisible. I grasped my whacker stick more tightly, just waiting to
Then I heard a voice at the mouth of the cave. “Well,
hello there! Come here, my little friend. Don't be afraid.”
Somehow, the voice seemed to settle me down, so I opened my eyes and
looked out. I saw a man crouched down at the mouth of the cave,
gesturing for me to come out. In a scaredy little voice, I said, “Are
you a hoodoo man?”
The man laughed, and his voice echoed up and down the canyon. “No,
Benjamin, I’m not. I’m here to take you home. You can come out
I dropped my stick and hesitantly climbed out of my tiny cave. Then I
stood up and gazed at the man, who was still hunkered down facing me.
He was wearing a white linen suit—unusual for Fort Kanosh. He had
light auburn hair, a rather large nose, and the most piercing
light-blue eyes I’d ever seen. He took me by the hand and said,
“Come, your parents will be worried! I shall lead you home.”
Something told me I could trust this stranger, so I followed him back
along the twisting maze of passages.
Suddenly, we came out of the hoodoos into the bright sunlight of
Amber Valley. I squinted and looked. In the distance, I could see my
pa running toward me from the fort, with Aaron close behind. I let go
of the stranger’s hand and ran to them, and Pa scooped me up and
“Pa, are you mad at me?” I said, anxious, but relieved to be safe
“No, son, just glad t’ see you. How’d you find your way outta
“That nice man there found me an’ led me out,” I replied,
pointing over my shoulder.
“What man?” Pa asked.
I turned ’round and looked, but the man was gone. Vanished…
Ever since that day eight turns ago, I’ve wondered who the man in
the white suit was, and where he went.
I never even got to thank him for saving me, I thought. And it
took a real long time for me to forgive Aaron for getting me lost in
the hoodoos, too—even after Pa gave him a thrashing.
Now eight turns later, facing backwards on the buckboard, I turned my
eyes away from the hoodoos and cast my gaze out over Amber Valley.
The sun was just peeking from the west over
the red sandstone cliffs. The dark green of the partially shadowed
fields contrasted with the bright, shimmering haze on the eastern
side of the valley. At the far southeastern end, I could see smoke
curling from the chimneys in the village of Cottonwoods.
This is my world, I thought. Ten miles long, five miles
wide. I’ve never been outside it. Is there even anything outside,
or is this all the world there is?
“Whoa, hoss!” Jacob called. The buckboard creaked to a stop, and
we all jumped off. Pa hobbled the horses and turned them loose to
graze, then he gathered his work detail ’round him for
“Boys, we got two acres o’ pakaat ta water, weed, an’
culteevate afore noon. Na, you-all knows the rules: Anythin’ at
don’t look like a pakaat plant—”
“Is a weed!” the other boys all cried.
“An’ the fust rule o’ weeds is—”
“Git ’em when they’re small!” the boys replied.
I groaned. Every day, the same lecture about weeds…
Pakaat was a mainstay of the diet at Fort Kanosh. The white, bulbous
tubers grew in vast green fields all ’round the fort and were
well-nigh guaranteed to show up at every meal, either boiled, baked,
fried, mashed, or as bread flour. The tubers could also be pressed,
yielding a fine, clear oil for cooking or lamp-lighting.
Each boy took a row and began “culteevating” it. As luck would
have it, or maybe cruel fate, Pa kept me close beside him, row by
row. He began his usual daily prattle about how raising spuds was
just like raising young ’uns, and that all they needed was a little
care, nurture, and admonition. I warn’t real sure what admonition
was, but the word had a bad feel to it.
Pa’s one-sided conversation went on for ’most an hour while we
worked our rows side byside. I tried to sorta slow down and let Pa
outpace me so’s to put some distance ’tween him and me, but Pa
chided me for “havin’ the slows.” Then I tried speeding up to
pass him, but Pa kept pointing out all the rocks and weeds I was
missing, and he made me back up and do my pakaat row proper-like.
I just can’t win, I thought in despair. Nothing’s ever
good enough for my pa. I hate these stupid plants and everything
Pa tried another tactic to encourage his flagging troops. “Boys,
let’s all sing th’ Diggin’ Song!” he cried. “Now,
I groaned and rolled my eyes. I just can’t stand it anymore…
Pa started the song, and the other boys reluctantly joined in as
their hoes rhythmically rose and fell.
am a happy digger,
planting my pakaat,
I don’t labor quicker,
day will be for naught.
