Chapter Six- Antioch Church

The next day was Sunday. We all gathered in the chapel in the late morning and I saw Joeté stride confidently to the bench across from ours. We all had family benches that we would sit on, and you couldn’t sit on anyone else’s. If we needed another bench, they added one. When someone died, and there was no longer someone to sit there, that bench remained empty. Eventually it would get removed and a new one place there. The old bench would be placed next to the graves of the people who used to sit on it. It was a way of remembering the people we had lost. 

The prechet* came to the front and cleared his throat. 

“It’s been a long year. We’ve had sorrows, we’ve had joys. But we have stuck together through it all. We are all family, and we all love each other- so there is no type of tearing down or hate going on here. I would like to ask Antepi to come up here, and she didn’t know I was going to do this, but I want her to come up and share her story.” I looked up at him sharply. He was right, I had no idea. I got up and walked up to the front. 

“I really didn’t have any idea he was going to do this.” I laughed a little. “I don’t need to tell you my name, since you already know it.”

I took a deep breath as I focused on the doors at the back of the church.

“When I was little, all I wanted was to be the best in the tribe. I wanted to be better than even my father. And I wanted to save France. I wanted to be the one that took a stand for justice and didn’t back down. I didn’t know that when faced with trials and death, I would be the one to run the other way. 

“I trained all the time. It was all I knew. If I wasn’t training myself, I was training horses for myself or other people. I didn’t think that life could be any better than training. It was the best and worst part of my life. Although broken bones was- and is- definitely the worst. I hated when I would break something. Our healer, Emma, had to stay with me whenever I had something broken just to make sure that I didn’t get up and train. I did everything I could to be stronger. But in my mind, I was never enough. If I learned a new skill, unless I had it down perfectly, I was failing.” I bit my lip, the urge to not continue the next part of the story growing stronger every moment I paused. 

“But then Emma died. She got really sick and she died. It broke me, and it broke her daughter, Wanepi, who was my best friend at the time. Most of you probably remember how shaken everyone was by her death. No one had expected it.  When she died, it was like a little piece of everyone went with her.” I shook my head sadly. “It devastated Wanepi to the point that she left. I never could look at that hut the same.” I smiled sadly, blinking rapidly to keep my eyes from filling with tears. “But we moved on. We survived and we were okay. All her apprentices worked even harder to make sure that this village did not get sick or hurt.” That part was over. I didn’t have to talk about it anymore. I took another deep breath before continuing.

“When I was about…” I thought for a moment, ‘sixteen, I was told by our chief Carsho that I was the hardest and best warrior in the tribe. That was the biggest achievement I had ever thought I could get to, and a lot of that mindset came from my Pasha and Meisha. They both told me to train harder than anyone else. That was the way that I could truly make them happy. To become the best warrior- not that I could be- but that anyone else could be. If I continued to compare myself to the best, I would be better. It was a huge achievement to me when Carsho told me that.” I smiled at the memory of that day. 

“About sixth months later- on April Ninth- I became engaged. I was extremely happy. But I was also terrified. I only ever trained. I didn’t know how to love and care about someone like that. Fighting was my life! It was all I did. How was I supposed to suddenly know how to be a good wife, and friend? But Joeté was somehow able to convince my stubborn mind that it was okay. It was alright to not know what I was doing, because he was there.” I stopped. This was where it got hard to talk about again. Talking about Emma had been bad enough- this was worse.

 I sucked in a breath, trying to calm the storm inside me. “Six months after that on September First, the attack happened. When the horn sounded signaling the attack, I was with Joeté getting our horses ready to take a ride. Both of us immediately got ready to fight. By the time we ran out, bodies were already everywhere. But almost none of them were English. When I turned to look around, I saw my mother killed with a sword. Then I heard my father’s voice drifting through my anger. When I finally found him through the haze of the smoke from the fires they had set, they were about to kill him. They killed him right before my eyes. I screamed and started slashing at people. I don’t know how many I injured, but I didn’t care. I just kept going. But someone stabbed the back of my leg. I fell to the ground and I couldn’t get up.” I shook my head and laughed ruefully. “I couldn’t move.” I sighed. “And then Carsho. They stabbed a spear through him over and over again as I just watched, unable to help him.” 

There were tears in the eyes of most of the women, and some of the men were looking down at their hands sadly. I wanted to stop; I didn’t want to make them go through this again. But I had gone too far to turn back.

 “Then I heard Joeté calling me from the pass at the other side of the valley. He told me to take Cat and run. So I did. I grabbed her and found my way to the stables through all the fighting. Cat found her horse already saddled and my horse was obviously already saddled, so we fled. We rode until we couldn’t go any further. We had barely anything with us but the clothes on our backs. But we carried our pain with us. Carsho was killed, both my parents were killed, and Joeté was taken away to England.” I paused and looked at Catania. She nodded. “And so was their mother.” Catania and I had figured that out after we returned, but not many people knew. Catania had been trying to keep it quiet, but it was out now. 

