The Green Archer
©2007, Kier Salmon
This is a work of Fiction. It is based in part on the Alternate History World known as “Dies the Fire,” written and copyrighted by S.M. Stirling in 2004. The author agrees to abide by the Stirling Fan Fiction site disclaimer. This work is copyrighted by Kier Salmon in 2007, except for those parts derived from “Dies the Fire,” and its sequels, which are copyrighted by S. M. Stirling and used here by permission. All characters in this fiction are, in fact, fictional, and any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.
August 2003, Change Year 5
To all the homeless people who slip through so many cracks… and Curtis who begs on Leary Way and recognizes SM Stirling’s books at a glance.
The early morning sun cast long shadows over the meadow; hopping, sniffing, ambling shadows as the rabbit colony went about their morning browse.
Little Bunny Foo-Foo, hopping through the forest,
Snatching up the field mice and bopping’m on the head!
On the word, “bopping” Joshua’s hand whirled, the sling snapped taut and a rock knocked over a rabbit. Hare today, and Goon NOW! he thought triumphantly. The scattered rabbits froze, stretched up, sniffed, looked, and settled. Joshua chanted Little Bunny Foo-Foo, I don’t want you… in his head and slung another rock.
That patch of clover must smell nice, he thought. Hare today, and GOON!
Soon another rabbit hopped over to the clover. They’ll smell death and stop going there. I wish I had my crossbow.
Naw, there wouldn’t be enough bunny to clean and cook. And the sound would spook them. Rocks or slings are better. I’ll use the crossbow for deer.
The shadows were much shorter when the rabbits ambled back to their warren. Joshua stood, stretched, and dragged the five carcasses to his tree.
He liked hunting here, at Broadmoor GolfCourse, whatever a golfcourse was. The neighborhood had burned right after the Change, according to Archer, so there was lots of growing stuff around the gaping basements and crumbling streets to feed many critters.
The rabbits, Mam thought, were something called “flemish.” Joshua only cared that they were the biggest fattest rabbits around. They had lovely pelts for winter clothing, too. The ones at Green Lake were little and sweet and had floppy ears and the ones on U Dub were plain scrawny. The deer at U Dub were worth it, but not the rabbits.
He hung, gutted and drained the five animals. Must have all of seventy or eighty pounds here! he thought contentedly. They could dry some of the meat. He was burying the offal when a faint booming sound brought his head up. Quickly he loaded the carcasses onto the little red wagon and dragged it through the woods towards Lake Washington Blvd. He had an overlook hide; a bramble patch from where he could see both 520 and Montlake, littered with rusting cars and sparkling shards of glass. Often he watched a Boree family that mostly squatted at Portage Bay, just a little further west. He envied the children their cool-looking Mom and Dad and wishing he were one of six, instead of just having Kaely.
Mam’s always saying they’ll hurt me, to watch out and not let them ever see me. Archer calls them rats in the ruins, but they drum, he runs. Joshua frowned. They drum, he yells about God’s purpose. Then he sends us off and runs after them. So why can he go to them, but they’ll really hurt me and Kaely?
The drums boomed on, but faintly, and Joshua peered down the sunlit street. Where are the Boree? The drums boomed yesterday and two days ago, too. Something’s got them stirred up. I’d better tell Mam and Archer; they don’t hear as well as I do… Mam will hide us and Archer will go do things. What? And why can’t I go?
I think it’s coming from U Dub, he thought. But there’s some sound from Tukwila, too. And I saw smoke over Tacoma, yesterday.
Joshua sighed. If it was coming from U-Dub, he’d better not go home along Montlake. He’d have to take 520 to I-5 to 45th to get home to the squat by Green Lake. It would take several hours, dragging the rabbits behind him.
Joshua sniffed at the rabbits and hoped they wouldn’t attract the wild dog packs. The road was quiet in the midmorning sun. He trotted along 520, shading his eyes from the bright sun. Archer had told him that the first days post-change people had shoved and pushed the dead cars aside as they fled along these high roads and he made good time to the I-5 turnoff and then over the canal to the 45th street exit. 45th had trees and buildings to shade him and he trudged up and down the hills to Stone Way and then North to the small lake near where they were squatting.
He trotted into the backyard, letting go of the red wagon with a sigh of relief. It was better than having all that weight in a pack, but only just and he flapped his wrists. Kaely was on watch-duty, up in the spreading tree. She waved when he met her eyes.
Mam was in the sunny kitchen, cutting out green suede. Joshua recognized the roll he’d found. Archer’s tunic had torn on barbed wire and was getting ragged. He pointed out the window at the wagon. “Good, Joshua. Five! That’s wonderful. Skin them, please, and start a stew of the legs. I’ll start the haunches and breasts drying soon. Maybe I’ll pickle them in brine…”
Joshua skinned them on the porch and jointed them. He took the legs over to the stewpot, waiting on the backyard grill.