Pa clapped me on the back. “C’mon, son!” he encouraged me,
am a happy believer,
digging for my God.
I work and I am eager,
give me my reward.
I mouthed the words, but my heart just warn’t in it. I hate that
By now, the sun was nearly straight above me, and beating down on my
head like a hammer. Pa finally called, “Break time, lads! Ten
We dropped our hoes and made a beeline for the water barrel. We took
turns drinking from the single tin cup tied to the barrel. Then we
took shelter under the low-slung buckboard and rested on the cool
I decided to sorta steer the conversation my own way for a change.
“Pa, what’s the Visitation?” I said. “I heard somethin’
’bout it in Sabbath School.”
Pa sat up and gazed at the green fields for a time, scratching his
chin whiskers. “Well, Benjamin, it’s sumat like this. God cain’t
be in all places at all times—well, his influence can, but He
pussonaly cain’t. So He visits all His worlds in turn—the fust
one, an’ the second, an’ so on to the twelfth—each one in its
time an’ season.”
I leaned up on my elbows. “Really? How’s that possible?”
“Son, y’see all these pakaat fields here? Imagine that I’m God,
an’ each o’ these fields gets its water turn, one after ’tuther.
That’s kinda how ’tis with God, an’ the worlds wi’out number
’at He’s made.”
“Oh … so that’s it,” I said. I thought, sorta dejected-like,
That’s me, Benjamin the spud god.
“Our turn is comin’, an’ one day real soon, God will visit us
for a season. An’ then the whole world’ll rest for a thousan’
“But how do we know He’s comin’ soon?” I asked.
Pa smiled. “We know, son, we just know. I’ll ’splain it
someday.” He jumped to his feet. “But fer now, we got spuds ta
At noon, we heard in the distance as Brother Thomas tootled the “Call
to Dine,” and we exhausted, dirt-tired
boys clambered onto our buckboard and clattered back to the compound
First-day luncheon, pakaat bread and beans… I thought as we
lurched along. I like pakaat bread and beans, usually. And I like
school, mostly. This day won’t be a total waste.
As we rolled through the front gate, I felt the cool relief of the
thick adobe walls surrounding me. I inhaled deeply, absorbing the
odor of freshly baked pakaat bread. I washed up with the other boys
and sat down in the dining hall for my second communal meal of the
After Brother Elazar said the blessing, I tucked into my bread and
beans and washed it down with cool spring water. Then the dishes were
cleared, and the dining hall became a schoolhouse. Everyone over
sixteen returned to their labors in the fields, at the laundry, in
the barn, the carpentry shop, or the kitchen.
I collected my schoolbooks from the shelf, received my daily ration
of two sheets of paper and a lead pencil, and took my place with the
other sixth graders.
When the students were all assembled, Schoolmaster Timothy addressed
his pupils. “Ahem! Children, we have a distinguished visitor coming
to see us today. Professor Orson, Chancellor of the Deshret Academy
and distinguished member of the Ruling Council in Salem, will be
taking applications for next year’s courses of study at the
academy. I don’t have to tell you, we have some very promising
eighth graders whom I’m sure will be tendering their applications
Like that stuffed shirt Alma, I thought. Only reason his
marks are so high is ’cause he was held back twice. He’s two
turns older’n the other eighth graders.
Brother Timothy continued. “Also, Professor Orson will hold a
seminar tonight on the rudiments of astronomy. He has promised to
bring his telescope and demonstrate it to us.”
Now suddenly interested, I raised my hand. “Will he let me look
through the telescope?”
Brother Timothy smiled. “I’m sure he will, Benjamin. But right
now, you sixth graders need to begin today’s orthography lesson.”
He passed out steel pens and inkwells, and we began practicing our
penmanship, copying from our Deshret Alphabet Readers. I pulled my
reading glasses out of my pocket, put them on, and went to work.
Being left-handed, I always struggled with penmanship. The
thirty-eight letters of the Deshret alphabet were a complex mix of
whorls, lines, and circles that defied all but the most nimble hands.
Even on ruled paper, my words snaked their way up and down across the
page as my hand blocked what I’d just written. I tried the overhand
method, with the pen nib pointing toward me, but the nib dug into the
paper as I pushed it, releasing its whole load of ink. I tried the
underhand method, with the nib pointing away from me, but my fingers
dragged across the ink, spoiling the words. In desperation, I
switched to my right hand, but the letters came out backwards and
funny-looking. This is hopeless, I thought. I’m just no
good at it.
