Chapter 2 – A Druid’s Journey
Summary of the Journals
The making of a druid comes with much woe
Conor Logan descended from a long line of Logans tracing his heritage back to the old country. Myth and folklore stored in the family journals told of sheep stealers and inn keepers; the family later, choosing survival over the gallows, took up fishing as a more assured if not more arduous way of life. Conor’s more immediate ancestors had immigrated to this land a couple of centuries before. Two brothers boarded a ship in the old country. One of the brothers died soon after the crossing, from a disease that took hold of him while on the voyage. The other brother went on to have a family of two—Benjamin and Daniel.
Those two brothers set out at an early age to make their fortune in the world. They undertook a journey to an island well east of the great continent, an island known to be teeming with fish of every sort. The two were fishermen at heart, perhaps feeling a connection to men before them who had earned their livelihood on the sea. The voyage began with abundant good spirits, from a small fishing port on the mainland looking east to a vast horizon of ocean. They sailed south and east to where their ship met with a raging storm as they neared the Southern Cape of Gray Rocks Island. This treacherous cape had earned the respect and concern of all who sailed those waters. The cape was often immersed in fog banks, appearing out of nowhere and remaining for weeks—a thick, gray soup. Such thick fog banks offered no visibility beyond your nose. Some even argued it was best to close your eyes in such situations as one could then at least provide a mental image of intended destination.
A pleasant journey turned to misadventure for Ben and Daniel. Their ship came captained by a seasoned sailor, but on a raging sea covered in dense fog, no vessel could be considered safe. The wooden hulled schooner slammed full ahead into the one hundred foot cliffs—another feature which made the Southern Cape famous.
Many an inn, where brew served the thirsty, might also serve up an old sea shanty that told of the cape’s dark past.
There’s a black crow on my shoulder
A north wind’s comin’ on
There’s a black crow on my shoulder
That howlin’ gale is strong
Been sailing south for many long days
On an angry ocean swell
If there’s any sight of land to see
This devil fog won’t tell
I fear we can’t go forward
I know we can’t go back
And the riggin’s talkin’ to me
The sails will give no slack
I hear a whisper
It’s the crazy ocean’s sister
She’ll take me to my water grave
She’s a siren, I’m her slave
Benjamin was one of two to survive; the other was not his brother. Ben finally made his way to the northern shores of Gray Rocks Island, and established a canning factory which supported the local fishing industry for many decades. The fisheries had since died as did the heart of the small coves about the great island; Conor’s grand-father was born in the cove, and left while still a youth, and traveled to the mainland to find new opportunities.
When the collapse occurred, Conor, little more than one year old, and his family represented a lucky few tucked away in the mountains away from civilization. His father and mother were soon before teaching crop administration and growth as professors in a large university. They left the “big city” setting and put what they knew into practice, a few years before the Conor was born.
The collapse ended all but necessary travel for them, and Conor’s family learned the need to stay hidden and leave few signs upon the land that they even existed. The small community of less than a hundred moved about as the ebb and flow of hunting and farming dictated. They shared with each other and hid any food—mostly preserves that could survive the stay for a return trip in their annual rotation.
The encampment they utilized in summer offered little to resemble a library, but it held a small cellar where a cache of books and journals lay hidden. He always loved returning to the summer area, as living there represented best his idea of home, the longest stay and the most enjoyable times he could remember of those early years.
***Conor At Six Years Old – Five years after the collapse***
Conor was six and his sister a few years older on this particular rotation. The cold of winter still stuck to their mountain quarters. It had been a difficult stay with deep snows and a scarcity of food. The herds that normally populated the area in winter had not returned. Hunting was difficult and sparse with success. The group was more than usually excited to be returning south to lower pastures in hopes of a bountiful summer growing season. The lush green valley thrived once again with flowers and wildlife. The rivers flowed fat with the deluge precipitated by the spring thaw. Conor was coming home, his favorite place.
