Dust swirled around the two gaunt figures as they stepped up to the cistern. They struggled to pull the lid off of the shaft. One man climbed down the ladder. He soon came back up, shaking his head. “It’s down another two feet. At this rate, we’ll be out of water before the winter.”
“I wonder how Chancellor Drake will fix this one.”
“In the worst way possible, Greff. We both know that. Everything he fixes needs fixing again.”
“Well, we’ll tell him the bad news. Come, John, let’s go back to the village.”
Heading slowly down the dry hills, they made their way to a group of scattered huts made of bamboo and thatching. A longhouse sat in the center. It was busy with activity. Vendors selling food and crafts dominating the interior.
A man came out of it and walked up to John and Greff. “How does it look?”
Greff looked at John, who sighed and said, “Chancellor, it’s down two more feet.”
“I’m calling for a meeting of the village leaders. I will solve this problem.” The chancellor stomped off.
John leaned over and said to Greff. “He’s weak. There is no way to fix this problem. Now’s your chance to unseat him.”
“I’ll unseat him just in time to see the villagers die of thirst.”
“What about those in the mountains? They have given us water in the past,” John said.
“It was before my time. I don’t know who they are or if they are still alive. The Chancellor has made us mistrust everyone. We do not talk to those around us, and I dare not go up there for fear he will say I’m conspiring against him with the enemy.”
“I’ll go,” John blurted out. “I’m not a village leader.”
“He’ll say I sent you.”
John shook his head. “I don’t care. We need help. I’m going. I’ll deal with the consequences later.” He walked into his hut, filled his backpack with food, then threw it over his shoulder. He waved as he walked up the old road.
That evening, Greff walked into the longhouse. Torches lit the room. The vendors were all gone replaced by a circle of chairs. Chancellor Drake stood in the center. “Gentlemen, the cistern is down two more feet. We don’t have enough water and what we do have is not going to last much longer.”
Greff folded his arms and leaned back in his chair. “What do you propose, Chancellor?”
Drake gave Greff a steely glare, the one that Greff had seen so many times before. “I say we send away the old of our village, those over sixty. Our hope for the future is the children.”
A stunned silence filled the room. Greff stood and faced the chancellor. “How long will that buy us? Maybe a month? And then what? Are we going to send away all the adults over forty and then over twenty? Soon you’ll have only children in the village. Who’s going to raise them?”
Folding his arms, the chancellor said, “Sit down, Greff. You do not have the floor. If you don’t have a better idea, just keep quiet.”
Greff remained standing. “We don’t know what our options are. We must explore those first before we begin sending away our elders to a certain death.”
“There are no options. I say we put it to a vote.”
“Yes,” Greff said. “If you lose, then I demand a vote of no confidence against you.”
Drake’s face paled. “I will postpone the vote for one week. You can mull it over and see if it’s the best solution.” He turned and walked out of the longhouse.
The oldest of the village leaders came up to Greff. “You did the right thing. He is trying to send me to my death, for all I know, and most of my friends too. We built this village. Now he wants to get rid of us. I won’t go.” He patted Greff on the back. “He knows he doesn’t have the votes to win. You’ll unseat him for sure if he tries to push this through.”
“He has a week to silence the people who will vote against him. He’s devious. Watch your back.”
The knock on Greff’s door came early the next morning. When he opened it, Greff wasn’t surprised to see the chancellor and the sheriff standing outside his door.
“Where is John?” Drake asked.
“You would have to ask John that question.”
“He was last seen with you right before he walked out of town. He’s gone to collaborate with our enemies. That’s treason. That makes you a coconspirator. Sheriff, arrest him.”
“I’m sorry, Greff, I’m going to have to ask you to come with me.”
When they were out of earshot of the chancellor, Greff said, “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I know. He’s just trying to silence your vote. I’ll make sure I release you in time for the meeting.”
Locked into a cage with bamboo bars and a thatched roof, Greff sat down dejectedly.
Soon the sheriff came back with the oldest village leader and locked him into the cage also. “What did he get you for?” Greff asked.
“Someone saw me talking to you after the meeting and said that I was a conspirator in whatever John is doing. I have no idea what John is doing or even that he was doing something.”
“It’s Drake’s way of swaying the vote. If he has us locked up, then he wins.”
