Chapter 1: River World

The Dun Road was muddy for a change, and man and rider were stepping gingerly across the slick spots where water still washed across the surface.

"It's okay Ware, take your time. It'll probably be a real mud bath on the way back," Greg Michaels said aloud to his horse. "This is just the warm up." The rain had come and gone, but it was still too early in the day for the sun to burn the water off the surface, and it was still too early in the spring for the water to evaporate quickly without it.

As he rode, still hopeful that he wouldn't be coming home wet and muddy, unless he managed to fall off his horse, he wondered about the coming gathering. The Porter clan was meeting in advance of the Kendall clan's annual gathering, though Greg hadn't heard that officially. It was getting dark as he finally saw the lights of the gate house. Dan Carmody was tending the gate tonight.

"Evenin' Greg, welcome home," the older man said.

"Evening Dan, am I late for supper?"

"I expect not. There's been Porters stragglin' in all day, and you're about the last of them, I think, except for Jack."

"Thanks. Call ahead to the house if you would, let 'em know I'm riding up?"

"Already did," the guard said, waving at Greg's back as he set off at a trot towards the main house.

After seeing to his horse, Greg ran across the compound to the front door. Haley was there waiting for him, and jumped into his arms with a squeal.

"Hey sis," he said, laughing as he spun her around, "miss me?"

"Damned right I did," she laughed in return. "Especially since I've been stuck here with these ... Porters, for two days now without you!"

"Hey, you were no foundling left in a bundle at the door my dear. I'm for sure a Porter, and we're twins, so what does that make you?" Greg asked, and then without waiting for an answer, held up a mail bag. "Speaking of bundles, the mail was in when I stopped in Hermiston, so I grabbed ours."

Greg thought about the twins thing as they walked arm in arm towards the dining hall. The second generation after the Reaping had been rich with twins, as if mother nature herself had decided to jump in and give mankind a hand in repopulating the Earth. He could think of more than a dozen sets of twins among his closest acquaintances, and almost half of those were just within the Kendall and Porter clans.

The meal was formal in everything but dress. Grandma Carrie and Grandpa Joe were seldom home these days, so things mattered when they were. The couple sat together at the end of the huge dining table that had once been used to accommodate groups of vacationers and tourists seeking to capture a little of the rustic rancher's lifestyle.

Greg and Haley's parents, Wendy and Kory Michaels were there, as well as their slightly older sister Jenna. So was their Uncle Henry and his wife Susie and their sons Sam, Lowell and Jack; Uncle David, his wife Renata and their three boys Ian, Argus and Tucker; Uncle Niel and his wife Jessie and their twins Patrick and Pietra. The rest of the Porter Clan was already in Greer, having moved there to be near the hospital, where Great-Grandma Porter was a frequent in-patient, due to her failing health. Joe Porter held up an envelope.

"Sam Kendall has called for a birthday gathering in three months." Grandpa Joe announced. There were nods around the table. This was expected.

"That means the Kendalls, Porters, and Harwells, of course," Grandma Carrie said. "Everyone with blood ties to the Kendall clan."

"According to this letter, he has asked for representatives from some of the old Cold Lake families like the Arguses and the Nilesons, as well as some of the Hermiston families like the Thorsons, Wilsons and Warners."

There were nods and murmurs around the table. This must be big. The murmurs threatened to get out of hand until Grandma Carrie rapped her glass on the table.

"The fact is Sam Kendall hasn't offered up a new birthday revelation in at least a decade," she said loudly. "This is probably word of some major plot by the Denied, or another call to action from the Catholics."

"I doubt it's the Catholics," Henry Porter argued. "They've been trying to save up the resources for this expedition of theirs and can't even find enough volunteers to staff it properly, but they're not plotters."

"They have been pretty persistent of late in their attempts to get the Council to order a unit of the military reserve to provide security for their expedition."

"Pretty unrealistic you mean," Joe added. "Nobody in the military reserve or on the council will agree to something so foolish. An expedition to the Mediterranean would take years, it would be unlikely to succeed and for what? To rescue a bunch of slowly molding religious relics?"

"Rome and Jerusalem are very important places in these people's faiths," Wendy Porter countered. "They're important to our own history as well. There is some value in preserving some of this history."

"Some value, yes," Niel Porter agreed. "But enough value to prioritize it above feeding, clothing and educating our children? Enough to place it above guarding our herds and crops? I don't think so."