“Joeté told me to take care of Cat. She was my best friend, so I was happy to do so, but it was much more than that now. This was what could possibly be the love of my life’s final request. And I would honor that with my life, whatever it took. I took her to a little town about twenty miles from here, and we pretended we had always had normal lives. At night I would dream of that day, wake up panting, crying. I would go back to sleep, just to have it happen all over again. It never stopped, it never got easier, but every time, it was real- like it was actually happening all over again. 

About three days after we got there, a man came into my shop and asked what I was selling. I told him that I carved wood, twisted metal into figures and shapes, and was also able to engrave metal. He said he had something special he wanted made out of metal. He wanted a tree twisted, with branches bare of leaves. I thought it was strange, because usually people would ask for little leaves. It never crossed my mind that it had a deeper meaning. Matthew, that was his name, came around more and more as the days went by. He would bring flowers, or books for Cat to read. I told him that I wasn’t looking to start a serious relationship, but that didn’t appear to phase him. I never suspected anything amiss until he came one day, and seemed nervous.” I paused and looked at Joeté, daring him to be upset that someone else had attempted to claim my attention. “He came, and he proposed to me. He said that he knew it was hard for me, with what happened to my previous fiancé, but he hoped I would say yes. But I had never told him about a previous fiancé. He had sounded almost English, especially towards the end, when he was nervous. That’s when it all fell into place in my mind. I told him who I was, who Catania was, and that we were going back. I will admit, he was very good at acting surprised at the truth. He accepted it rather calmly. He didn’t react in any way to what I had said other than hurt and surprise. 

“The next morning we left earlier than anyone else was awake, in case he would try to follow us. And he did. When we were a ways down the road, I heard hoof beats behind us and I headed into the brush, hidden from view. Matthew cantered by about a minute later, oblivious to our hiding spot. 

“A few minutes later, after we were sure he was gone, we took the path to the valley.

“When we eventually got to the valley, I saw that there was a watchtower and houses. Most importantly though, was that my brother was there. The brother I thought was dead, was alive, and happy. I was happy.” I paused and smiled, a little sadly, but still smiled. “After a few months, I had once again settled into the normal pace of things, and was training hard. When I heard the horn from the watchtower sound, I was surprised. Who else could be coming back? So many people were already here. I never expected it to be him. Then Joeté’s signal came back down the hill, and my heart stopped for a moment. I thought I was imagining things. But no, it was him. He was back. But things were different. So much had changed for everyone in that year, that changing back was hard to do. 

I lost a lot that day when the English came. I lost family, friends, and so many of the people I cared about. When it was all over, I acted like everything could be the same. But things will never-ever- be the same. We are different, this valley is different.  We can never be exactly the same as we were- but we can try to be better.” I walked back to my seat and stared straight ahead. Hypoleta squeezed my arm. 

Spake went back to the front and looked out at everyone. 

“Thank you, Antepi. 

“There was a reason I had her come up here. In the next few months, I am going to call up a random member of our congregation every Sunday, and have them share what happened to them after the attack. Once I have called everyone I want to, I will give a sermon on everything we have heard. Is everyone okay with that?” He watched everyone’s faces to see their reactions. Many people smiled sadly, others nodded, Hannah frowned. Spake looked at her and held her gaze. “Is there a problem, habano*?” I heard a couple kids behind me snicker and then a little slapping noise as their parents lightly slapped their hands- very lightly, because on the inside, everyone was laughing at the fact he had called her an “outsider”. I felt rather than saw her glare at him. She might not have known exactly what he had called her, but she knew it wasn’t flattering. 

“I just don’t think a church is the place to share petty, little, sad stories. I believe that a church is a place to learn about God. To learn about Christ’s saving us from eternal death in Hell.” She stared Spake straight in the eyes, daring him to contradict her. I saw Joeté turn and give her a warning shake of his head. She didn’t heed it, and stood up. “We should be nurturing our children with stories of Jesus and Mary and Adam and Eve- not our history. Our history is not what matters. Our history could be long and extensive, but it will still be pointless when it comes to teaching our children about the saving love of Christ.” I quickly stood up and turned to look at her. 

“Well then it is fortunate that it is not your history we are talking about.” I turned to look at her, daring her to interrupt me. “Nor are they your children, meaning you have no say. It is not important what you think when it comes to our children. When you have a child that sits in this congregation and learns from it, then you can have a say. But until then, it doesn’t  matter what you think, because this isn’t you that we are talking about.”

She looked taken aback, and opened her mouth to speak, but I continued talking before she could. 

