Baker County Tourism (Oregon), picture courtesy of Flickr
It had been the flock of sheep that had sniffed it out, leading the rest of the parched and dusty travelers in their wake. Bedraggled and travel worn, they had been wandering for weeks before stumbling across the river.
Still, they had all waited patiently until Sept scanned the empty terrain and nodded his approval before breaking formation and heading to the shore. Tired feet suddenly bore wings as young and old ran to the promise of water, enough water to fully quench their thirst.
Sept, too, took a deep gulp of the water, then joyfully dunked his head into the cool liquid. He straightened up and with a deep sigh of pleasure, shook his head, his drenched hair flying out, spattering the ground.
Quadra lifted a gaunt hand to ward off the drops and chuckled. “You’re as bad as the children.”
His eyes followed hers to their three squealing boys splashing about in the water with the younger shepherds and the children of the other families. His stern face softened, smoothing his lines of fatigue. Quadra’s warm hand slipped into his and squeezed gently.
He looked about, taking in the lush vegetation, the gentle expanse of land. Sept bent over and scooped up a handful of earth, fingering it softly as he let it drop.
He could feel Quadra’s questions probing his mind, as he returned the pressure of her fingers. “Yes, this is it. A place we can settle.”
She sighed in relief. With a flick of her hand, she waved their servants over and soon had them setting up camp while Sept spoke with the other families, allocating places to each.
Quadra’s sleek hand stroked the rich fabric stretched over her growing belly as she walked to the river. She smiled at the sight of the village sheep, on the rise beyond the watering place—such a far cry from the ragged flock they had arrived with a few years earlier. The river’s abundant water supplied all their need and blessed their every endeavor. Life was good.
She always enjoyed the chance to appreciate it on her walks to the river, when she had a chance to view all the richness her people had been blessed with. It was a product of the land, the water, and their hard work.
As Quadra drew close enough to the watering place on the river to make out the faces of her friends, she felt the earth tremble with the thunder of hooves. She looked up, surprised, to see a host of stern, dark-eyed, dark- haired riders approach. She took in their ragged clothing and dust-matted hair and drew herself up.
“Welcome to our village,” she said. “Please, feel free to slake your thirst at the river. There are pools downriver where you can wash yourselves and land where you can pitch your tents.”
Quadra smiled, gestured with her hand, and turned her head in the same direction towards the pool. Which is why she was spared seeing what happened next.
The lead rider’s eyes shone a bit as his thin lips lifted in a smirk, but before it could fade, his sword was out, and Quadra’s hand with its pointing finger lay on the ground.
Terrified shrieks mingled with war cries as the men slashed their way through the women, towards the water. The terrible sounds drew the shepherds from the grazing land, the men from the fields.
Sept cursed as he stopped for his sword on his way to join the fray. Lulled by the river’s abundance, the plentiful land and their heretofore few, peaceful visitors, they had become lax.
When he arrived at the bloodied shore, he was disheartened to see that few of the men had stopped for weapons; most had arrived to battle armed with nothing more threatening than their crooks and staves, hoes and a few scythes. Sept could not see Quadra, although she usually came to the river at this hour. Perhaps today she had taken the younger children further afield. Caught up in the fighting, though, he had no time to do more than pray that she was safe.
Despite their best efforts, within an agony of minutes that seemed to extend slow motion into hours, most of them joined the mutilated bodies of the women lining the river.
The earth turned slippery from a river of blood, mocking the clear waters as it flowed alongside them.
Septa wiped his brow, bewildered. “But why?” he wondered aloud. “There is land and water to share.”
“Because we want the river all for us,” declared the lead rider, as he sliced him down from behind.