"No, and as I said, neither do most people, or the council."

"Alright," Ian said, "so lets not gnaw that bone to death. We'll know when we know."

"You mean when our uncle Sam tells us," Sam said.

"Please, none of that old Uncle Sam joke. It was worn out from overuse a decade ago," Dave Porter said. It got him a chuckle, but there were no repeats of the old conflation.

"Alright, so which of us should go then?" Lowell asked.

It was a Porter axiom that nothing settled quietly was ever really settled. Choosing who would represent each family and sub-family in the Porter clan was not something to be settled overnight. Heated discussions ensued, and some ascended to the level of argument. Most were friendly, despite their dramatic nature. Sam Porter staked his claim pretty quickly as the representative of Henry and Susie Porter's children. He was the oldest, and already attending classes at Columbia University, at the former Washington State campus at Pullman.

Ian, Argus and Tucker Porter, the three sons of David and Renata Porter actually played the old paper-scissor-rock game to determine their representative, and it was Ian, the eldest, who won. Patrick and Pietra, the other pair of twins in the Porter family were going, as the only children of Niel and Jessie Porter. Their mother patted her swollen belly and said, with a laugh, "Don't worry, you'll be able to argue about who gets to go the next time."

"It will be like this in all the families that have been called," Joe Porter said later that evening. "Brothers and sisters vying for the right to represent their siblings. Lets hope there was no more bloodshed than what we saw here tonight."

Jenna Michaels saddled her horse and slipped quietly away from the ranch before dawn the next morning. She headed southwest on Diagonal Boulevard; what was called the Hermiston Highway. She skirted Hermiston itself when she got there, riding the outer streets until she was able to reconnect with Hermiston Highway on the other side of town. From there she followed it through the ghost town of Bucks Corners until it met up with the old Oregon Trail highway 84. She would follow this route northwest to Boardman, where she could catch a ferry downriver.

"Taegan, pull up a minute."

"Come on Con, you don't want to keep him waiting do you?"

"Pull up, you idiot, I think my horse has picked up a stone."

"Oh, well why didn't you say so."

The two boys pulled to a stop alongside to the road, and Conway Kendall began to slowly inspect his horse's shod feet, looking for a stone or other object that could be causing the horse to favor a foot.

"Couldn't you tell which foot he favored?"

"Well sure, its the back right hoof, but no sense leaving the others go, since we had to stop anyway. You know what Dad says."

"Treat your horse like you treat yourself!" the two boys laughed as they repeated their fathers oft-quoted words together.

"Here it is, looks like a bit of wire from a frayed cable or some wire rope. Its bleeding pretty good, but I got it out without too much trouble."

"We'll that's what you get for having to double back on the trail because you forgot your damned glasses."

"I told you I was sorry, what more do you want!" Conway said defensively.

"Take it easy, its no big deal, just keep an eye on him until we can get him looked at in Cascade Locks. You can always borrow a horse for the rest of the trip, or we could ride the steamer upriver the rest of the way."

"The steamer might get us back on schedule," Conway said hopefully.

"Probably," Conway said as he remounted his horse and they began, at a slow walk at first, headed upriver again. "So what do you think he wants?"

"Con, are you going to ask me that once every mile? I don't know what he wants. Whoever knows what he wants. He's the great and mysterious Oz, and we show up every once in a while, he pulls aside the curtain and we worship at his feet."

"Taegan Kendall that is the most unfair, cruelest thing I've ever heard in my life. Grandpa Kendall is a good man, who saved mankind and has never asked for anything in return. So he likes to see his family once in a while, what's so hard about that?"

"Nothing, but I got you to answer your own damned question, now didn't I? So maybe now you'll shut up about it and we can finish this ride in peace!"

Fifteen year old twins have long been considered a species of their own by most humans, and even post-Reaping, human opinion hadn't changed. That these two twins had the Kendall name meant less than the knowledge that they had the Kendall spirit as well.

They hadn't had a chance to meet their Great Grandma Kendall in person. She had died well before either of them was born, but they had seen home movies and even video of her. Her calming, grandmotherly tones had become the voice of the new Republic of Columbia. She had made the first radio announcements that had kept the people, spread out as they were along the length of the river, informed and understanding. Later she had been the face of the new government in a series of televised news and educational broadcasts and tapes. She even did a cooking show. 'Betty Crocker of the apocalypse' as she loved to describe herself.