I glanced to my right, where my cousin Gideon had just completed a
perfect row of letters. “Pee, bee, tee, dee, chee, kay, ga, ef…”
he said proudly.
“Very fine, Gideon!” said Brother Timothy, admiring his
handiwork. Then he looked at my hen -scratches and observed out loud
so’s everyone could hear, “Now, if only Benjamin could learn from
The other kids laughed, and Gideon beamed, but I just gritted my
teeth and rolled my eyes in frustration.
After orthography came arithmetic—my best subject. The first
question on the quiz was:
wagon box is two feet deep, ten feet long, and three feet wide. How
many bushels of pakaat will it hold?
went to work with my chalk and slate.
box = 2x10x3 = 60 ft3
bushel = 1 ¼ ft3
÷ 1 ¼ = 60 x 4/5 = 48 bushels
I put down my chalk and slate and raised my hand.
“Yes, Benjamin?” said my teacher.
“Forty-eight!” I replied proudly.
“Excellent,” said my teacher. “Ben, your orthography may be
less than perfect, but your arithmetic is impeccable.”
I warn’t sure what impeccable meant, but still that made me feel
That evening, after the guards had sounded the sundown “All is
Well,” I joined a group of children and adults outside the fort for
Professor Orson’s lecture on astronomy. The professor was a
dignified-looking gentleman of about sixty turns with a flowing white
beard, white hair, and bushy white eyebrows that made him look very
much like my idea of God. The professor had brought an elegant brass
telescope about four feet in length and mounted on a tall wooden
tripod. I’d looked through spyglasses before, but never through an
instrument like this.
“Brothers and sisters, attend!” Professor Orson said, pointing
upward. “If you will, please turn your eyes to the heavens and view
the wonders of eternity. That great river of stars you see spanning
the heavens from north to south, we call Eternity. Although it
appears to us as a gossamer ring surrounding us, Eternity is in fact
an immense, saucer-shaped disk of countless millions of stars. The
planet we inhabit, which we call Edom, is on the outskirts of
Eternity, while God dwells ‘in the Bosom of Eternity’—that is,
at the center of that knot of stars right about there. The star
nearest the place where God resides is called Kolab, or Ba-Kol in the
ancient Edomic language, meaning ‘All Things.’ Thus, God is in
‘all things,’ and through ‘all things,’ and worlds without
number hath He created, including our own.”
Orson drew a line across the sky with his finger from the eastern
horizon to the west.
“There is another circle surrounding our planet, stretching from
east to west, namely the circle of the ecliptic, which delineates the
path of the fifteen moving planets, including our own, as they travel
around our sun, which the Ancients called Shenayhah. Those planets
inferior to ours, that is, nearer to the sun, move more quickly in
their orbits, while those superior to ours move more slowly in point
of reckoning. To illustrate: Viritrilbia, the planet nearest the sun,
completes one circuit in a mere ninety-five days, while Glundandra,
the sixth from the sun, takes eleven of our turns to complete a
single circuit. The most distant of our planets, Neruval, takes a
full two hundred and fifty turns to circumambulate the sun!
“At any given season and hour of the night, some of the planets
will be visible to us, whilst others will not. Tonight, if you will
trace with your finger the line of the ecliptic from west to east,
you can clearly see in order the planets Oanisis, Floisis, Abessels,
and Izinsbah. They appear indistinguishable from the fixed stars,
save for their movement, but with the aid of this telescope, you
shall see that they are all planets, much like our own Edom here.”
I watched Orson stoop down and squint through the spotter telescope
on the side of the larger tube. He made some fine adjustments and
announced, “Behold, the great planet Abessels.”
I got in line and waited impatiently for my turn at the telescope.
When at last I put my eye to the lens, I was just plumb bowled over
by what I saw. There in front of me, as if I could reach out and
touch it, was a glorious white orb crossed by sandstone-colored
stripes, and surrounded by a brilliant white ring. I noticed three
tiny specks close by it.
“What’re those three little dots?” I asked in wonder.
Professor Orson smiled. “You have sharp eyes, my lad! Why, those
are planetoids—lesser planets circling the greater one, just as our
Edom circles the sun. Abessels has at least seven of these lesser
planets, by my observations.”
