My teacher was also my father's teacher. She is very old, and remembers many things. She was taught by Henry Firkin, who himself was raised in the home of the Great Jack Parsons, and so she knew many of the old, lost secrets of how things once were and how they worked. She was a very valuable addition to my Grandfathers holding when he brought her here, and was a large part of the reason of his and my father's success. She knows things and has access to even more information through a device that she keeps with her called a computer. It isn't magic, although it may as well be, and we are sometimes sent out to forage for replacement parts for it when something breaks or gets old and wears out, but through it she has access to information that is now lost to most people forever.
Even without her computer, she would have been important to us because of her ability to remember information and then teach that information to us. My father and his siblings learned from her, and my siblings and I learn from her now, and I hope she is around to teach my children. She taught us how to sew by first teaching us how to grow cotton, and then she taught us how to clean it and form it into thread. She then taught us how to make needles from old paperclips, and then she taught us many different kinds of stitches. She taught us how to read by teaching us how to make paper, and then how to form that paper into books, which we then filled with carefully printed letters and eventually words.
Our life is hard in some ways, easy in others, and all in all, our teacher says that our life isn't really much different from the way things have always been. We laugh, we cry, we make babies, we work hard, and we fight hard.
We live in a place between the mountains that was once called Oregon. Far to the north was a place called Washington, and far to the south was a place called California. My father once traveled across the river to the north to a large city called Centralia in Washington, but none of us have ever been to California. Teacher says that the weather is warm there, even in the winter, and when it rains on us here, the sun is shining on the people that live there. I imagine all of the people who live there celebrating midwinter naked because the sun is so hot while we are bundled in our firs and our tarps with rain dripping from our hair onto our noses, and then down onto our feet.
Across the mountains to the east, teacher tells us, there was once a single, large country that stretched for thousands of miles, all the way to the other side of the ocean, and if we could then build a canoe large enough, we could cross the ocean in the east and come to even more countries, and if we managed to get there, nobody would be able to understand us because they would speak a different language.
When teacher told me this, I asked her if they spoke like my cousins who live two days to the south. They garble their words so bad I can barely understand them. No, she said, my cousins from Luther Holding still speak English, although it's been changed a bit.
I was six when she told me this, and I remember asking her, "What's English, then?"
"It's the language we speak," she said, and then she had us take out our current study books and she taught us how to make our own pretend languages in them, and how to write in ciphers and secret codes so that our enemies wouldn't be able to understand our writing. I still use the cipher that she helped me to make way back when I was six, and it was in this cipher that I received a message from her.
I'm having such a wonderful time here in Caradog Holding with your uncle Fred, and although it's been raining here a bit, my bones aren't stiff like they get when the weather is cold. I wish you could see the waves on the beach and the sea birds playing in the sand. I feel you would love the ocean.
My friend Josevf sends his love to you as well, and hopes that he may see you soon.
Jenniver of Henry Firkin, Teacher.
Here's what the letter really meant. She used my full name, Glorian instead of Gloria, and this is a clue to me that the message is encoded rather than just a plain message. "Wonderful time" means she is being held prisoner, "Caradog" means that the place is the size of Caradog holding, which is a medium large holding, and "Fred" means north, so she is being held prisoner in a medium sized holding to the north.
Anyway the long and the short of it is that we need to rescue her, but we need to be extremely careful because the people that have her are armed with guns, and not swords and armor like us, and they also expect us to arrive some time soon looking for her.
I took the letter to my father. He read it, and became more and more angry as I explained the cipher.
"A medium size holding in the north with guns," he fumed. "That's Russ of Davidson Holding that took her. I've been hearing things about him all summer."
I had been hearing the same things, and once my father said the name, I made the same connections. Russ was a new warlord, and had a liking for violence. Teacher said he was the kind of person that built empires in the old days, ruthless, ambitious, angry, and charismatic. If he had Teacher he would also have knowledge if he could get anything out of her. The thought of my dear old white haired teacher resisting and being tortured for her knowledge filled me with dread.
"Father, can I go with you to get her?" I asked.
He looked down at me and paused in his fuming to quirk an eyebrow at me.
"They have guns, Gloria. They won't care how good you are with a sword. They'll shoot you down from 100 feet away."
"I'll duck," I said.
"Ducking is for arrows, not bullets."
"I'm good at sneaking," I said, "and they can't shoot what they can't see."
"No," he said.
"You need someone who can cook to go with you or you'll end up eating boiled grass and dog tails again." I almost had him now. I'm one of the best cooks in our holding.
"No," he said.
"I'll come, I said, no matter what you say and no matter what you do. If you leave without me, I'll follow you. If you tie me up here, I'll chew through the ropes and run barefoot through blackberry thorns to catch up with you. You might as well let me come, or you'll just have to come back and rescue me from bleeding to death in a puddle of blackberry juice."
I'm not very tall, even for a girl, and he towers over me, but I knew I had him right where I wanted him.
"No," he said.
"Fine," I said and stomped out of his office, out of the holding gates, and started heading north without the bastard. Let him catch up, if he can.
Half an hour later he rode up next to me on his horse. I ignored him and kept up my pace northwards.
"Gloria," he said, trying to sound friendly, but I just ignored him some more.
"Fine," he said. "Come. But don't expect us to be easy on you. And you can only come as long as you stay back and away from the fighting."
I figured that once we were there and the fighting was happening, there wouldn't be much he could do, so I smiled sweetly and let him pull me up behind him onto his horse.
We spent a week preparing for the journey and for whatever fight we might run into. I have two swords, twenty knives of various sizes, leather armor, a chainmaille coat, a solid steel breastplate and a steel bow, and I can make perfect arrows for it without the help of a fletcher. I thought it would be silly to bring all of my armor with me since we would be fighting bullets, so I decided on my saber, five throwing knives, one long dagger, my bow, and my leather armor.
When my father saw my bundle, he just shook his head and muttered something about the waste since I wouldn't be fighting anyway. He added a pot and a tarp full of spices to my bundle and said, "You're the cook."
Fine. I'll be a fighting cook.
When we left, Father and his general rode their horses, and the rest of us walked. There were one hundred of us, a formidable army. We were all armed and armored lightly, and many of us had bows strapped to our backs. We knew that heavy armor would slow us down, give away our position, and wouldn't help us against bullets, so we didn't waste our strength. Seventy of us were men, the remaining thirty were women like me. I marched beside my cousin Brian from Jaffrey Holding. He's taller than me, and three years older, and while he has a body full of nice firm muscles, he's also smart. I like him.
We marched east for most of the day on my father's Holding road, and then once we reached the Old Five Road, we began our jog north to the first overpass where we spent the evening. I've been this far before on trading trips with father and on field trips with Teacher, but this was the first time I'd ever traveled with an army.
When we stopped, we set up our tents in the grassy median and father put me to work making the cooking fire and preparing our evening meal. Brian volunteered to help, for which I was grateful, although he has to be watched or he'll burn everything. After the meal was done, and everything was cleaned up we all hunkered around the hissing and popping fire and told tales of the old times when the street lights were lit and people traveled in flying cars and giant boats bigger than a holding.
Around midnight, the watchman woke my father, and since I slept beside him, I woke up as well. "Something's happening back in the direction of our holding, sir," he said.
.... There is more of this story ...