Running water was something they would have again when the US Army and the Marines rescued them; “God willing!” Meanwhile, there were two buckets of water he’d brought in last night and Archer had brought another two up from the lake earlier. He poured water into the pot from the settled bucket and sloshed his arms and hands clean from the unsettled bucket. He added three packets of freeze dried vegetable soup and some very old broth crystals to the pot. Mam came out to check and sniffed at the jar and sighed. “I think it’s ok, but boil it well.”
Joshua nodded and went out to settle the pot back on the grill. He lit the fire on the third try. “Hey, Kaely!”
She popped her head out of the blind. “Yeah?”
“Seen any of the Boree?”
“Nope. I heard the drums earlier. I heard them yesterday, too.”
“Yeah, me too. I’ll take the pelts into the hide and you go find fresh greens for the stew. But I got to tell Archer about the Boree first.”
The girl dropped from the hide. “He’s gone; said he’d be back. Maybe we can get him to take us downtown to play on the zip-web!”
“Not if the Boree are roused. They’ll make us hide. ‘It’s so dangerous!’” He mimicked his mother’s voice. “Besides, Mam doesn’t like us playing on the zip-wires.”
“Archer lets us!”
Joshua shook his head and followed Kaely back to the kitchen. Mam looked up from the welter of yellowing pattern paper and snips of cloth. “What?”
“Mam, the Borees been drumming for a few days; Archer needs to know.”
Joshua spun. It’s no good! I never hear him coming!
Joshua scowled, looking up at the Green Archer. “U-Dub and maybe Tukwila or the Kingdome.” I’m growing! I’ll be as tall as he is, someday. I ain’t as strong, yet, but I’m sneaky.
“I’ll check it out; rats in the ruins getting feisty. Susan, prep for a move. Joshua, what you got to do?”
Moving, AGAIN! Why do we always run from them? They’re happy people! Fun! And he calls them rats. He scowled harder. “I want to come with you. I can help!”
Archer nodded, his eyes glowing. “Yes, you are ready to help me fight the evil that infests the city… soon.”
“No, Zeke! He’s still too young!”
“He isn’t, Susan! He is old enough to know, to understand and to ask. I will teach him and he won’t be taken like his father was. He will make the hosts in heaven proud, proud of such a son.”
Joshua found himself gulping. What did I just get into? Mam’s mad and unhappy! No! Archer says I am ready, and I am!
“Today your job is to help Susan and Kaely get ready. Pack everything. We’ll go to Carkeek Park for the next squat. There’s water there. Hide everything as we always do, take what we can. We’ll be back!” Archer’s voice changed, it always did when he said that and Mam winced, as always. “For the rest of the stuff, Susan,” he said, slanting a quick look at her.
Joshua slid a glance his mother’s way. She looked resigned and didn’t protest again.
Archer nodded. “Good. I got to scout. A wriggle in enemy territory is more dangerous with two than one. First thing I’ll need to teach you! Once I know what’s what, I’ll need you to go with Susan and Kaely or come with me. Halleluia, God and his Angels. I’ll keep this city for God and Country! I will!”
Joshua’s mouth hung open as Archer left. “Work on those rabbit skins for now, please, Joshua,” said Mam, picking up the haunches and breasts.
Joshua picked up the pelts. “Keep an eye on the stew,” he ordered Kaely. “Pick dandelion leaves and chard or kale to go in it, too; it’ll help.”
He felt better when his sister made a face at him. I can tell Kaely what to do, and Mam doesn’t get mad at me except when I talk rough… but I want friends MY age! Why are we enemies with them? I want to play with Jumps and Pretty Hair! Joshua thought about the Boree kids he’d named while spying on them.
A blunt knife, nails and board and string went up into the hide with him. He stretched each pelt and scrapped it carefully, salted and rolled it as he finished, the fat collected in a glass jar. The rhythm controlled his watching and tracking. All he saw were animals, all he heard was the occasional boom of the Boree’s oil drums.
Sometimes he’d hear the Boree’s drumming and yelling dances while hiding with Mam and Kaely. Archer would call on the Lord and leave; not returning for hours. What does he do? Does he join them? He doesn’t file his teeth though; Jumps and Pretty Hair have. The hides were done as far as they could be done, now and the sunlight slanted from the west. Joshua sat back and scraped the dull knife across one of his teeth. The knife burst from his hand and his head rang. When his tears cleared, Mam’s head was in the hide, her face red, tears tracking her sun-burnt cheeks. She pointed to the house and he dropped out and ran in; she followed with the tanning board, pelts and jar.
Archer was there, looking grim, and Kaely was strapping up her duffle. Mam’s and Archer’s were on the floor.
“Joshua was trying to file his teeth!”
Joshua opened his mouth, but Mam’s expression frightened him and the throbbing smack scared him. Mam never hit him.
“What!” Archer’s incandescent anger blazed in a way Joshua had never seen before. What’s wrong? Just because I tried to…
“There is only one reason people file their teeth; to belong to the eaters of men, the rats in the ruins! The Boree!”
Mam’s, “No, Zeke! Not in front of the children…” was drowned out by Archer’s powerful voice.
