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Isaac quietly latched the front door as Ephraim winced his way to the kitchen table. Lemon was the only member of the household awakened by their late entrance. So far. He whined and limply wagged his tail as his humans gathered up medical supplies and began cleaning their wounds.
“Are you sure we lost them?” Ephraim whispered. The jagged cut on his thigh was beginning to congeal, but he knew it would heal faster if he cleaned the dirt out and washed it with something alcoholic.
“No, it was too dark to tell. And Aunt Rachel told me we’d be safer here than anywhere else.” Isaac gingerly dabbed his forehead. There would be a nasty bruise to explain away tomorrow morning, but at least the skin wasn’t broken. The limited medical training he’d absorbed from his brother’s studies was beginning to kick in. He wasn’t dizzy or nauseous and so far his sight seemed normal. Isaac knew these were good signs after a head injury.
“They don’t know this valley the way we do. I’m sure we lost them.”
Ephraim frowned at his brother as he finished wrapping his thigh in a clean bandage.
“Did you see where the kids ran?”
“No, we’ll have to search for them again tomorrow. Aunt Rachel can’t possibly take care of them herself in her condition, and you know how useless Bernard is in a crisis.” The husband of Rachel’s and MacArthur’s second daughter had bolted as soon as the soldiers attacked, leaving the remaining members of the family to gather up the children and make a dash for it. What had been truly bizarre, though, was how easily the soldiers were able to track him down. Bernard was an expert hunter and sheepherder, and he knew of small, hidden caverns in this valley that were a mystery to even to his most adventurous neighbours.
In the middle of the night he should have easily been able to slip through the fingers of men and women who had virtually no knowledge of the terrain. Long after Ephraim and Lemon fell asleep Isaac lay quietly next to them wondering what exactly had happened a few hours earlier.
The house was dull the next morning. Daphne struggled to extract even the most cursory information from her sons over breakfast once she’d noticed the wound on Isaac’s head.
Isaac had been secretly sharing food and water with the Eversons. When his brother found out what was happening Isaac had bribed Ephraim into keeping his secret.
The Eversons had abruptly moved camp since Isaac’s last visit, though, and it had taken longer than they expected to find them yesterday. Their near-relatives had recently been visited by the public health nurse, and Bernard’s suspicion of the humourless soldiers who accompanied her lead him to seeking out a new place to sleep as they slowly rebuilt a new home for the family.
No one had expected the soldiers to find their new camp so quickly or for what was supposed to be a simple debriefing to turn ugly. Bernard was charged with moving without a license, and when he gave a snarky reply to the officer who fined him all hell broke loose. Isaac didn’t mention how easily she found Bernard once he ran away or how close her soldiers came to following Isaac and Ephraim home. None of it made sense to him and he didn’t want his mother to worry.
“Moving to a new home or helping somebody else move is a crime now,” Ephraim said. “We’re supposed to stay put until the census is finished and everyone has been vaccinated.”
Daphne’s arm still twinged now and again, and she reflexively rubbed the spot where she had received her vaccination.
“Speaking of which, you two need your vaccinations. The public health nurse said she’d come by again to see you when she had time in her schedule.”
“We can’t, we have plans today.”
“It really is important, boys. Their medicine is so strong it can cure you before you’re sick.” Daphne still found it hard to believe, but she was grateful for any help the strangers could offer. Her grandfather was the community’s doctor until shortly before his death. She’d seen too many young, healthy people struck down in the prime of life even when Mingus Valley had a doctor. The death rate rose sharply each time the previous doctor died or moved away.
“And my ions have never felt better!” Paige said as she hobbled into the kitchen. True, her knees and hips were as stiff and painful as ever, but she could still feel the warmth of the vaccine coursing through her veins. It was only a matter of time before she regained the strength and agility she had been known for years ago. Maybe she’d even wake up with the thick, brown hair she had been so well known for as a young woman!
“We have to let the other elders know what happened at any rate,” Ephraim said. He normally found his brother’s stubborn streak annoying, but he didn’t want anyone else to get hurt and didn’t trust the soldiers to spread the word effectively. Neither he nor Isaac had known about the new rule after all! Their luckily minor injuries were proof that the soldiers weren’t going to be patient in the future.
“And the council should meet to discuss their own punishments for people who break it,” Isaac said. “Folks will listen to you faster than to strangers.”
Daphne wasn’t sure about that. Her short time as an ombudsman had been one of her most frustrating experiences in recent memory. It was difficult enough to get your children to listen to you, never mind other adults who were always looking out for their own best interests.
“I think they should do it,” Paige said. “We can mind the farm while they’re gone.” There was very little to do during this time of year anyways. A few tools needed to be sharpened or repaired and the tool shed had a leaky roof that should be fixed before winter, but most of their days would be spent watching the children and resting after a long, difficult spring.
This was how Ephraim and Isaac managed to yet once again to avoid the exasperated public health nurse when she showed up again that afternoon, this time with soldiers in tow.
“Look, I have a court order,” Esther said as she waved a faded piece of paper around.
Daphne stared at her with a blank expression.
“A judge decided that everyone in this valley must be vaccinated,” Esther explained as she set the paper down in front of Daphne. Did these people know nothing about how the legal system worked? Esther knew they were isolated down here, but her preparation for this assignment indicated that they at least had a rudimentary justice system. “You’ll go to jail if you don’t.” Daphne frowned. She’d never heard of a city by that name before. It must be far away.
What Esther’s research hadn’t indicated, though, was that Daphne was literate. And the paper in front of her said nothing about vaccinations, court orders, or jail.