 “What you call small, and petty, we call important and valuable. While we do want our children to learn about Jesus and God, we also want our children to know our past. Because our past- although they may not remember it- is their past. They are our present and future, and they deserve our past. By sharing our stories with them, we are teaching them about God. About how he provides and protects, even through the hardest of times. Even when we feel as though he abandoned us, he is there.” I turned to Spake. “Thank you Spake for allowing me to share my story- I look forward to being able to hear everyone else’s.” 

“I agree with Antepi.” Catania stood, and I looked over at her. “Though I have no children of my own in this church, all of the children- and adults- here are family to me. Our children need to hear our past because it shaped what we are today. It shaped Antioch into the civilization we are today. And nothing should take away from that.”

As one, everyone else stood and walked out, brushing past a silent, fuming Hannah. Even Joeté walked past without looking at her. It was going to be awhile before Hannah became used to our church.

As I walked out I stayed close to the two young girls. Sahara and Senepha started giggling. I could hear little snatches in between giggles- 

“Did you see Hannah’s face?” And “we shouldn’t be teaching our children about petty, sad…”; “I am not her child!” 

“Senie- what have I said about talking about Hannah?” I looked at her, trying to be stern- but knowing I was failing. Her look of remorse was as good- if not better- as my stern look. 

“I’m not supposed to talk about her in any mean way when I do, and preferably- don’t talk about her at all.” She sounded like she was reciting something she had been told a thousand times, which was true. I had told her a thousand times not to talk about Hannah. Just then I saw a horse I didn’t recognize tethered outside Renaglo’s tent.

 I turned and told Senepha to go with her cousin and strode toward the doorway. 

As I looked inside I saw a man sitting on a mat next across from Renaglo. My chief looked up and saw me in the doorway: 

“Ah, Antepi! Just the woman I was about to send for!” He smiled, but it seemed forced. “This man is from the Capital. Our King has sent for you and Joeté. He wants you to give your account of the attack and the months following till now. You will leave immediately.” I opened my mouth to protest, but he held up his hand. “Don’t say it- I don’t want to hear it. You will go, and you will go without protest.” I hung my head and sighed. 

“Yes sir.” I gritted my teeth and turned around to go and pack. “I’ll pass it on.” 

As I walked out I saw Joeté looking intently at the tent I had just exited. I looked at him and jerked my head toward the hut that held the weapons. We both walked towards it nonchalantly, neither of us wanting to let Hannah know we were going to the same place. Once we got inside I grabbed my sword and spear. I slipped my sword onto the sheath on my back and made sure my spear was sharp enough. I didn’t say anything the whole time until Joeté grabbed my arm and turned me towards him. 

“What’s going on Antepi? Why are you getting everything like you are getting ready for battle?” He grabbed both my arms and made me face him. 

“Philippe has summoned us to the Capital. Our king wants us to come and give our accounts of the attack.” I pulled out of his grasp. “Just the two of us… King Philippe doesn’t know.” ‘He doesn’t know what happened to us’ was what I wanted to say, but I figured it was better to stick with plain and simple. 

“Tepi, I’m sorry. I know the last thing you want to do is tell another person what happened. You know you don’t have to go- you can just tell him that you would rather not. He knows you, he’ll understand.” 

“No, I can’t,” I sighed, “I am under orders from both my king and my chief to go, and my chief says I will go and I will go without protest- so I don’t actually have much of a choice.” I said it with a deep voice, mimicking Renaglo.  

“But I’ll leave telling Hannah to you.” I poked him and smiled as I said the last words- that was probably the only thing that would bring me joy out of this entire situation.

 He smiled at me sarcastically. 

“Oh thank you for the honor- just what I always wanted after that scene in the church. To tell her I’m leaving her here with these people, whose history is “petty and sad”. Just great.” He sighed and turned around. “Here goes nothing.” He brushed past me and I stood in the doorway watching him walk towards a sulking Hannah. Thankfully sound travels well in this valley and I could hear every single word. 

He walked up and rubbed her upper arms soothingly. 

“Hannah, you know I love you, right?” He bent down a little to look her in the eyes and she nodded. “Well, we have been summoned by King Philippe I to the Capital. We leave as early as possible tomorrow, at least I assume.” 

“That’s alright, I always wanted to meet the king. Even if it is one from a barbarian country. What will I wear though? I could wear my pink…” she stopped when Joeté didn’t meet her eyes and rubbed the back of his neck. “Why are you doing that Joeté? What aren’t you telling me?” 

“Well you see,” he laughed a little, trying to play it off, “you can’t come. It’s just me and Antepi that have been summoned.” He kept his head down but looked up at her to see her reaction. 

“Wait- are you serious? You’re going without me? Specifically with Antepi? Why can’t I come? Just because he only summoned you two doesn’t mean that I can’t come!” 

“Actually it does. He summons who he wants and no one else. I’m sorry Hannah. It’s not an option.” He put his hand on her shoulder for a moment then walked back to me. I turned around and went back into the hut as he came towards me. 

