From Chuck Wendig’s challenge, Pick one sentence out of ten. Bonus for using more than one. I used two: “Sixty-Four comes asking for bread.” And “The river stole the gods.” Here’s my offering.
“Sixty-Four comes asking for bread.” Cooper nodded at the shambling figure three doors away. He made another pass over the barrel stave he was planing.
Brewer, in Cooper’s shop to pick up an order of three barrels, snorted. “I don’t know why the Magistrate allows border scum to wander freely through town. They’re shifty. And what’s with numbers for names? It ain’t natural.” He glared at the man accepting a donation of an egg in his begging bowl.
“He seems all right to me. There’s a famine on, he’s just trying to keep body and soul together.” Cooper never minded giving Sixty-Four a half loaf of yesterday’s bread. “The gods say it’s better to be kind to the poor.”
Brewer sniffed. “Names are for work, always have been, always will be.” He handed over the silver for the barrels already loaded onto his donkey cart. Just as he picked up the reins, Sixty-Four appeared at the door of the shop.
Sixty-Four bowed. “Blessings upon you, Man.”
The beggar received a glare and Brewer moved on.
“Good Thrassin Day, Sixty-Four.”
“Blessings upon you, Cooper,” he stepped inside the wide doorway and bowed. “You slept well?”
“I did, Sixty-Four, and you?” He put the wood plane he was holding down and reached behind him. He handed the paper wrapped half loaf of bread to the beggar.
“Well enough, oh generous one.” He slipped the bread into an inner pocket of his robe. He made a salaam from forehead to lips to heart and bowed with a flourish. “It’s damp next to the river and I get no younger.”
“I hope it’s better tonight, Sixty-Four. Please, help yourself to water from the rain barrel. It’s better than the river water. I drink from it myself.”
Sixty-Four bowed once more. “May blessings fall on your god Thrassin for whom this day was named.” He went to the barrel and pulled a water bladder from under his robes.
“And what of your gods, Sixty-Four? Do you still worship?” Cooper resumed work on the new barrel stave. Long curls of planed wood wrapped up and over Cooper’s hand as he moved the plane in one long motion along the board.
The air in the bladder bubbled to the surface of the rain barrel. “I do, kind man. He is a powerful god and I pray daily at a little shrine I’ve built at my camp.”
Cooper doubted the god was powerful since Sixty-Four was living in a lean-to at the edge of the river, begging for his daily food but he held his tongue. “A man should pray to his god. I favor our goddess Floria. I prayed to her hourly when my wife was sick for her to grant healing.” Cooper smiled at the memory. “I was afraid I was going to lose her too soon. That was ten years ago. I leave the goddess an offering every Florisday.”
The beggar lifted the now full bladder from the barrel and capped it. “Well done, then, Cooper. May the goddess protect you and your family.”
He bowed again and left the shop.
The next day found the rains beating down from the heavens and Sixty-Four didn’t come by. He must be trying to find shelter away from the river, Cooper thought. He whispered a quick prayer to Floria for the man’s safe-keeping. The next day word was spread throughout the town that the river was rising. The God’s-keep, the main temple to all of the gods, was under threat of being inundated. The priests demanded tithes and sacrifices from every family. Cooper sent a just finished barrel then went home and prayed at the family alter for salvation to come from their gods.
Sixty-Four came by the shop on day three of the rains. Cooper was digging mud from the street and piling it against his shop door. “Escape, Cooper. Take your family and escape. The river rises.”
Cooper stopped shoveling the mud to clasp both arms of the beggar. “Sixty-Four, you’re all right.”
“I’m fine, Cooper. But you must escape. My god is at war with your gods. You must leave before you perish.”
Rain dripped from the end of Cooper’s nose and chin, eyes wide. “Why would our gods be at war?”
“Your priests have abused my god long enough, Cooper. They are constantly attacking our borders, raiding and sacking our towns, and my god has had enough.”
“How do you know this? Who is your god?
“My god is just God. Though some would call him Justice, and some call him Healer. I was sent to see if any among you were worthy of saving. I have chosen you and others who have been kind. Now I give you warning. Leave this town. Travel to my land.”
He handed Cooper a copper disk, stamped with a symbol of a dove and olive branch. “Show this at the border. Take your tools but hurry. They will know you for a chosen one and let you pass.”
Cooper took the disk, turning it over and over in his hand. “Why?”
“You were always kind and generous, but your country, greedy and suspicious.” He turned to leave.
“Wait!” Cooper’s shovel dropped from his hand. “Who are you?”
The man salaamed to Cooper. “Sixty-Four, head priest for God.” He turned on his heel and hurried off.
Cooper lost sight of him in the rain. He gathered his family, his tools and a few precious belongings and set off for higher ground. He and his family reached the border three weeks later. In line at the gate, he found another family waiting to get across. “What happened in my town?” he asked the man.
“We barely escaped. The river rose halfway up the temple walls until they dissolved like salt.” The man shook his head. “People and cattle were screaming in the water when the walls fell.” He wiped his eyes. “The river stole the gods.”
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