“Hi, John.” Martin replied casually, seemingly unaware of the tension between the two groups.
“We’ve been waiting for you.” Toby replied every bit as casually. His face, however, was unsmiling and serious. Toby did not waste any more time with polite greetings. “Let’s get into the matter. You ‘claim’”, Toby then made rabbit ear quotation gestures, to signify that he did not recognize the validity of the word, “that this piece of land is yours?”
“Woah, kid, let us finish introducing ourselves first.” Martin said. I saw Toby roll his eyes at being called ‘kid’. “So, as you already know, I’m Martin, while this”- Martin gestured to a tall, scary looking guy- “is Luke. This”-Martin pointed to another tall, scary looking guy, “is Rick. The others are back at our camp.”
“Mhm.” I said in response. “Now get on with it.”
“You people are impatient, aren’t you? Well, yes, we do claim this area as our territory, though you may use this bit.”
“We were here before you.” Anne said. I didn’t even see that she had come to stand beside me. “Why shouldn’t this be our territory instead, if there is such a thing as territorial divisions?”
The guy called Luke spoke. His voice was rough. “We’re the stronger group here. You ain’t gonna call this your own.”
“It’s a national park. It doesn’t belong to anyone.”
“Well, I don’t give a crap. It’s ours and you better move out.”
Rick quickly cut in. His voice was the softest of the three. “We can share, but as long as you accept our terms. We’ve made a list of things.”
“Nice. Show us.”
“One: you agree that you will not go into our camp’s area without permission. Two: since we’re fairly new to this area, you will show us the water sources. Three: you will share your food, water and supplies with us. Four: if we need help, we may call from you. Five: if you break these terms, we may raid your camp.”
“What? Why?” I exclaimed. “I mean, sure we can show you the water sources and stuff, and we will never enter your camp’s area without permission, but why do we have to share our supplies with you? In all practicality, we’re becoming your slaves!”
“What do you mean by raiding us?” Toby also asked.
“Might makes right.” grumbled Luke. “If you won’t share us your supplies you’re dead meat. We’re gonna kick you guys out of here. Now move and give us your stuff.”
“We’d like time to consider your terms.” Anne quickly said. Martin just as quickly agreed and persuaded Luke to head back to the camp.
“I’ll come over here in an hour.”
When they left, we sat down to talk.
“Who do they think they are?” Toby yelled, a bit too loudly. “There’s no such thing as might makes right.”
“Well, they think there is and we can’t do anything about that.” I muttered. “So, do we accept?”
“No way!” Toby shouted. “Not in a million years.”
Isaac, who rarely participated much in our conversations, said “We should.”
“That wasn’t the whole group, so there’s more of them. They’re bigger than us, stronger than us and most likely they’re more violence-happy than we think they are. Martin was an example yesterday.” Isaac explained. “Let’s just give in. It’s not like we eat a lot anyway. And we have time to help serve them.”
Wow, good old logic. That’s the old Isaac I knew, so different from the new one so transformed by the revolution.
“It’s true.” Anne said. “But then, if we accept, doesn’t that mean that they get to impose all sort of demands on us? What if they ask for all our supplies? Or our tents? Or if they ask us to go and be their servants every day for five hours?”
“I think we shouldn’t accept.” Sophie said.
Toby said, “But then they’ll raid this camp. We can’t always be fighting. It’s hard enough just trying to constantly find food and water here in this godforsaken national park.” Since Toby was the main force in doing these tasks, he had right in mentioning these.
Sophie said, “Well, but if we accept, we’ll have to spend time helping them instead of helping us.”
I thought for a moment. An idea hit me. “Guys, I think I know.”
“I’m sure that they move constantly. See how ragged and dirty they look? I think that they must be moving constantly. I mean, we move a lot and we’re still don’t look as barbaric and poor as them.” Sophie chuckled at the word barbaric. We had never described our self appearance that way. “I think they must be some sort of gang of raiders and robbers or something. They made those terms so that they were so harsh we would refuse anyway.”
“But then why would they come and give us the terms instead of attacking us right away, when we are unprepared?” Isaac questioned.
I thought for a moment. “Maybe they think it’s because with luck, we would accept. After all, they don’t seem terribly smart. Martin’s excuse yesterday was horrible, Rick seems the most normal of the three of them while Luke looks like one of those bullies who’s strong but stupid. They probably didn’t think too much when making these plans.
“Their logic is probably that if we accept, then they’d get slaves to use without having to use any violence and risk getting themselves injured. If we don’t, they attack and get the goods they want.”
“Ah, I see.” Anne said. “I think I can place the puzzles together. Yesterday, Martin probably meant to attack John and steal what he needed; but since he failed, he had to make up a cover story, which is why his speech was so filled with ‘ums’. It probably isn’t normal for them to make terms like that, but since Martin saw that we weren’t exactly pushovers, and we were prepared for an attack anyway, the group decided to come up with these terms.”
“Makes sense.” said Toby. “Anyway, we should reject these terms. There’s more long term disadvantages than benefits.”
“Then where can we go?” Isaac asked.
Toby shrugged. “We still have the cabins.”
