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From an early age Daniel Hart was confident he knew more about death than Death himself.
The very old and very young were bound to this world by such tenuous strings that it was sad but wholly expected for them to slip away. Nonny, his mother, never shielded Daniel from the harsh realities of Arizonian life. As the community’s only doctor she was responsible for the well being of every man, woman, and child in Mingus. Once Daniel was old enough to sit quietly in the corner while she cleaned a wound or delivered a baby he accompanied her on her rounds.
Nonny held vague notions of apprenticing her oldest child to her line of work so he could serve one of the several surrounding communities that limped along with occasional visits from nearby doctors in an emergency. One day perhaps Daniel or one of his future children would come back and take over her practice for her. She was still a fairly young woman, but locking eyes with Death so often had whittled her hopes for the future into wholly practical ones. The valley would always need a doctor.
What she wasn’t counting on was locking eyes with Death while her son was away studying. Daniel would have understood if her close contact with sick patients made her ill. It had happened to their last doctor after all, and his absence was a sore spot until Nonny was assigned to the community. He never expected to lose his mother in a drowning accident, though, and his bitter resignation at coming home to take over the farm and raise his younger siblings seeped into the ensuing decades.
In certain ways Daphne reminded him of his mother. Both women were headstrong but quick to change their minds with new evidence, and neither one had ever enjoyed being the centre of attention. Nonny begrudgingly accepted the status that came with being a healer, but she was even less comfortable being counted on to make decisions for the community than Daphne seemed to be at the handful of city council meetings where he had seen her. Even as he harrumphed his way through the vote on the water rights he obviously should have been able to keep for himself from wells that he built and maintained Daniel quietly appreciated Daphne’s desire to protect everyone in the community. Had he been unlucky enough to have a dry well he would have just as loudly insisted that his neighbours share their water with him. It was for these reasons he sought her out on a hot August afternoon.
Daphne felt a familiar tickle of anxiety in her stomach as Daniel entered the backyard. He had been in court enough times to avoid the angry outbursts he’d once been known for, but the withering glare he shot at her when the verdict of his water rights case was announced didn’t make her eager to see him again.
“You need another ombudsmen,” he said matter-of-factly after everyone exchanged pleasantries. “The charter requires there to be at least four of you, and I want to volunteer for the job.” Word about Aunt Lucy’s illness had spread fast, and even if she survived the council needed someone else to vote in her place while she recovered.” Daphne had expected to hear a complaint to be honest – Daniel was very good at sharing those – but Daphne was a little surprised by his offer. Daniel rarely engaged himself in community business unless it directly affected his property. He had a small circle of friends, but he’d never been known as a particularly sociable person even when he was a boy. Sitting in the corner and observing everyone else was much more likely to be his style.
“We appreciate that. Come inside and I’ll get you caught up on what’s been happening lately,” Gerald said when he realized Daphne wasn’t responding. While it was true that they needed another member on their panel Daphne had no idea how the four of them would reach a consensus on anything. Thinking about the logistics of getting four very different people to agree on was enough to bring back one of her skull splitting headaches.
After Gerald briefed Daniel on the scattered stories he had collected the four of them gathered around her dining room table once again to decide how they should respond to the intruders.
“We need to start fighting back,” Daniel said. “They have more manpower, but most of us have lived here our entire lives. We know the terrain better than their machines ever could, and if we move quietly we can cause a lot of chaos in their camps at night.”
“I agree,” Sean said. “If enough of their machines are damaged they’ll have to go home for repairs.”
“We need more information,” Gerald said. “How is it that they know where we are? What do they want from us? Will the gods be angry if we fight back too hard?”
“You make a good point,” Sean said. “We should send up an offering and wait for a sign.” Daphne bit the end of her tongue to prevent a sigh from escaping her lips. Sean’s peacemaking nature and willingness to see things from every point of view was an asset in court, but she wondered if he was going to agree with everything everyone said today. They couldn’t possibly use everyone’s suggestions.
“But we’ve already waited long enough,” Daniel said. “The time to act is now when they least expect it.”
“We don’t know what we’re fighting for or who we’re fighting against.” Gerald was one of the few former soldiers left in the valley. He rarely spoke about the skirmish that cost him a few fingers, but Daphne wondered if he was speaking from experience.
“We know they’re using land that doesn’t belong to them and practicing medicine that does more harm than good. Isn’t that enough? Do you want to be their next target?”
“I think you both make valid points,” Sean said. “We can pray about it and send armed scouts to gather more information.”
“What do you think, Daphne?”
Three heads turned toward the oldest member of the council to see what she had to say about their options.