“I think we should leave tonight. We can camp overnight and be there earlier. Quicker we are there, the quicker we can be back.” I told him. 

“I don’t know Antepi. I think that would make Hannah even more angry. You know, us being alone overnight.” 

I sighed. “You’re right. So we leave in five minutes. Taking the main roads we will get there in about an hour and a half, falling just around six o’clock. Then we will get there before it’s too late and can be there before tomorrow.” He grimaced. “Hey, you said that we didn’t want to be alone overnight. So there’s our answer- you asked for this. I already have clothes there that I keep in my room at the palace. So do you, if I remember right.” 

He nodded. “Alright, I’ll get more weapons, you get horses.” 

I nodded and walked out. I whistled a few times and my horse Chaga came galloping from underneath my hut. I whistled a couple more times, more rapidly, and Joeté’s horse, Parsh, came  running as well. I grabbed both bridals. 

“Hiello, meese beautifimians bebias. Hello my beautiful babies.” I rubbed both their noses lovingly. I smiled and led them to where their tack was. I grabbed Parsh’s saddle and slung it over his back. He stood patiently and let me put it on. I grabbed Chaga’s saddle and tried to put it on, but she moved away and I missed. “Ishka! Stepe Chaga! Stop Chaga!” Our horses understand more Antioch than English, which is what we usually speak in Antioch, and France for that matter. Regardless of the fact that we are French, English is a more common language and more people understand it, so we speak it. 

Chaga calmed down and let me put her saddle on and only fidgeted a little. Joeté came out of the weapon hut and walked toward me. He put his saddle bags over Parsh and handed me my saddle bags, all without saying anything.

“You’re mad at me, aren’t you? Cemeo Joeté. Come on Joeté. It’s not my choice to go to the Capital. If it were a choice I would be with my niece right now. Yook contion beca maido akt meech,” He still said nothing, so I repeated it in English, “you cannot be mad at me.” I looked at him out of the corner of my eye while both of us got out horses completely ready. He stared straight at his horse. He looked like he was thinking before he said. 

“I know it isn’t your fault Antepi. But there are some things you could change. Like Hannah could come. The king and you are good friends. You could explain to him who she was and how she would be alone if she stayed.” I turned towards him. 

“Aren’t you and the king good friends? Why don’t you go and tell Hannah she can come, and you go and tell Philippe who she is. Because I am completely sure of one thing- I will not be the one telling Hannah she’s coming, I will not be the one telling Philippe that she is your fiancé, and I am doubly sure that if she comes, I will not be the one that rides to the Capital with her. So go ahead and tell her that she can come, but it’ll cost you time. And I’m not waiting for you.” I pulled myself into my saddle and looked down at him. He had come over and was standing beside Chaga, looking up at me. “It’s your choice.” I raised my eyebrows at him. He sighed and stepped back, looking at the ground. I tapped Chaga’s sides lightly with my heels and maneuvered her away from Joeté. He looked up sharply as I flicked my wrists and tapped her again, this time pushing her to a canter. I steered her towards the forest at the top of the valley. We loped up the side of the valley and were at the trees edge quickly. 

I reigned her in and stopped, turning her to face the valley. Joeté was on Parsh heading for the hill at a gallop. 

“He’s out of practice. He’ll regret pushing him so hard later.” I whispered to myself, laughing softly as I did and shaking my head. I turned Chaga slowly, then waited until Joeté was close. As he came beside me, I clicked my tongue and Chaga started walking. 

“I know what you’re thinking. I’m going to regret it later. And I probably am, but when you take off like that, what was I supposed to do?” Joeté glanced over at me out of the corner of his eye as he said it. 

“You’re right. That is what I was thinking. I also think that the horse I trained for you can handle it. Careful though-” I looked at him in seriousness, “I’m not sure which of us he likes better. I’d watch out. Keep mistreating him, and I might just have to take him away.” Joeté laughed. 

“Oh you could try.”

“And succeed.” I smiled, already feeling a little looser.

“You think a canter would be good?” He asked. 

I nodded and squeezed Chaga’s sides. She surged ahead and I could feel the pent up energy coursing through her. Parsh sped up in an effort to get ahead, but only succeeded in getting right next to us. The wind whipped through my hair and I pushed Chaga a little further, just on the edge of a gallop. We rode down the road swiftly, making good time. I reached out and touched Joeté’s arm and pushed my hand down through the air, signaling him to slow down. 

“We are coming up on a town. Keep your head down, and don’t talk.” He looked at me quizzically. I sighed. I didn’t want to have to explain this right now.

I’d like to apologize really quickly for how inactive I have been- it’s been a crazy couple weeks/months for me, and I’ve been pretty busy. That said, I will try to post more in the coming weeks and be more consistent!