“How come we don’t have plana- uh, plana-toyds of our own?” I
asked, taking one last glance through the eyepiece.
“A very good question, son! We are fortunate that God so
constructed our world, for if it had planetoids, I believe the
gravitational tug o’ war would make our lives quite unpleasant, if
not impossible. We are better off without them. Next!”
By the dawn of sixth-day, I’d been over the same two acres of
pakaat plants five times, and I felt like I knew every last plant by
its family line and clan name. I’m sick of these no-good spuds,
I thought. Why can’t we grow something more useful, like melons?
At about ten, I felt a faint, rhythmic trembling in the ground—as
if someone was dropping heavy boulders every second or two. I
recognized the source of the sound, and I eagerly cast my gaze
northward along the road to Fort Goshen. In a few moments, just as
I’d anticipated, I caught sight of a great lizard’s head bobbing
back and forth above the foothills, followed by its scaly, reptilian
body, and then the hulking freight wagon that the lizard was pulling.
Behind the lead freight wagon were four more, also drawn by huge
reptiles. The wagons were all guided by drivers wielding long whips,
and their whistling and whip-cracking announced their approach.
“It’s the dragon train!” I shouted, as I dropped my hoe and ran
with the other boys to meet it.
Once a month, our fort was visited by these “down-and-back”
dragon trains as they visited each fort in turn, collecting and
delivering mail, freight, and supplies along the way. Each train took
a month to cover the distance between Salem in the north and Fort
Kanab at the southern reaches of Deshret. Then they retraced their
path back to Salem. Their visits to Fort Kanosh were the high point
of my month.
The beasts were not really dragons, but slow, dim-witted reptiles
called “rakashim,” with enormous pulling power in their four huge
legs. Each rakash measured over twenty feet in length from his tiny
head to his long, spiky tail, and his body was covered with large
bony plates. They had huge, bird-like beaks, and two horns sprouting
from their foreheads, and they were mostly brownish-green in color.
All in all, I thought the rakashim were about the splendidest
creatures I’d ever seen, and I often dreamed of being a
dragon-train driver and visiting far-off places with these huge
By the time I arrived breathless at the fort, the lading and unlading
of goods had already begun. Brother Elazar supervised the sale and
weighing of all the goods generated by the fort in the previous
month—cotton cloth, furniture, barrels, leather goods, and huge
burlap sacks of pakaat. Then he haggled for the items the fort needed
in return—raw cotton, paper, indigo, books, tools, farm implements,
seeds, molasses, kloh beans, and so on. Each of the United Order
settlements specialized in the production of certain goods that the
others lacked, and everything was paid for with the same paper Order
scrip, so everyone in the Order could benefit equally from one
I wandered up and down the train, watching the dragon skinners as
they fed and watered their beasts. Then I spied the man I was really
looking for—the toy peddler. Every month, he brought the most
amazing wooden toys to show and sell. This month, he was selling
something I’d never seen before—a wooden spool with a shaft that
held two feather-like wings projecting outwards.
The toy peddler knew how to work a crowd. He crouched down and waited
for us boys to assemble for his demonstration, then he scanned us for
potential marks. As he started his prattle, he glanced at me and
smiled. He knew me by sight as one of his most reliable customers.
“Now, gather ’round, boys, an’ watch the most amazin’ thing
you’ve never seen be-fore! This here’s a flyin’ machine! Y’see,
all I do is pull on this string here…”
The toy peddler pulled on a string wrapped around the shaft, and the
device magically spun its way up into the air about twenty feet, then
drifted back down.
I was immediately sold. “Pa, can I have one of those?” I said,
jumping up and down.
Apparently, Pa warn’t yet sold on the transaction. He scowled.
“Well, son, I dunno… I cain’t be spendin’ all my hard-earned
money on gewgaws fer you ever’ month. This thing looks just plain
frivolish t’me! What happened t’that gimcrack I bought y’ last
My face fell. “Pleeeze?” I begged. I could always tell when my pa
Pa grinned. “But on t’other hand, sometimes a boy needs a bit o’
frivolity!” He reached in his pocket, pulled out two credits’
worth of Order scrip, and paid the toy peddler.