“Huh? The Boree? Come on!” Joshua gaped at Archer and turned and pounced on Kaely, gnawing on her arm… “Like eating Kaely?” His sister yelled and pulled away. Archer’s hand fell on his flaming cheek with an almighty crack! Mam pulled Kaely into her arms, both crying. Joshua shied from the pain, inside and outside. “You’re not serious!”
They were. Cold froze his stomach. The Boree with their cool drumming and parties and six kids, ate people… Joshua ran out of the room, into the door jamb. He swerved, hardly feeling the additional pain. His stomach didn’t feel right, his chest, his head! He wanted friends; people his age; like Pretty Hair who laughed and laughed and Jumps who ran and jumped over every bit of rubble in the road.
His things were thrown all over the back room. He scooped them up, an odd floaty feeling making him clumsy. His mother’s voice echoed in his memory, “They’ll hurt you if you get near them and I’ll never see you again!”
Jumps filed his teeth last year, and Pretty Hair just did it a few months ago. They eat people! Me! They’d eat me! His stomach did a slow roll and sparks danced before his eyes. I won’t, I won’t, I won’t! He breathed desperately, controlling the heaving as he pulled the straps tight on the duffle and slung it up.
“Husky,” said Archer as he walked back into the kitchen. “They’ve taken prisoners from a train. It’s not a locomotive; it’s a pedal pusher. But they are disciplined; in uniform. It must be the Marines finally coming to take over; be it God’s will we stood firm!
“They don’t know where their missing people are. We’ll go get the prisoners out and return them.”
They left the house in a flood of late afternoon sunshine. Archer and Mam pushed bikes with trailers. Josh had the red wagon to pull. Kaely had enough weight with her duffle on her back. The pot of rabbit stew was strapped on one trailer and the brine bucket on the other and Joshua nodded. No wasted food. His stomach did another slow roll. He’s taking us with him. He told us what he’s doing; he’s never done that before.
❀ ❁ ❀
King Street Station was chaos. Top notch railroad peddlers from the Hood River and Tillamook rail cargo gondolas were off-loading the flatbed cars. Men-at-arms lined up and majordomos mustered their crews as knights wheeled their horses round and clattered off along the rough paved streets. Peasants, varlets, sutlers, engineers, and soldiers all swirled around Squire Buzz as he counted one of the lines. His father had put him in charge of the noncombatants. For the second time he came up short. This time he had names for the missing. He found Roger Owens, and with all the authority of his new title of Squire and dignity of his seventeen years said, “Goodman Owens, we’re short three hands. Well, you are; George, Mike and Mike’s wife, Julie. Where are they, and why hadn’t you reported it?”
“They’ve run, little lordling,” sneered Owens, “Ran during our lunch break and briefing. You can just run and play somewhere else, too. I’ve a job to do and I don’t need a snotty brat telling me how.”
Buzz flushed angrily and pinched his lips. Owens is always trying to one-up me! I don’t understand. Nothing will make him the son of my father, so why does he keep trying to show me up with him?
The chaos slowly became columns of men and women marching down the cracked streets into the Kingdome.
Buzz marched by his people. One of the women grabbed his arm. It was… Sally, George’s wife. She’s our laundress-in-chief.
“Lord Buzz, I heard that Owens. My George wouldn’t run. We’ve served your family all the years since the Change and been good workers…!”
One of the crossbow men yelled, “Buzz! Com’on, kid, get them in, we can’t sleep ‘till the tents go up.”
“That’s Sir Buzz to you!” he snapped, still sore. A familiar pinched lip feeling crept over his face. “And my father told me to care for our people!” He barely suppressed the “So there!”
He met the angry eyes and matched the anger with his own. For two seconds he could feel the man’s hand track towards his face; Jordan Grieves, Wellford Orchards, east slope. He didn’t move a muscle when he swung; the hand slapped his shoulder. “Kid, you need to learn to keep a civil tongue in your head. If you get in the way of the machinery, you’ll get munched. You’ll be a good Lord someday. But now, you’re one right little prick, and it riles us up.
“Take the wench and talk to your father. The Lord’s tents are left.” He pushed them at the cavernous opening. Buzz grabbed Sally by the upper arm, and hustled her along.
When they came out of the passage it was into bright afternoon sunlight. Startled, he looked up; the stadium had been roofed. “Impressive, huh?” asked Grieves. “One of those planes came right down and shaved off half the roof. Lucky for us or we’d be chopping up the sidewalks.”
Buzz looked around. The command tent next to the goal posts had guy lines wrapped around the posts and a pile of rubble. He looked down at the dirty grass and kicked it. “What is this?”
“Astroturf,” said Sally. “Indoor stadiums all had it. It’s put on top of artificial fill and I bet tent stakes won’t hold.”
“You got it, Mistress,” said Grieves. He steered Buzz through the thronging chaos to Odell’s pavilion where Conrad Renfrew, Count Odell and five other Lords were yelling. Buzz pushed Sally to the side. Piotr Stavarov was doing most of the yelling; he wanted to have part of Seattle for his own. Buzz waited quietly as varlets tried to set up more tables and chairs and the Lords and their hand-waving and pacing got in their way.