Summer home allowed a special moment each day. When the chores were completed his mother would sit him and his sister down and read from one of the books or journals.
This evening she promised to read from an old journal written by one of his ancestors.
A small campfire burned and the night sky twinkled with stars. A few others gathered as his mother took her familiar seat and readied the journal.
The attack came quickly and seemingly from all sides. His mother moved to snatch him and his sister to safety but the attackers had planned—and now carried out with machinelike precision—a near complete massacre of the small band of people. The terrible atrocity resulted in much screaming and bloodshed. This abated quickly as his friends and family were dispatched without a chance to defend themselves—so overpowering was the attack.
Conor could scarcely comprehend what was happening. His mind went numb with the violence he witnessed; he had no understanding to why such an event had unfolded. He wished only they had not left their winter home so soon. He and his sister, along with all the younger members of the small tribe, were gathered up and caged for the journey ahead.
A few of the elders escaped; Conor knew from what he witnessed that his parents were not among them. The attackers took nothing other than children.
A group of clan members circled the campfire and urinated as the others tipped over tables and supplies. The campfire hissed the only sign of counterattack against the onslaught.
They became captives of the Gaters—traded twice and finally ended up far north, where they began learning the ways of a particular clan somewhere in a city that had once been a major metropolis along the Big River.
***Conor At Fourteen Years Old – Fifteen years after the Collapse ***
Conor lived a bitter existence during those years. His sister fared even worse; being forced to take a husband at such a young age. The good news, should there be any, was that Tex owned ten other wives and carried sufficient rank in the Gater Clan to ensure Conor and his sister remained safe from harm from anyone other than himself.
His sister continually told Conor stories of their family and how things used to be, how they would once again be united, though he knew different. She kept him well-informed about the world they now lived in, guiding him in what it took to survive. She brought him books from the spoils her husband often returned with from his many escapades. Conor became an avid reader of everything he could get his hands on, if only to avoid the unpleasant reality of his surroundings. He felt the taint upon his hands of every book he read, giving a silent prayer for the immense price that strangers had paid so he might read.
Conor turned fourteen, the same year Tex informed him it was time to join the ranks of the raiders. At first he merely shared in the returning raid party stories of the hunt. Next he participated in the daily lesson, where he learned to fight and kill. Weapons, which at first were strange and awkward to his touch, soon became lightning deliverers of death. He joined in the raids before he turned fifteen; though his role was mostly one of gathering the contraband, he witnessed and was forced to participate in the carnage that took place, even if only as a spectator.
He rebelled as best he could; tried many times to talk about the violence, but Tex would have none of it. The more Conor pushed, the harder the slaps he received from Tex’s impatient hand. Tex and the rest of the Gaters only saw a boy who needed to become a man.
His sister entered her seventeenth year a few days before. Conor returned to the house along with Tex. Tex came covered with blood from the raid and had consumed the usual amount of brew to anoint the cruelty he had displayed. Conor’s sister came down from upstairs to help comfort her brother, as she knew full well the shame and remorse he always carried from such episodes.
She went to where Conor sat and put her hand on his head. He could not even look up to acknowledge her presence.
“Leave the boy alone.” Tex pushed his wife against the wall. “You’re the reason your brother is useless to us on raids. I spend more time pushing him along than getting any real work done. This is your damn fault. I will have no more.”
Tex unloaded a mouthful of expletives designed to explain to his wife she paid too much attention to her brother. Brutality being his favorite tool of persuasion, he slapped her across the face as he took another gulp of the brew he held in his other hand.
“You’ll not disrespect me in my own house. I gave you and your little brat brother a place to live. And this is the thanks I get.”
Tex moved closer, his fist clenched for another assault. Conor, with all the force a young boy could muster, slammed Tex in the side of his head. Tex shook his head and laughed. He grabbed Conor by the hair and lifted him off the ground. He released his grip and Conor dropped to the floor, a backhand from Tex sending him careening across the room.
