Orange is a sad color; like the faded tones of the dying sun at the end of the day, it is the color of loss. I stare out the window with unseeing eyes, but my heart sees the rows of bodies on their orange-draped funeral scaffoldings that lined the great square – bodies of women and children, and of Thera.
Thera’s fingers convulsed about my arm as the sounds of slaughter pierced our hearts. “Markon, I’m scared,” she confessed.
I squeezed back my own fears and tried to comfort her. “Shh…The soldiers won’t find us here.”
Acrid smoke from the burning fields filled the darkness of the cave where we huddled. That was my father’s work. He refused to turn over the labor of his hands to the government soldiers, even though it meant starving in the months ahead – not that most would survive this day to face starvation. The realization washed over me with an icy wave.
“We’ll be ok,” I lied. I was only two turns older than Thera’s eleven turns, but the budding man in me wanted to protect my friend.
“Why do they want to kill us?” she sobbed. “We didn’t do anything to them. And Poppa always said…” Her voice broke. Her father had been one of the first to fall. “Without the food we produce, the people in the city would be hungry. They need Harlonia and the other communes like us to survive.” The words spilled out with a rush. “What will become of us?”
“It will be like at Kahnor, last turn. The soldiers take everything valuable, claiming it’s owed for taxes. Next season they send replacement workers to farm the land. Only the new families will be loyal to the leader, not to our God.”
“But what of us?” Thera insisted. “What happens to us?“
“Once the soldiers leave, we will tend to the dead and hang the orange banners to honor them. After that, we will go to the temple and pray together. Eloi will care for us.” If I said it firmly enough, perhaps I could believe it myself. “You are strong, Thera, strong and smart.” I hugged her and pretended to myself that I could keep her safe.
Thera considered my words. “Yes,” she declared with increasing conviction, “we’re not defeated. We’ll go onward. Eloi will watch over us. ”
Returning to our village the next day, we found it completely destroyed. Salvaging what we could, we trudged across the countryside to the caves above the river, where Thera’s older brothers hid out with the rebels. They fought against the corrupt government that sought to destroy all Believers; it was our turn to join now – or at least to stay with her brothers until we were old enough to do more.
In the years that followed, I worked hard and quickly rose through the ranks of fighters. Thera insisted on going through the training with me. Her quick mind and her strong faith combined to make her an inspiring leader. Riding ahead, waving our banner high for all to see, she urged us all to strike hard and fast in the name of Eloi, our God. With my knowledge of tactics and her brilliant figure leading the way, our rebel troops could do no less than their best; we won many battles.
The ruling government was as strong as it was evil. Our victories came to a halt when their leader determined to put an end to us once and for all. Raiders hit our villages, destroying entire families. My beloved Thera was also struck down and killed. And now, I stare out the window at the multitude of orange draped scaffoldings and ache with the loss.
“General,” my aide announces as he opens the door. “It’s time. The people are waiting for you.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant. I’m ready” Except I wasn’t. What can I possibly say to the mourning families and the disheartened troops Please, Eloi, give me the words. Then I recalled that fateful day in the caves and I knew what Thera would say, what I must say. I step out to face the crowd below.
“The Government thinks they can destroy Eloi by destroying us. But they’re wrong! We will continue to fight their evil. Eloi has not abandoned us, and we will not abandon him! We will fight on!” I raise up Thera’s banner with the orange streamers attached. “Onward, friends! Onward in the name of Eloi, our God!”