“Out, out, out!” roared Odell. Buzz grabbed Sally and pushed her to the end of the line of men backing away from the furious Count of Odell. “Not you, Buzz, and not your whelp, either. Squire Buzz, what do you mean bringing a wench in here?”
Buzz froze and his father gave him a long look. “Answer the Count, son.”
Renfrew scowled at Piotr Stavarov who was lingering, and made an abrupt gesture. His crossbowmen closed the tent entrance. Buzz could hear Piotr bluster as they herded him away.
“What is it, Buzz? We’re unloading, and planning and everybody’s hungry and wants a hot dinner… Although, with the bones we found, maybe not everybody is ready for dinner.”
Buzz forced a sudden stammer away as he answered his irate overlord. “It’s Sally’s husband and two others. They’re gone. Owens thinks they ran. But George wouldn’t run. He and Sally have five kids back home. They don’t have any reason to run.” Buzz didn’t add, because we don’t put iron collars on our people! That was understood.
Odell’s pale eyes snapped to the shrinking woman. “Logic, good! Your name is Sally?”
She curtsied, tongue-tied and beet red.
“Speak, speak! I can’t do anything until I know what happened!”
“Lord,” she stuttered, “it was when we stopped at Tukwila to get everything in order and hear what you had to say and have lunch. That other Lord, the one just left, he dropped stuff, wet clothes over on an old train. It was laundry… some of them Lords didn’t bring a laundry maid, and George and Mike, they was-were helping me… That Lord Piotr, he left a pile of stuff a-drying away from where we was. Well, he hit us with a whip when we didn’t pick up his stuff back in Centralia. So Michael and George went to get the stuff and Julie went after them when the horn blew. I telled… told that Mr. Owens, but he wouldn’t stop and wouldn’t tell anybody. They didn’t catch up, and we wouldn’t have run, none of us!”
“I’ll just have a little word with Piotr about making free with his whip on my people. And I guess it’s time Owens had another little reminder that your gratitude isn’t eternal and work is. He should have stopped the whole train for them.” Buzz looked over at his father and got a small nod. It was balm to his smarting soul.
Odell pushed pins into his map and cursed angrily. “We heard those drums this morning in Tacoma, and then just as we pulled into Tukwila and now north of here. And we found those bones. We buried them, but they were fresh.
“They’re rats in this field, and Piotr fed them, damn his soul. Was it bait? What did he think to catch? Or maybe he thought to prime them to attack us?
“Sally, I need you to buck up or we’ll have a panic. We’ll look for them. I’ll send a crossbow squad back to Tukwila with a lancer. We’ll see what they find. Meanwhile tell the rest that Count Odell spoke to you and he’s taking care of it. Can you hang in there and do that?”
Sally nodded, rubbing her tear-wet cheeks and sniffed. Renfrew snapped an order and Grieves escorted her out. Conrad scowled at the map, the scars on his cheek writhing. “Delays! Akers! Good head on that boy of yours.” He shot a glance at Buzz…. “You need some polish on how to handle great men, and more for the little man. In the end, what matters is getting the job done. Scat!”
❀ ❁ ❀
It was dark by the time they got to Husky Stadium at the edge of the deserted campus. Montlake Blvd. was like many of the roads in Seattle; most of the stopped cars were on one side of the road, and the other was relatively clear.
Husky was where Archer had taught him to shoot a crossbow. It was just this last year he’d been strong enough to cock it on his own. They came to go fishing off the docks just behind the stadium’s open U on Lake Washington. He and Kaely loved to play with the bronze husky out front, a dog that was safe… Tonight they only got a quick swipe at Husky’s ears. The lurid light of flickering flames lit up the odd goose-necked bleachers.
“No sentries!” exclaimed Archer in a muted voice. “God is with us indeed, this night!”
Mam sighed. “I remember,” she said on a breath of voice, “Going to games and the whole stadium lit up, bright as day, and patting the Husky statue.”
“Gone,” said Archer roughly. “All gone, but the dog. But it’ll come back now the Marines are here! I’ve protected this city. They’ll honor that. I stood by my salt.”
Joshua saw a sudden quirk of his mother’s mouth as she said, “Yes, Sheriff.”
Mam doesn’t believe the US Army and the Marines are coming to rescue us. Suddenly all sorts of pieces fell into place, making a very different pattern from the one he knew. Who are those men who’ve come? What are we getting in to? He shivered, and… Joshua paused on the edge of words, of understanding, What is wrong with Archer?
Archer brooded. “The Boree are confident; they don’t have guards posted; everybody is inside eating. Nobody wants to miss out on the fresh meat.” Joshua gagged and Kaely quietly spit into a drain. A second later she vomited. She’s bad. Did she have a Boree family, too, that she spied on and made up stories of friendship?
“They’ve got prisoners. OK, I’ll rescue their enlisteds and introduce myself at the same time. I’m going in and getting them out. Susan, you and Kaely take them back to King St. Station. Then go to the Daily Planet and stay there. We haven’t used it for a year; it should be safe. Maybe we won’t be going to Carkeek Park, after all. Joshua and I’ll catch up later.”