“Here y’go, son,” said the man, handing me my very own flyin’
“Now, Ben,” Pa explained, “soon’s the train’s gone, it’s
back to work, right? The toy stays in th’ wagon ’til we’re done
fer th’ day.”
“Yes, Pa,” I replied. “I promise…an’ thanks.”
For the next quarter hour, I was the center of attention as I
demonstrated my flyin’ machine to the other boys, launching it
while they chased it. Then it was back to the pakaat fields.
Shortly before noon, Jacob called another break and we boys
congregated at the water barrel. I dropped my hoe and staggered over,
panting and sweaty, my head splitting from the heat.
As I took my turn at the tin cup, without thinking, I said, “Pa,
what possessed you to come t’ this godforsaken desert? Warn’t the
place you lived in good enough?”
My pa suddenly went grim and rigid-like, and I knew instantly that
I’d overstepped my bounds. He closed his eyes for a moment; then he
spoke real slow and distinct. “Son, we came here because we had no
other place to go! Them Akamerians left us no alternative, an’ we
scarcely escaped outta there with th’ clothes on our backs after
they killed the Seer! We hadda find an out-o’-the-way spot o’
ground what no one else wanted, an’ we found it right here, where
God wants us ta’ be! Now, if that ain’t ta’ your likin’, you
kin lump it!”
Still, I persisted, against my better judgment. “Well, maybe if
you’d stood up to those Akamerians, I might’a been born somewhere
else ’sides this good-for-nothin’ wasteland!” I immediately
regretted saying this.
The look Pa gave to me was a mixture of pain, sorrow, and
disappointment that I couldn’t even begin to fathom. Pa lowered his
head and shrugged his shoulders. Then he said, “Son, we’re not
out here in Deshret t’ grow pakaat, if that’s what y’ think.
We’re out here t’ grow Believers. I just hope someday you
unnerstand th’ difference.”
Jacob turned to the other boys and said softly, “C’mon, boys,
let’s mount up an’ go take our luncheon.”
On the way back to the fort, I showed off my new flyin’ machine to
the other boys in the wagon.
“See, all I gotta do is pull this string, an’ it flies up in the
air!” I exclaimed. “Someday, I’m gonna build me one big enough
to carry me outta this no-good valley!”
Cousin Gideon laughed and said, “Sure, Ben, you just flap your
arms hard enough, an’ I bet you’ll just sail all the way to
Cottonwoods!” The other boys laughed with him.
Levi suddenly grabbed at the flying machine.
“Hey, gimme that back!” I cried.
Levi just smiled at me and pulled hard on the string, and the wings
whirled madly and flew straight up into the air above the moving
buckboard. I watched in desperation as the wind caught my flyin’
machine and carried it outta sight.
Levi handed the empty spool back to me. “Sorry, Ben. Guess you
won’t be leavin’ th’ valley anytime soon,” he snickered.
Later that afternoon, I talked to Brother Timothy about my argument
with Pa. “All Pa cares about is dirt farming,” I said. “I hate
it. I wanna go to school an’ make somethin’ of my life, not waste
it away in this boring ol’ valley.”
“Benjamin, there’s something you ought to know about your
father,” Timothy said. “He’s a lot smarter than he lets on.
Truth be told, he probably doesn’t care much for dirt farming
either, but at least he doesn’t complain about it. Fact is, he was
a young engineer in the Akamerian Army before we were all driven out
here. Why, you give him a pile of sticks, he could build you a truss
arch bridge over any river faster’n you could bat an eye. In fact,
he helped lay out the plan for this fort we live in. You could learn
a thing or two from him, young Benjamin. And I think the older you
get, the wiser he’ll get in your eyes, too. You’ll see.”
My teacher paused. “Benjamin, I promise you, if you come good on
your grades, in a couple turns you’ll be a shoo-in for the academy.
If you want, I’ll put in a good word for you with Professor Orson.
But the rest is up to you. Don’t think badly of your pa. You have
no idea the sacrifices he’s been through for you and your family.”
My pa musta mentioned our argument in the fields to Ma and Aunt
Miriam just before they went to bed that evening. I know this ’cause
my ma came down hard on me ’bout it the next day. I figger their
conversation prob’ly went something like this, ’cause this is one
of those standard-issue conversations that parents are always having
about their kids:
Pa prob’ly said to Ma, “Honest to goodness, I get so tired of his
whinin’ an’ complainin’, it wears me out. When I was his age,
my pa never put up wi’ that for a minute from me. Why cain’t he
just do as he’s told wi’out all the grumblin’? Aaron isn’t
Ma most likely spoke up for me right about here. “Pa, Ben’s a
good boy, but he’s only thirteen. And maybe farming just doesn’t
agree with him. Now, be honest—you’re an engineer. Wouldn’t you
rather build buildings than dig around in the dirt?”