Conor’s sister screamed for Tex to stop. Tex cursed and gripped her neck. He threw his empty mug against the wall, took her head and snapped it back, breaking off her last words in mid-sentence. He cursed her name.
Conor rose from the corner in rage as the lifeless body of his sister hit the floor. Tex turned toward him with rage also in his eyes. The boy of fourteen grabbed a shearing knife from the block on the counter, then the man of fourteen plunged the knife deep into Tex’s chest.
Their eyes locked for one last instant. Tex saw then the demons who would drag him to hell, and Conor felt his soul tremble with the horror of what he had done.
His sister’s last words rang again in his mind, “Run, Con—”
And run he did.
He spent that night calling her name in a whisper. When morning came he never spoke it again until his sins demanded it.
*** Conor Seventeen Years Old – Eighteen years after the collapse ***
Conor learned that some things are not easy to run away from. The brutal massacre of his parents he carried with a mixture of irreconcilable loss and shame that he should have done something to stop what had happened. The killing of his sister left the burden of guilt and an empty void that he was alone. He felt the blood on his hands for what he had done to Tex, one demon telling him he should have done it sooner, another demon telling him murder was wrong.
He had raced from the island giving little thought to direction. He ended up south from Big River. The skills he had learned from the Gaters now became an asset. He knew how to kill and steal, move in stealth and take what he wanted. This new environment was bewildering and hostile—a perfect haven for his intense anger. He stole food and clothing wherever and from whomever he could and he learned that the will to survive is a mighty teacher.
In less than a year he’d been joined by others and they became a pack of feral dogs doing whatever needed to be done to survive. He soon lost all sense of social order and immersed himself in leading his small band to acquire what they needed by whatever means he thought necessary.
They scouted out a small camp and decided the five of them—his favorite size group to hunt with—would easily overpower the group of three around the small campfire site. They walked in, weapons displaying their intentions.
The two women and the man at the fire stood and moved together, preparing for the inevitable confrontation. As they did so, Conor glanced behind him, only to be surprised by three men moving in from behind—he had not staked out the camp properly.
What should have been a simple overpowering exercise in intimidation and robbery turned to bedlam. The first shot came from one of three approaching from behind. One of Conor’s comrades flew forward and slumped to the ground. Conor dove to the ground, rolled and came up facing the three who had surprised them.
The air rang with the explosive pops of rounds leaving the chamber and landing in flesh, bone, and what else might be in the way of eleven people caught up in a tragic event.
The encounter was over in seconds, the scene now one of blood and silence.
Conor heard a click from behind. That gun was empty.
The gun he carried was empty as well. All of his men were dead.
He turned to face the last one standing from the group they intended robbing. She reached into her pack for another clip. Conor covered the distance before she could insert the clip, and grabbed for her legs, bringing her to the ground.
She hit the ground with a thump and began to strike at him with all her strength. Conor grabbed her arms and laughed at her feeble attempts to free herself.
Then the full import of his actions shattered him. He recalled his sister crumbling to the floor.
He let the woman go and he ran.
Then he ran some more.
*** Conor Nineteen Years Old – Twenty years after the collapse ***
The time following the incident, the madness of what he had done, the events surrounding the death of his sister, and before that his mother and father, etched themselves deep in his sub-conscious, mixing together to return in recurring unsettling dreams and nagging dreadful thoughts, all the time as he wandered in solitude, dragging the remorse on his young back. He vowed never to steal again or take another life. No matter what he did to push back the evil he had done, his mind insisted he wander inside a dark, heavy hell that all but engulfed him. Some days, he would hope for an encounter that would end his life, end the memories. The irony might be the resolve he now embraced, deemed giving himself up for the slaughter, as no less an evil than carrying out such a slaughter. So, he continued on.
The seasons circled while he took the time to adjust to his new resolve. He headed south from the extreme cold and when the winds turned warm once more he migrated north, keeping to himself except in the rarest of circumstances.