“So that’s the plan, then. We reject these offers and try to repel these ‘raids’ if we can. If we can’t we return to the cabins.” Anne concluded.
It was at this time that we heard Martin’s voice. “Hey, guys. What do you think?”
“It’s not an hour yet, not even close.” Toby snapped. “Why are you here?”
“Well, I didn’t look at my watch.” Martin shrugged. “So, do you reject or accept?”
“We reject.” Toby said.
Martin looked disappointed. “Well, that’s bad. You won’t like what we’re going to do.”
“Bring on your best.” I said firmly. “We’re not scared.”
Martin said, “Well, if you change your mind, let us know before nightfall. We’re living in cabins not so far from here. Look around, and you’ll find us there.” Martin then turned back into the wilderness and left us.
His last words had left us frozen. Toby simply looked at me blankly.
“They’re living…at the cabins.” Sophie said. The fact was slowly sinking into us.
“Well…that’s nice.” Isaac said. “Good for them. What the hell do we do then?”
Toby growled. “We can only do our best to defend this camp.” He said darkly. “There’s nothing more we can do.”
“Well…” Isaac started, “we could tell them we changed our mind…”
“And maybe they’ll impose even harsher terms than before? No.”
“I think we should make the wall John talked about when we just set up this camp.” Anne said. “Right now, we have only tents and a
fireplace. No defenses. Let’s make a wall.”
“How?” I blurted, without thinking. Wait, actually I knew the answer to my own question. “Oh, I know. Bamboo.”
“Yes.” Toby agreed. “We’ll just make a circle of bamboo sticks around the camp. We don’t actually have to make them all be stuck to each other. There can be small areas in the middle, but the areas have to be smaller than what a person can pass through. We’ll only leave one entrance in the middle. We can concentrate our defenses there.”
“Rather primitive, but a good plan.” Isaac commented. Wow, a compliment from Isaac. This is a first!
We quickly set to work. Half of the dozens of spears we had as spares were quickly plunged into the ground, while Toby and Sophie set off to cut bamboo. Isaac was set for sentry duty. Every hour, Sophie would return carrying a bunch of bamboo. It was a busy day preparing the defenses. After around four hours, we gathered to look at our creation. It was a very primitive wall that encircled our tents with gaps between the bamboo, but it looked like it would work.
“We need to have a more complex defense structure than this.” Sophie said. “Is it possible to make a moat?”
“And who’s going to dig it, or fill it with water?” Toby asked. “Not me. No, we don’t have time. Now, we need to rest, although with spear in hand. We need to be prepared when the attack comes.”
It was agonizing, waiting for hours and hours knowing that soon you would have to fight. Human nature was strange, I reflected. Even though we were just small groups of people living in the forest, we had to fight. We still had our own mini-wars. People couldn’t be satisfied with what they have. They always wanted more, and violence was an easy way to get it.
Something that I did to pass the time was listen to Isaac drone on about the Art of War by Sun Zi. Isaac had always loved to boast abouthis knowledge, although he hadn’t done that in a while since the revolution happened. However, he seemed to finally be regaining his former self, and so he declared to me he would apply Sun Zi’s principles on the fight we were about to have.“Go ahead,” I had said. I was interested to know how practical this Chinese general is.
“First- who has the right according to the moral law? Well, we’re the people in the right here, as we’re the ones defending our own camp against a gang of raiders. One point to us.” Isaac looked to me, as if checking if I was still with him.
“Go on.” I said.
“Second- does heaven benefit us? This means if whether the weather and time of day is on our side. Well, we’re on a disadvantage no matter what, as they’re the ones who can choose when to attack. And since they will probably attack during the best time for them, they take the point.” I nodded in response.
“Third- does Earth benefit us? This means terrain and distances. It’s at our own camp, and we know it better than them, so I have to say we take the point. Four- on whose side is the commander more wise, strict and courageous? We can’t know for sure, so I call this a tie. Five- on whose side is discipline and method more strictly enforced? Again, we can’t know for sure, so this is a tie.”
“Wow, you remember all this?” I asked in real amazement. Isaac nodded.
“We have a slight edge above them.” Isaac concluded. “Shall I now talk about the NATO principles of warfare?” Anne then called Isaac for sentry duty, and he left. I would not have been surprised if he continued explaining to a tree about warfare.
We took turns for sentry duty. The sentry was placed outside our gap-filled wall, and sat there for an hour. He or she was the first to alarm the rest of us sitting in our tents of anyone who approached. I realized that it was not a bad system, and perhaps we should have used it to watch out for soldiers even when there were no hostile gangs knocking on our front door saying, “Hey, can we raid you and steal your stuff?”
Just about before nightfall, while I laid in my tent daydreaming, Toby came in.
“Hey, it’s your sentry duty turn now.”
“Shoot, I was hoping I would get more rest.” I yawned, hoping that Toby would have mercy upon me, but Toby simply left. Although my mind protested, my body lifted up and walked to the entrance.
And there, I saw Martin, standing with Luke and Rick, along with about three more people.
I quickly did the math. They had five people. We had five.
It would be a fair battle.