Mam went to Kaely and said, “Get them out and we’ll take them over to their people. Joshua…”
“No. Joshua stays. He became a man today and I’ll make him a deputy and we’ll fight the looters together as warriors of God.”
Joshua watched them. The moon was just rising and the light wasn’t very good. But bodies say a lot. Mam wanted to say “No.” Instead she nodded and took Kaely’s hand. Archer focused on the stadium. “I’ll bring them out and send them around to the canal bridge. Wait there, get them over the bridge. Take 520 to I-5 and go down to King St. Station, Susan. Get them back to their people. I’ll go talk to the commander tomorrow. The rats are my priority.
“Joshua and I will be along later.”
Mam and Kaely pushed the bikes across the parking lot to the bridge. Archer pulled Joshua into the moonlight, lifting his right hand. “Do you swear to solemnly uphold the combined charters of the Sea-Tac region, fight evildoers and protect the city until the return of the legitimate government of Washington State and the United States of America, so help you God?”
There was only one possible answer: “Yes.”
“You are now a deputy of King County, Washington’s Sheriff department and as such will aid and assist the duly appointed sheriffs in their duties. Com’on.”
Joshua followed the man in green as he walked quietly around the stadium towards the open mouth of the U. The only sound was the water lapping the nearby shore. “They always feast here. When it’s one of their own I figure, let rats eat rats. When it’s some poor schmuck of a looter, I’ll try to kill him first. Sometimes it’s a farmer or people running from the Haida up north. Those I get out and send on their way. I’ve got my best crossbows hidden in this here car.
“I want to talk to that commanding officer. What has happened in these years we’ve been cut off? Why has God tested us like this?”
Archer passed three crossbows to him and pulled out three more and bags of bolts. “Let’s scout.” He led the way, sure and quick, his green tights silent as he walked, unlike Joshua’s looser pants rustling in the quiet night. The tight green tunic didn’t catch on the car mirrors and open doors like Joshua’s looser shirt did. Archer paused and checked the field carefully from the dark side of the open U. The fences and green plastic cloth had been pulled away by the Boree over the years. From this angle the rearing roofs looked like striking cobras from one of Joshua’s books. Boree were crowded in the center, pounding oil drums, painting each other and poking kitchen knife spears at a man sagging in ropes tied around several goal net structures. Gagged and tied, two more prisoners cringed at the foot of the game board.
“Raped! The bastards!” hissed Archer, creeping forward. Joshua scrambled to keep up. Archer cut the ropes, signing for silence and shook hands. “Sheriff Zeke Walter of the Greater Seattle-Tacoma area. Let’s get you out, first. I’ll try to get the other guy out, later.”
The woman was yanking her skirts down, covering cut and bloodstained legs. Joshua wondered what “rape” was, but he wasn’t going to ask in the face of Archer’s anger. “That’s Mike, my husband… he fought them when they… they…”
Archer nodded and pointed her to the open end. “It’s a rotten world and we need to keep fighting the good fight. I’ll come back for Mike if I can. But I’ll lose you two if I do it now.”
Wow, these two act like Kaely. Archer says, “Do,” and they do. Joshua shook his head and trotted after them. The Boree never noticed their flight. He asked Archer, who snorted. “Ruined their night vision with those fires.”
He stopped and pointed, “Susan and her girl are down there; Susan and Kaely, under that sign, right by the bridge. They’ll take you to your camp.”
The man shook hands with Archer, “George. When you’re done, come find us. We’ll give you a spot.”
They trotted off. Archer spanned his crossbows and Joshua copied him. They ran to the stadium and climbed the bank and vaulted into the bleachers. Archer sent Joshua down the way… “make them think they’re dozens of men, OK?”
Methodically Archer shot. Joshua watched the first Boree die, a bolt tearing a ragged hole in his neck; then another. Joshua was a fair shot, but he couldn’t shoot! Pretty Hair, she’s right there, by the guy… A deep silence entered Joshua’s head as the girl pulled the sticks holding her long black hair up, stabbed into Mike’s mouth with the thin bodkins; yanked back and left-handed sliced off Mike’s tongue. She put the bodkin into the fire and began to roast it. Jumps tried to take it from her and Joshua fired once, snatched up the next bow and fired again. Archer had taught him well. Both children fell. He fired the next bolt at a man slicing off a chunk of leg and then hastily spanned the crossbows again.
He ran down the steps and to the far end of the U; his brain buzzing. Archer followed him. The Boree turned, shaking their spears, screaming, looking for their enemy with fire-dazzled eyes. Twelve, fifteen shots… Joshua lost count as he ran back and forth.
One man with a bolt through his leg pushed at one of the drums, tilted it and hammered at the lid. Oil gushed out, soaking the clothes, blankets, Astroturf and lapping at one of the bonfires. The turf didn’t burn, but the cloth and wood burned brighter; the light flickering madly.
A clear sound cut through the chaos. Two men on horses rode forward, followed by footmen marching with long poles. Archer screamed in delight, madly shooting through the hellish light. The two mounted men rode forward, slashing with their… swords and shields, like the old books Mam reads. They weren’t having it all their way. The Boree fought like the trapped rats they were, their shrill cries echoing in the u-shaped stadium. One of the swordsmen was ripped off his horse.
