Chapter 5

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The man in the woollen cap raises his rifle. Knowing Father, he's got the pistol in his duster pocket pointed at the guy. Mason is on the floor, still pleading silently with his stupid, snotty face. I've got my shotgun in my hands, hidden just out of sight. It's not so much a Mexican standoff as a two-on-one with an extra army outside for the outnumbered guy.

"Ok, what's going on here?" Wool-cap demands.

"Just calm down, my friend," Father says in his best negotiation voice. It's the voice that always gets the best bartering price on goods. It's the voice that talked Reverend Jones down from burning me at the stake. It's the voice that...admittedly, didn't work so well against the angry bikers in Sin City, but that's a different story. I still can't believe Father brought me along that time.

"I'm calm, I'm calm," Woolly says. "Just wondering why you have a guy tied...oh, it's Mason." He lowers his rifle. "Thought some off-islanders'd be an easy mark, eh, kid?"

"Cale, they're crazy, ya gotta help me," Mason bleats. I watch with satisfaction as Cale rolls his eyes.

"Don't listen to a word he says," Cale advises. "He's slippery as soap, can't be trusted. Does dirty work for the League, besides."

"Yeah, about that," Father says, scratching the back of his neck as he lets go of the gun in his pocket, "I'd like to know more about the League. And your tribe."

Cale nods, smiling broadly as he takes a gander about the RV. "Well I'd say you've got extra stuff to trade. Tell you what: why don't you follow us back to the village? I can introduce you to our priestess, er, leader, and we can trade goods and information."

"It's a trap!" Mason shouts.

"Dad, can we gag him?" I ask. Guy changes tunes more than I do when I'm checking out a scavenged mix-CD.

***

We turn around, heading north, following Cale and his crew up the highway. A part of me hopes we'll run into Mason's 'friends' along the way, but the journey proves to be violence-free, with the exception of Mason straining his wrists to bleeding against his bonds and then whining about it.

Father still doesn't let me gag him, even after I crank Nightwish to drown out his blubbering. No, make that boogering. I'm sure Father wants to see what else Jar-of-snot will reveal about the League, but I just can't take it anymore. Epic Norwegian Metal is the only possible reprieve.

The caravan leads us into a literal village. It's not one of those sad ragged-tents-and-goats outfits, either. It's a cleaned-up pre-Doom suburbia with a great big farm in the middle which I'm betting was once a soccer field. Mason starts freaking out again, screaming that they're going to 'tie him to the maypole and leave him for the crows' and that if we get out of the RV we're probably dead, too, but I just ignore him. I know an ambush when I see one.

The roadblock was a possible ambush. This place is kids running around with wooden swords and aluminum foil armour, playing some make-believe game about the good ol' days when the scariest disease out there was the bubonic plague. This village is farmers in hand-sewn work-clothes tending to vegetable crops, standing up to wave at their returning scouts, or army or whatever they happen to be.

This place is, I'm betting Father will mutter any minute, 'Hippie-ville'.

"Oh, it's a hippie commune," Father exclaims from the passenger seat, leaving out the 'ville'. "They'd be more likely to try and put you on a vegan diet to suppress that aggression, Mason, rather than kill you."

"Uh-huh," he sniffles, "and their guns are just for show."

I'm betting the guns are for protection, but I decide to wait and see what the locals say about Mason and the League. Appearances can be deceiving, especially when it comes to local leadership.

Cale and company park outside of what looks like an English-style pub. Minus our truck, we only take up five parking spots. Everybody clambers out and Father hands Mason over to the Kawitzen, despite his screaming protestations.

"Mason's back!" one of the tin-foil knights exclaims, and suddenly they've surrounded him, chanting and taunting him with their weapons. Surprisingly, the children seem to calm him down. I hang back and watch as Father chats with Cale.

"We captured you again," the tallest boy exclaims, prodding Mason with his sword-stick.

"The only thing you've ever caught was the permanent stink of farts," Mason retorts. The children giggle. "Those strangers captured me," he says, gesturing his head in my direction, "and you'd better keep away from them. They're from the mainland and don't believe in the Goddess. They'd probably sell you all into slavery if they got the chance."

I raise an eyebrow as the children scream and scatter. The tall boy with the sword glares at me like he's about to have a moment of bravery, until I wink at him. He and his courage flee the parking lot.

"Well you got one thing right," I tell Liar-Pants Mason. "I don't believe in your stupid goddess who definitely doesn't exist and is just a figment of a small-village post-Doom imagination, probably meant to help explain..."

"Regan," Father says. "Let's go." He gestures for me to follow him and Cale. Mason is led away by another member of the scouts, to some unknown fate. Based on the fact that he's no longer stuck on 'I'm gonna die' like a warped vinyl record, I assume that he's pretty well-known to the Kawitzen, and that they don't generally execute people.

He seems like one of them, I think. I want to ask Cale about it, but he and Father are talking in hushed voices. We head into the vegetable field.

"Where are we going?" I ask them. "Or is that information as secret as the rest of your conversation?"

"We're just talking shop, Regan," Father explains. "Not everyone around here appears interested in the finer aspects of gun collection and maintenance."

"No, they appear interested in vegetable collection and maintenance," I reply. "Hey, hat-guy. Did you know that you're named after a vegetable?"

"My name is with a 'c'," he says, deadpan. "And it's called a toque."

I blink. "You just made that word up."

We reach what I can only describe as a palatial yurt in the middle of the field. I'd been hoping to see Wizard of Oz-style guards chanting Oh-ee-oh or maybe two sun-bronzed dudes fanning some lady on a lounge chair out front, but no such luck. Clearly the Kawitzen are comfortable breaking all the rules of post-apocalyptic tribal hierarchies.

"Amelia?" Cale calls into the dark recesses of the tent. "Are you in?"

            The woman who emerges can only be described as 'granola-chic'. Her wavy silver hair is almost a mantle. She's wearing a wrap-style skirt and hemp tunic, very down-to-earth, but her fingers are covered in more gold and silver than I've seen outside of a cracked safe. She's got this big banged-copper medallion around her neck with an ensconced amethyst, in the shape of a crescent moon. She glances at Cale for just a second before fixing her eyes on Father.

            "By the Goddess," she says, stepping forward and cupping Father's face with both hands. "Our saviour has come."

            "I think she likes you Dad," I point out.

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