Aunt Miriam no doubt broke in here too. “That’s true, dear.
Actually, Ben’s quite a lot like you—why, you should see the line
drawings he makes in school, and he’s good at math, too. I’m sure
he’ll grow out of this childishness.” Aunt Miriam was the
“I dunno,” Pa musta grumbled. “Kids these days, they got no
idea what we suffered through justa make it here an’ survive. I
think we spoil ’em way too much. Leastways, I know I spoil ’im. I
spent two whole credits on ’at silly wingding toy o’ his today,
an’ it scarcely lasted two hours! Mebbe it’s my fault for not
bearin’ down on ’im harder.”
I’m sure my ma just smiled. “One thing I’ve learned about Ben,
Jacob, is that if you try to ‘bear down’ on him, he just pushes
back. He’s a stubborn little fellow, not unlike someone else I
“Thank you, my dear,” said Pa, kinda wrapping things up. “I
take that as a compliment—I think.”
Seventh-day was the Sabbath, the one day of the week when everyone
could rest from their labors. Ma and Aunt Miriam made sure that every
one of us children was scrubbed, combed, and decked out in our best
“Stop tugging at your cravat!” Ma whispered to me as we made the
short walk from the family shanty to the central building, now
outfitted as a house of worship. As we arrived, she stooped down and
pinched my cheeks. “I’m so proud of you, my little Benji!” she
exclaimed. “This is your special day!”
“Ma!” I complained. “Please don’t call me that!”
Aaron poked me in the ribs with his elbow, and I poked him back.
“Oh, Ben-ji,” Aaron taunted me.
Our older sister, Huldah, put her nose in the air and tried to ignore
us juveniles, and our younger sister, Naomi, followed Huldah’s
Ma continued. “Now, boys, I want you all on your best behavior
today. This is a very important day—now that he’s thirteen, Ben
is to become a Kohan, which means that he is now a man, responsible
for his own acts—although, judging from his behavior, I sometimes
have my doubts…” She said this just as I made a face at Aaron.
I turned to my father. “Pa, what’s this ‘tih-ro-noot’
ceremony you an’ I are goin’ to tonight? Aaron told me it’s
Pa laughed. “No, son, it’s not spooky. The sacred tironut
ceremony’s a rite o’ passage for ever’ young boy who wishes t’
become a Kohan. I survived it, an’ so did Aaron. You’ll find out
tonight what it’s all about.”
The tables in the central hall had all been cleared away, and the
benches were arranged in rows to face the Holy Stand at the east end
of the hall. Our clan all took our seats on the front row of benches,
and we waited for the meeting to start.
I glanced around uneasily. The thought of being singled out like this
in Sabbath worship made me feel kinda itchy. The women’s dresses
rustled round me like birds’ wings, and I sniffed the smell of
camphor and lilac in the hall. When will it start?
A few minutes later, the Grand Hegemon of Fort Kanosh, Brother
Elazar, took his seat at the head of the congregation. To the right
of Elazar sat his first wife, Ariella, who was the Grand Matron of
Fort Kanosh, and to the left sat Shifra, his second wife.
After the prayer, Elazar approached the Holy Stand and announced,
“This is a blessed day for us! Benjamin, son of Jacob, is now of
age to become a Kohan, a Believer in full standing. This evening, we
shall repair to the place of initiation, where we will perform the
sacred tironut ceremony for Benjamin, as well as for the boys
from the other forts who are of age. Let us now begin our service.”
Elazar began singing the sacred initiation prayer in the ancient
Edomic tongue. This was the first time I’d ever heard him chant
from the Sayings of the Seers in Edomic like this, so it sounded
kinda strange to me:
“Semah bahur beyaleduteyka witibeka libeka bime behurwoteka…”
It all sounded kinda pretty, but I couldn’t understand a word of
it. Fortunately, when Elazar was done chanting, he translated it all
“Be glad, young ma
n, and delight in thy cheerfulness of heart in the days of thy
Somehow it made me feel real special to have Elazar sing this prayer
just for me, and I decided that being singled out warn’t such a bad
thing after all.