The solitude finally found him longing to visit one more time the place his family most felt at home. He could not recall the way; the path to where he was and where he had come from was but a blur and a series of disconnects to any discernable route. With a vague direction in mind he continued south beyond his usual boundaries. The new journey included gradual reorientation with people he met along the path, perhaps hoping to find himself again. When he could not forage from the forest he presented himself to whatever group he thought to be marginally safe and asked for food in return for work.
Most of the people he met were accommodating and did their best to offer him aid. This made him all the more guilty for the terrible things he had done to others and again the irony of the situation drove him to meet his demons as perhaps a path to himself.
Happenstance presented a large farming community that offered work in summer and hunting, trapping, and woodcutting in the winter months. He allowed himself to join the community, which in turn gave him a place to heal, rest, and ponder.
No one asked him too many questions. He worked harder than anyone and accepted only the food it took to keep him alive.
The community had a small library, which contained many books that dealt with mind development and scientific breakthroughs in the centuries before the big collapse. At first he could not even bring himself to pick up a book. He would visit there at times and only browse. Finally, one day when he found the library empty he picked up one of the books.
From that time forward, whenever he was not working he was reading and writing in a new journal the community provided him, once they recognized his propensity to write and read. He even took to reading to the children, and ofttimes adults, inside the community cooking hut.
In the months that followed he slowly regained a piece of his humanity and a terrible but necessary understanding of good and evil that he would be forced to carry forever. He recognized clearly the choices a man can make and he pondered how easily it was to choose evil over good. The difference lay in the understanding of life’s purpose.
Much of his reading time was spent researching and contemplating what that purpose might be, and when he felt another phase was complete he told the small community it had grown time for him to leave, and he continued on his quest to find his home.
It was during the early start of the next autumn he finally happened upon what was the last gathering place of his family. Nothing looked familiar, though he was certain of his surroundings—if only by the fire pit in the center where he had last seen his mother and father. He went there, knelt, and closed his eyes. Too much had happened since, to even wish them back; all he hoped for was a connection.
The footsteps behind him caused him to struggle to his feet and turn around. An old man put out his hand in welcome.
Conor blinked an opening through the flow of tears and shook the old man’s hand. “I am sorry. I’m just passing through and I will be on my way.”
“Sit, my friend. You do not strike me as a man in a hurry.”
“Perhaps you’re right.”
The old man bade Conor sit on a bench, where he joined him.
“I saw you arrive and kneel beside the pit. I knew immediately you were somehow connected to that terrible tragedy that fell on our community.” A young lady arrived with two mugs. “I asked young Stella to bring us some tea as I came to talk with you.”
Conor accepted the tea and they both sat a few minutes in silence. Conor then told the old man of his family, how his mother would read from the journals around the fire. The old man acknowledged they were his friends as well as Conor’s family.
More silence ensued.
The old man commenced speaking once again and Conor listened intently; the old man bowing his head, perhaps is shame, as he described how he and few others had escaped the massacre.
Conor gave the old man a hug and explained some of his own shame and remorse. “Some actions might well be your own but they do not necessarily define who you are or what you might become. A character is much more a long series of decisions and experience. Any one action, no matter how big, is but a drop of water in the lake of who you are.”
The old man bowed his head once again. “I sense your wisdom has come at a terrible price.”
Conor didn’t answer.
When next Conor spoke he expressed his intention to move on.
“Wait just a moment.” The old man scurried to the small hut behind where they had been sitting. He returned with a large stack of journals. Conor knew immediately what they were—the journals of his ancestors, including the writings of his father and mother. He took them and rubbed his hand over the faded leather.
“I don’t know why I kept them but I’m glad I did.”
Conor turned and walked away into the evening—his two pack mules with a little more burden, his burden somewhat lighter.
He read the journals from start to finish a few times; then he headed to where a few from his ancestral family had long ago lived—a place he would learn had been renamed North Face Cove.