The twins, like a lot of her descendants in this generation, had let her words and spirit mold them. They were, in some ways, more a reflection of her than they were of their Grandpa Kendall, or even of their own parents. Perhaps it showed in the spirit with which they argued, even if it was to argue over nothing.

On the road again, it never occurred to either boy that they had played out this entire scene in front of their silent but ever-present bodyguard, Huck Scales. The old warrior had to be pushing 50 now, but like all those of his era who had spent a lot of time with their Grandpa Kendall, he seemed to be aging at a slower rate than most. He still looked and moved like an active man in his early 30's.

The boys could enjoy the ability to take their eyes off the trail and stare at the hooves of a horse only because Huck was there to scan the horizon for them, always with an eye out for danger.

It was growing dark by the time they rode out of the dying light down the road that came down off the slope of the canyon to meet the river and the town. They rode through the semi-deserted streets until the saw the lights of the Bridge of the Gods Inn. After stabling their horses they entered the inn proper and, across the room, a pair of familiar faces resolved into those of their cousin Lily and Uncle Pip.

Pip and Lily were both two years older than the twins. Sammy Kendall junior was a late surprise for Sam and Greta Kendall. A pleasantly received one! Pip and Lily had actually been born on the same day, and thus Taegan and Conway called them the 'un-twins'.

"Good evening, nephews, how was the ride up from the PMR?" Pip asked.

"Pretty uncomplicated, except for Con's horse," Taegan answered.

"We need to get my horse looked at when we get to Cascade Locks," Conway told them. "Hash picked up a piece of metal on the ride here, once we got it out, he did okay the rest of the ride, but I need to have it checked out."

"Did you have Huck look at it?" Lily asked.

"Huck? Ahh ... no we didn't think to, actually," Conway stammered.

The four of them turned collectively to look at Huck, who sat silently, a table away from them.

"The hoof looked clean and wasn't bleeding anymore," Huck told them. "I'll sprinkle a little cure-all on his oats tonight, and I doubt it'll be any trouble. There's lots of help along that route if he does pull up lame."

"Its not the help that's available we'll need to be worried about," Pip said. "Dad's worried about the Church of the Denied Ascension again."

"Those idiots!" Conway spat. "They can't even follow their own logic, let alone an honest opinion from someone who disagrees with them."

"They've got an advantage most old religions would have loved to have. Their devil is alive and walking about and bleeds red when you stick him," Pip said. "Trust me, Dad takes every threat very seriously."

"As long as the folks at PMR are still happy with him, the Denied have to keep their plots under the radar at least. Without them it could well be an armed insurrection," Taegan said.

"No, don't fool yourself," Lily laughed. "Reverend Marchand likes to make it look like there are thousands of Denied in his church, but the numbers are more in the hundreds, and low hundreds at that. He's also fond of bringing groups to other people's demonstrations. Its easy to claim later that they rose in opposition or support or whatever the situation required, and count the numbers of all those present rather than just their own numbers."

"Well they're the most organized and vocal of Dad's opponents," Pip said, "and they're able to make it personal, and based on faith. Those are hard to counteract, and you can't educate away people's faith. The Troops at the Portland Military Reserve are loyal to the idea of keeping humanity alive and growing. They could care less about dad or the Reverend as long as neither of them is interfering with that process."

"Captain Thorson is no hothead, and he believes in Grandpa," Conway observed. "Personally and politically, he's an ally, and the majority of the mobile military forces will follow him, whatever direction he chooses to go."

"That's a good thing, and just the natural result of Grandpa being the kind of person he is," Lily offered. "People trust him and they believe in him."

"Did you two get a note from Dad?" Pip asked.

Taegan tapped a finger to the side of his head. "What I know is right here, and no where else. I remember being asked not to share it. Is this all some sort of game Pip?"

"He may be my dad, but I'm not his confidant. Only Carlos Arellano
is close enough to know which way he's moving at any given moment."

"Well he's got us moving, and its not time for one of those birthday announcements he used to do when we were little," Taegan replied. "It's Sam Kendall, what're we gonna do, ignore him?"

Taegan's comment produced a lot of thoughtful looks, and a lot of silence as the group rode on together towards Cascade Locks.

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