Joshua stopped shooting; he couldn’t do it safely anymore. Archer ran past, pulling him. “Move, move, move!”
They ran and Joshua heard the horn again. “Haro, Haro! Two more, get them!” Archer jumped and Joshua followed, the hissing of the bolts passing near. The jump into the dark tumbled them near the opening. Archer pulled him up and they fled north and west through the devastated metropolis.
❀ ❁ ❀
Buzz dabbed his aching eyes with a cold wet cloth. Even with anesthesia, that was a long and hard night. I never knew that it could get too deep and kill the patient. The chirurgeons had worked on his father until early morning. Buzz had held his father’s hand through the night; telling the anesthesiologist every time his Dad’s grip came back.
Someone put a mug of ale in his hand. He started and sighed. Julie, Sally and the others from last night. He’d not been at the fight in the Husky stadium. He’d been escorting the women back and listening to their stories.
“How’s your father, Sir Buzz?” asked the woman in pants.
“Um, Susan, isn’t it?” She bobbed awkwardly. “Well, we hope he’ll live, but his foot was torn to pieces and he took a crossbow bolt through his knee. Doc says Dad could still die of tetanus. The knife was filthy; we had to burn his foot.”
Susan patted his arm. “I’m sorry. Zeke tries so hard. He’s the last sheriff. He tries to keep looters and Boree away. I was supposed to go to another hide and wait for him… but…” she left the sentence dangling.
“Do you know how many eaters there are?”
“What you are calling the Bory? Eaters of man-flesh.”
Susan shook her head. “Oh! No, I stayed well away. Zeke would spy on them and clean out their larder when he could. We never knew how many; they move around a lot.”
Buzz sighed and rubbed his head. “Julie, I’m sorry. We found Mike and he was alive; just barely. Those people, the… Boree?”
Susan sighed. “A name from an old book; the corroboree were cannibals.”
Buzz grimaced. “Julie, they were eating him alive. He was missing his tongue, all the right hand fingers, pieces of muscle from his arm and leg…” he hesitated and then said, “his privates…”
Julie caught her breath, tears dripping down her pasty cheeks. “He asked… for grace?”
“Well… he received both grace and absolution. I’m sorry. He could not have survived.”
Susan and Sally led the quietly crying woman away. The child stayed, looking at him. Buzz sat on the uncomfortable artificial grass. “What’s your name? I didn’t get it the first time.”
As Buzz asked the usual questions he listened for his father’s voice. The child seemed older than her eight years. “Can my brother and Archer come live with us?” she asked abruptly.
“Your Dad got Julie and George out and went back for Michael. Yeah, I’ll demand you all get good places at our estate.”
Kaely hesitated and looked over Buzz’s shoulder. “He’s not my Dad… he’s not Mam’s man. Dad died the night it all changed, and Archer tried to save him. He kind’a took us over. Uh…
“Archer has crossbows. The Boree don’t use them; they don’t know how. He must have shot your father on accident. Do you still want us?”
Buzz gasped, anger rushing over him and then caught himself. “Dark, and fire flickering… Footman Jarvis told me it was hell on earth. Your father probably didn’t mean to hit my Dad.”
Kaely nodded, hesitated and said, “But he’ll mean to hit the next ones.”
“What do you mean?”
“He’s the sheriff, the last sheriff.” she said, echoing her mother’s words. Buzz suddenly looked at her, hearing Susan’s message. “He’s protecting Seattle until the US Army comes to rescue us, God willing.”
Buzz heard an echo of Archer’s voice in the girl’s sudden mimicked quote. He also remembered Bishop Leo’s sanctimonious voice and shuddered.
“He doesn’t allow looters to steal or break things. He thought you were the Marines, but he isn’t going to think that any more. You’re looting downtown and sending gangs to collect all kinds of things.” The little girl stood before him, three foot four of worried concentration. “Can you stop him from hurting your men?”
“I can try, Kaely, I can try.” He gave her the mug. “I’ll be by to see your mother soon.” And he took off for Count Odell’s tent.
❀ ❁ ❀
In the morning Joshua and Archer made their way to the downtown squat at the Post-Intelligencer Building with the big planet and flame sign on top of it. There was no sign Mam and Kaely had ever come. Archer searched the rooms frantically. “No, Susan, don’t fight God, don’t fight me!” he yelled. Joshua backed quietly away. Archer turned and pointed at him. “You wait here for them! We mustn’t loose them! If those Marines kept them, then they aren’t Marines! I’m going to scout. You stay here and safe Deputy! If I fail, you are the new Sheriff!”
Joshua gasped as Archer left and began to run up Denny Way. He chased after him, but Archer didn’t seem to see or hear him.
Joshua knew where Archer would go. His zipwires covered all of downtown in a web. The hub of his web was the 50 story Safeco Plaza on 4th and Madison. On peaceful days Joshua and Kaely would play on them, shrieking in terror and delight as they slid up and down over the streets and raced up stairs in each building to the next station.