After the worship service ended, the benches were cleared, the tables
were set up, and a feast was laid out to celebrate my joining the
Kohanite brotherhood. I was quickly engulfed by grownups who welcomed
me to the brotherhood, congratulated me on my rite of passage, and
pinched my cheeks till they hurt. Congratulations for what? I
han’t done nothing yet…
Shortly before sunset, me and my pa joined a procession making its
way out the front gate of the fort. Grand Hegemon Elazar led the
procession up Kanosh Canyon for several miles. Following Elazar were
me, my pa, and several other fathers with their sons, who’d
traveled all the way from Fort Goshen or Fort Manti to participate in
Each father held a torch to light the way. Higher and higher, we
threaded our way up the canyon, making several crossings of the Soreq
River until at last we approached the summit of the pass.
Breathless from the climb, I looked up the canyon, and to my
surprise, I saw the ruins of an ancient fortress looming before me.
At one time, it musta spanned the whole width of the pass, but now
only the granite left and right ends of the fortress hugged the walls
of the canyon. The middle part of the fortress had long since
disappeared, and the Soreq River now flowed through the gap. In the
twilight, I could see crumbled battlements, and the remnants of the
granite outer walls that had once protected this huge structure. The
torchlight threw weird shadows and patches of light on the ruins,
making them seem to stir from their long slumber.
What is this place?
As if in reply, Elazar said, “This is Mesuta, the last refuge of
the Kaduminim, the Ancient Ones of the Second Eon. Here they
made their last stand against the forces of evil. Here the Light of
Truth was snuffed out and the first Dark Period began. Here is where
the Sayings were revealed anew to the Seer in our day, and here the
Seer stood and declared, ‘This light shall never again be dimmed
until time shall end.’ That is why we gather here for the tironut.”
I listened to the evening breeze sighing down the canyon, and I
imagined I could hear the voices of ancient warriors standing guard
on the battlements. I looked as hard as I could, but they warn’t to
be seen naturally. The chilly breeze gave me the shivers.
Elazar motioned to the right. “Let us now proceed to the top.”
He led our company up a narrow, snakelike path to the top of the
right half of the fortress, and then out onto the ruined battlements.
When the whole company was assembled, he said, “Shemyah, the Seer
of the Third Eon, in his day led the Children of Light to this same
place and positioned them on these two battlements. Then he had them
chant the Law with its blessings and cursings—the cursings from the
left side, the blessings from the right—as a reminder of their
obligations to God. They observed God’s Law for a time, but
eventually, they fell into wickedness and were destroyed, just as in
all other Eons before and after them, up to our own day. Let us all
learn from their example to be more wise than they were! We shall now
begin the tironut.”
Elazar pointed at me and said, “Benjamin ben Jacob, stand forth and
be numbered with your clan!”
I stood and nervously approached the Grand Hegemon. He laid his right
hand on my head.
“Benjamin ben Jacob, do you now enter as a Believer into the United
Order of Hanoch, with all its rights and responsibilities, of your
own free will and choice?”
In a tremulous voice, I replied, “I do.”
Elazar pulled a tiny ornate silver horn out of his pocket, uncapped
it, and placed a small drop of pakaat oil on my head. Then he
continued. “Then, Benjamin ben Jacob, I hereby bestow upon you your
clan name, which none but your family can know.”
Elazar withdrew from his pocket a white stone, flat and oval in
shape, with a single word incised on it in the Deshret alphabet:
“This stone symbolizes your kinship to God, and this amanah
cord symbolizes the covenant which you are about to make with
Him. Benjamin ben Jacob, do you promise to wear this stone until
death, and to keep it sacred?”
Elazar hung the stone around my neck and slipped it under my shirt.
Then Pa whispered his clan name in my ear.
“Wear it near to your heart, Benjamin ben Jacob, as a reminder of
your allegiance to God and your clan,” Elazar said.
Pa looked at me and smiled, and a curious thought flashed through my
mind, almost as if Pa had spoken it aloud to me. It was a strange new
sensation for me, and I pondered the meaning of the words—My
son, now you are a member of my clan.
The next day as always, I awoke to the sound of Brother Thomas
playing the “Call to Rise” on his bugle. First-day… I
thought with a groan. Another week’s come an’ gone.