The Farmer exited his back door, striding across his barren field to the woods. His Wife and Daughter emerged from the brush, both draped in heavy camouflage jackets, his daughter tucked under his Wife’s protective grip. In Her right hand she held the handgun. She put the gun in her jacket pocket, the stoic look on her face giving way to relief. They embraced, a family hug that was too short lived.
“For now,” she replied.
“They took too much,” he said.
“We have more stashed in the caves.”
“I don’t enough if it’s enough.”
The Farmer reached down then lifted his daughter into his arms. He looked into her fearful eyes and knew what had to be done.
“Will the bad men come back?” she asked.
“No,” The Farmer replied. “The bad men won’t come back. Daddy is going to make sure of it.”
The Farmer’s Wife looked at him skeptically and he shook his head. Once they were in the house he carried his Daughter to her room then tucked her in bed.
“Get some rest, little bird,” he said. “Mommy and I are going to lay down, too.”
“Okay, big bird,” she said. She held his cheeks with her small hands then kissed his nose.
His Wife waited for him as he left the room.
“You shouldn’t tell her things that aren’t true,” she said. “The Nomads will be back.”
“I didn’t lie,” The Farmer replied. “I called the Elder.”
The Wife’s eyes widened. The Farmer handed his shotgun to his Wife then took the handgun from her.
“I should be back by nightfall,” he said. “If I’m not, take her and go to the caves. Stay there until someone comes for you.”
The Farmer and his Wife kissed for a long time, like they used to when they were young. They held each other for a moment longer then let each other go. The Farmer went to his shed. As he reached the building Rufus met him, the old hound dog panting hard.
“You can’t go with me,” the Farmer said. “Get on that porch and keep and eye out. I’ll be back at sundown.”
He patted the dog on its head and it licked his hand before ambling off to the front porch. The Farmer climbed into his truck. It started with a loud bang and belched a cloud of white smoke before settling into a steady idle. He backed the truck out of the shed then stopped to climb out and close the shed door. Climbing back into the truck, he drove down the road to the Meeting Oak.
He was not the first to arrive. Blacksmith’s truck was there, as was Potter’s and Beekeeper. He could see the Meeting Oak’s canopy towering over the other trees, its branches shedding its leaves as the tree crept toward a winter’s sleep. As he trudged down the narrow path he heard other trucks pull up and doors slamming. The others gathered around him; they nodded and shook hands. There was little talk; everyone saving their words for what was about to take place.
They reached the oak. The massive tree dwarfed the men and women sitting in a half circle under its branches. Sitting before the trunk, flanked by her great-great-great grandchildren was The Elder. She seemed frail wrapped in her familiar woolen blanket, her wrinkled face resembling a land with many rivers. A small knit cap covered her head, strands of gray hair extending from beneath it.
“I’m glad you all could come,” she said, her voice resonating across the clearing. “The Nomads came and they took too much. If they come again, we will starve. They will take us, keep the weak, sell the strong and kill the useless. There is Unbalance.”
The Farmer nodded with the others. He knew what would come next, words that had not been uttered under the meeting oak in centuries, words than none but the Elder had heard beyond bedtime stories.
The Elder gazed at each of those gathered with a certainty that belied her age.
“We must reclaim the Balance, for without it we Farmers and Nomads will perish. One cannot exist without the other, but all must be equal. There must be a Summoning.”