Rather than try to follow him, Joshua trotted along Alaskan Way on the water front. It was nearly an hour later when he reached Madison and 4th. He climbed up and up and up to the 40th floor where ten of the nearly hundred wires on the building went out and around, high above downtown Seattle. From this eyrie he could see the invaders spread through Seattle.
There were gangs of men carting away things, so many things… Some Joshua didn’t even have a name for. Pedal trains were already heading south from King St. Station with loads of rebar, wood and cement. Archer came up behind him, panting harshly, his eyes wide, his face red with anger, tangled beard and hair frothing wildly about his face.
“They’re looters, godless looters! And I rescued them! I am the Green Archer! I will defend the city! I should have let the Boree eat them piece by bloody piece!”
“Even the woman?” asked Joshua.
Archer turned on him, his dark eyes boring into Joshua’s. “I have a sacred charge! God gave me the charge when I tried to save your father! He led me to your mother before he died, both of us wounded. She nursed me and God saved me. In those three weeks, three weeks, the city fell apart and all the policemen and sheriffs died! I’m the last one; your father gave me his star and swore me in as he died!
“You and Kaely and Susan are my charges… And I am Susan’s. When Babylon fell we stayed; stayed to protect her until the hosts of God rescued us!”
Joshua’s world had fallen the night before. But he still protested… “I thought we were waiting for the Marines and the US Army! So we could have hot and cold running water and food and schools again!”
“And they are God’s messengers of salvation; and they haven’t come, yet!
“I will smite the ungodly looters; I will! Go find Susan and Kaely! Likely the looters took them prisoner. Bring them out - to Carkeek. You’ll be safe while I run these looters out, out, OUT!”
And Archer grabbed the block and tackle hanging on the zip-wire and threw himself into space. As Archer zoomed away, Joshua saw movement below. Near the methodical looters were crossbowmen on bikes reading maps and signaling. One yelled into a metal thing.
“Archer! Zeke Walter, Sheriff of the greater Seattle-Tacoma area, guardian of fallen Babylon. Come join us. You have done us a great service and we offer you one in return. The US is dead, the Army has vanished and the Marines are only a memory. In Portland we are struggling. We need Seattle’s abandoned riches to live.
“Zeke Walter, come join us!”
Joshua held tight to a guy line, swinging out of the window, searching for Archer. A crunch in the glass behind him startled him and his feet slipped. A large hand grabbed him by the belt and hauled him up. “Easy, Joshua. You are Joshua, aren’t you?” The heavy man pulled his lip away from his teeth for a quick check.
Joshua looked up at the rugged man. He was wearing mail and a tabard. He had a crossbow and a helmet. The brown eyes were sympathetic in the craggy face.
“Kaely told us you and the Green Archer would probably be here. I’m Jordan Grieves, one of Brian Akers’ men-at-arms. His son Buzz wants you to come to us, too.”
“You’re going to kill him, aren’t you?” blurted out Joshua.
He’s sad. He’s going to say ‘yes.’
“I’m sorry, Joshua. I know he’s not your Dad, but you’ve thought of him like that for five years. And he’s crazy. If he’ll come with us to Portland maybe we can save him. Mistress Susan, your Mom, doesn’t think he’ll come.”
Joshua looked over downtown Seattle and sniffed. “He went mad when your people started to loot here. But, he always was mad, wasn’t he?”
Grieves nodded. “Mistress Susan told us that he was a homeless man her husband helped sometimes. He brought Robert’s body home and then made her stay. Kaely wasn’t quite three and you were only eight; she couldn’t get out of Seattle alone, and he did keep you safe and fed.”
“Something happened to him last night; I’ve never seen him kill before, or act… act…”
“Well, maybe the Boree deserve to die, but those poor guys down there, simple folk following orders don’t deserve to die. Archer’ll kill them, not the Count in the command tent.” Grieves waited a minute and said, “You coming?”
Joshua turned away; eyes swimming. He thought he saw a flash of green swing down the street, but he wasn’t sure.
“When you’re ready, come looking for the Akers’ or me, Jordan Grieves; we’ll take you in.” The heavily booted feet crunched the shattered glass and Joshua was alone, searching the web for signs of the Green Archer.
❀ ❁ ❀
It’s been all yesterday and last night and it’s the afternoon again. I’m thirsty and hungry. Where’s Archer? Joshua wavered back and forth. He’d hunted the web yesterday; caught glimpses of green, but Archer wouldn’t come when he yelled, his voice thinning to nothing in the huge empty spaces of downtown Seattle. Every few hours one of the crossbowmen would also yell for Archer but he never answered. Five men were down, dead or wounded by nightfall. The protectorate men-at-arms had been removing all the zip wires they could find. Joshua thought they had about a third of them down. And I’m right, the US is dead. Mam knew, but Archer couldn’t accept it, so she had to wait until Kaely and I were big enough to go, and now it’s too late.
We never had anywhere to go, even if Archer wanted. We’re as much rats in the ruins as the Boree. The thought was bitter.
“Look out! Here he comes!”
The yells and shouts made Joshua lean forward, well out of the window. “Oh, no!”