The old man looked up at the sky. “Cloudy again. None of this would matter if it would only rain.”
“The clouds only mock us these days. They don’t help us,” Greff replied.
John crested a ridge and found himself looking down at a large blue lake. He could barely see the far shore. He stood there in awe for a long time. After a while, he noticed the villages the dotted the lake. Walking down to the water’s edge, he filled his canteen. The water tasted pure and sweet. He walked into the closest town. To his surprise, people passing by him smiled and said hello. No one tried to arrest him. A sign saying Water Department caught his eye. Straightening his shoulders, he headed in there.
A man studying a map looked up from his work. “Oh, hello there. Not used to having visitors. How can I help you?”
“My village. It’s almost out of water. You have a large lake. Can we have some of your water?”
The man motioned him over. “I’m Aldar, by the way. Show me on the map where your village is.”
John studied the map for a moment. “I didn’t know there were so many villages around. Just here,” he pointed. “That’s where my village is.”
“Oh, yes, that village. We supplied water to that village for many years. Then Drake, your leader, said he didn’t need our water anymore. I warned him that the cistern would run dry, but since he had his own well, he didn’t seem to care. I can refill it from a valve by the lake that opens the pipeline to the cistern, but I have to have his permission to do it.”
“He has his own well?”
“Yes, in the hill above the town.”
“I don’t care what Drake says. If the village doesn’t get water, we all die. I need your help.”
“I’ll go back down there with you. Perhaps between the two of us, we can talk him into it.”
When John and Aldar arrived at the cistern, they both climbed down the ladder. “It’s gone down another foot in three days. How could that be?” John asked.
“That’s easy. There is a valve in the bottom of it. Someone is slowly letting the water out.”
Aldar shrugged. When they reached the top, they found themselves surrounded by Drake and his cronies.
“You are spies. You’re letting the enemy see our weaknesses so they can take advantage of us.”
“You are a liar,” John screamed. “You have your own well and are letting water out of the cistern.”
Drake laughed. “You’re going to wish you hadn’t found that out. These men already know it. You see, there is a large ore deposit under our little village. If all the villagers move out, then my men and I can claim it for our own. Because you left, I have had to move up my timeline. Luckily for me, it hasn’t rained lately. That would complicate things.”
Aldar folded his arms. “I let my people know where I’ve gone. If I don’t come back, then the army will come looking for me and your plot will unravel.”
Drake sneered at him. “Take your friend here and leave. My men will escort you back up the mountain. If either one of you crosses our border again, you will be shot on sight.”
One of the men motioned them up the hill with his gun.
Drake walked up to the sheriff and pointed at the old man and Greff. “John has been caught. He admitted to his crimes, but then was able to escape and has entered enemy territory. These two co-conspirators will be shot at dawn.” He then stormed back out.
“You can’t do that. They have to have a trial,” the sheriff yelled after him.
Drake turned. “The enemy will be upon us soon. I’m declaring martial law. They will be shot at dawn.”
The sheriff threw up his hands then walked over to the cage and opened the door. “He can’t kill you if he can’t find you.” He handed them each a gun. “We’ll go toward the mountain.”
“Why are you coming with us? You’re not in trouble.”
The sheriff smiled, “I will be when I shoot Drake. If I hear him order me around one more time, I’ll do it, I swear I will.”
After hurrying back up to the lake, John and Aldar stopped to rest. “We have to do something. We can’t just let them die.”
“I’m going to turn on the valve that fills the cistern. He won’t know it’s full until the morning,” Aldar said.
Drake and his cronies walked down the center of the village. “Everyone needs to leave. The water is gone.”
One of his men shot into the air. “Now.”
People began to gather their belongings. As they stepped out of their doors, they stopped and looked up at the sky. Small raindrops appeared at first, then the clouds opened up into a deluge.
“We’re saved,” one woman screeched with joy.
Others dropped to their knees.
“What do we do now, boss?”
Drake grasped for answers, but it didn’t matter. He spotted the northern army surrounding them. “Drop your weapons. I don’t want to die today.”
John and Greff walked into the middle of the wet crowd. “The cistern is full!” John announced.
The army marched Drake and his men out of the village.
“What just happened?” one of the women asked.
“We’ve had a change of leadership. Drake won’t be coming back. We’re joining the rest of the villages in an open partnership.”
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