A load of netted bricks swung over the street on one of the wires and tumbled onto the men below. The flat snap of crossbows made Joshua yank back. Cautiously he poked his head out, looking at the open windows of the web. The wires were hard to see, especially in the late afternoon glare… but…
“No!” he yelled. He could see Archer clearly, running through the building down the block. He launched himself into the air, grabbed the zip-wire handle and flew across space, twisting and swinging erratically. But the crossbowmen had a bead on him, now. The bolts shot upwards, hard and the green figure jerked, twisted, fell.
Joshua turned violently, sliding on the glass shards. A scream tore from his throat. He ran stumbling and sliding, through the shadowed cubicles, out the “EXIT” door and down flight after flight of stairs, bouncing off walls and bannisters, his ragged voice echoing up and down the concrete stairwell. He ran, and ran, and ran — out of ruined Seattle, over the 15th street bridge north to the squat by Green Lake. It was empty. They had cleaned up when they went to Husky Stadium. All his treasures and toys, his dreams and hopes had vanished like smoke on the wind.
❀ ❁ ❀
Joshua shadowed the camp and the looters; he found the remnants of the Boree and shadowed them. He watched them day and night, and didn’t like them. Dirty, filthy creatures… and mean and ugly, and… they beat each other up. I wish Mam and Archer had told me the truth, maybe this wouldn’t hurt so much!
After a while he started to watch the camp at the Safeco Field only. He didn’t want to join the Portlanders who’d killed Archer, but… Mam and Kaely are ok, living in Lord Brian Akers camp.
There’s that Mr. Grieves. I guess they’re all going tomorrow. Joshua buried his head in his arms. Oh, Archer! What do I do now? I wanted people — sisters, brothers, lots of friends, like in the books…
He looked down. Mam was there, in the bustling camp. And that was the real problem. That’s too many people, down there.
Heavy footsteps came close and he rolled over. Jordan Grieves sat by him. “We’re leaving. You coming, Joshua? Your Mam’s worried, She thinks you might try to be the Green Archer, too.”
“No.” Joshua rolled back. “Archer was crazy. I’m not. I don’t know what to do. There’s too many people down there.” Mr. Grieves nodded.
“Funny, that. I grew up in Portland; lots a’ people all the time; 3/4 of a million of them. But I’ve lived at Wellford Orchards for four years now and this is too many people for me. I get snappish.
“Your Mom and Kaely do, too. Lord Brian’s going to take them to Countess Valetine, Count Odell’s wife. She’s always looking for women who are good at special things. Your Mom’s a damned good nurse, and Kaely’s sharp as a tack. She’ll go to school and learn and become a goodwife at least; maybe even a midwife. Count Odell’s a good count to serve.”
Joshua nodded. Mam and Kaely were taken care of. “What, what did you do…” he swallowed, “What did you do with Archer’s body?”
“Count Odell and Baron Akers buried it by the sea. Said a real nice piece over it about how the change sent people mad, but he’d tried to save Mike and did save George and Julie.”
“What would you like to do?” asked Mr. Grieves after a respectful silence.
What? “I’d like to live in the woods and hunt. I’d like to protect people, like Archer used to do. Can I do that and not have to be with a lot of people?”
Mr. Grieves nodded and stood, reaching a companionable hand down. “Sure. You can come live with me and train to be a forester. There’s a station just a few miles down the road from Wellford.”
Joshua took the hand and yanked himself up and looked down at the boiling flurry of the camp. OK, deep breath. You can stand it for a few days.
“Your Mom’s got your duffle, too.” said Mr. Grieves prosaically.
❀ ❁ ❀ finis ❀ ❁ ❀
❀ ❁ ❀ coda ❀ ❁ ❀
I wrote Archer in early 2007 before moving from Portland to Seattle. I met Curtis in Seattle in late 2009 after SMS came to Seattle in late August.
At the intersection of Leary Way and NW 15th Ave, a homeless man was holding a sign that said, “Free to good home.” and “Bathroom trained.” The other side said, “The government got economic incentives, why didn't I get one?”
I rolled down the window and told him I was very sorry I didn't have an economic incentive for him. He took it in good humor and joked to me that when he had achieved political success he'd make sure I got an incentive.
As I was saying this my boyfriend picked up Scourge of God from where it had fallen on the floor and started to leaf through it. It caught the guy's eyes and he leaned forward and exclaimed… “That guy's the BEST! I've read all that trilogy! He's so great, I've been reading everything I can get!”
Startled doesn't begin to describe my feelings, and I assured him I'd let the author know, since I was on a list that the author read. He grabbed my hand and planted a very whiskery kiss on the back of it and waved us off as the car behind got impatient.
So, to be clear, Zeke Walters is not modeled on Curtis to whom this is dedicated. Curtis is a lot more together than Zeke. But he is a homeless person. This is a problem for which I have no solution or ideas, but which bothers me quite a bit. The homeless are among the most vulnerable population we have in rich America and they would be the first victims of the Change. And so, I dedicate this story to him and them, becuase I don’t want to let them fall through the cracks of my mind.