The dusty path winds languidly through the forested area, rising and falling, and the loose boulders in the dry sand do not make the hike easier. Tall trees around the road lined with lush ferns fortunately offer some shelter from the bright sun. In this hot summer weather John and Edith do not travel long distances, but prefer to enjoy the surroundings, sheltering in the shade along a fresh stream. They have not met other passers-by for several days. While this in itself is strange for this frequently used route, they have no problem with it, distracted as they are by new impressions at every corner or hill. This is the last remote area before they come near a larger city. Usually you have to watch out for roaming tribes, foreigners with a different culture, of which you never know how they react to a lonely traveling couple. The silence around them is therefore reassuring and peaceful.
When they reach the umpteenth long slope, they hear soft but gradually stronger noise ahead of them. The sounds seem to fail to roll over the top. Edith is curious what awaits them, but John is immediately alert: this is not caused by animals or normal travelers on their way through the forest. He urges Edith to be silent, and walks more slowly now, spying ahead and listening. It is a swelling cacophony of tones, voices, clapping, murmur, utterly chaotic. John can now look over the slope without being seen from the other side, and immediately the noise is louder. He also hears crackling, breaking wood, metal on metal, crying voices, cries of pain, screaming … Instinctively they collapse and hide among the ferns, while they cautiously sneak further to see what is going on. Then Edith notices some movement in the distance, and almost utters a cry of fright. Further afield, the forest ends in a light spot, and behind the silhouettes of dark trunks she sees figures walking, running, and feels more than she hears it that there’s a fight out there. Someone flees the road, in their direction, then falls over and doesn’t get up anymore. Now they also smell smoke, and see occasional flames flaring up. Apparently it is not just wood that burns yonder.
For a moment they are paralyzed with fear, but then Edith wants to get up. “John, there are people in need! We have to see if we can help them! ” But John stops her, and pushes her back. She protests, and angrily John reminds her to be quiet. He knows what’s going on there. He has heard stories from both survivors and braggers. One is wondering what happened to him, and why, while the other, often in a daze, is proud of conquered property. In both cases, their former community allowed the people to recover from the past, and then absorbed them in their own ranks. After all, there was always plenty to do, and activity makes us forget about traumas. In a group, someone often behaves very differently than as a loner, and in another circle people are usually ashamed of earlier offenses. The former community of John and Edith never chose party for practical reasons. First, the past cannot be undone anyhow, and it keeps you out of the conflicts of others.
John guesses that a rowdy gang has come across a group of the roaming people. That’s when two cultures collide, and the most primitive reactions emerge: exercise the right of the strongest bone, and destroy the deviant culture. The gangs think it’s normal to take whatever they want. Their values are mainly about camaraderie, physical strength and the quantity of material possession. They are just as indifferent to the lives of their victims as those of their companions who get into trouble because of a mistake. Their work is to steal with the least amount of risk and loss what others have achieved through fair work. Roaming tribes, on the other hand, live mostly in and from nature. Their values and norms are derived from that, and often more spiritual in nature. Wisdom and insight are honored, and family ties are important for passing on knowledge and experience. Although they can defend themselves well, generally they are not a party to the organized gangs of locals who fight with brute force. Something like that seems to be going on over there, like a pack of wolves attacking a sheep herd.
“Edith, we are only two of us! We can’t do anything without being at risk ourselves. For both parties we are strangers, and therefore a potential enemy! And such a gang will never let us go because of what we have seen! ”
He notices how it takes a while before Edith’s anger starts to fade. Her first reaction is actually also very basic: choose a side and offer help. She had always been indignant about their old community, which never expressed a verdict that prevents future abuses. She thought this was cowardly, and only to the advantage of merchants who did not hurt anyone, but who always wanted to gain maximum benefit without compassion. Helping people on the basis of trust was a quality she had only recognized in a few people, such as Joseph, and of course John. They are really open to other impressions, perspectives and opinions, while the others talk about tolerance, but in reality simply ignore the differences. Edith does not want to be part of such a group, and that was her main motivation to support John in his preparations to leave.
Edith realizes that unfortunately John is right. It is even better to go a bit further away from the road, in case the victor moves on in this direction. She shakes off her frustration, and says, “Okay! I understand. Let’s look for a better shelter and wait. From here we can pay attention to possible refugees. Do you think we should make a detour? ”
“No, probably not. Such gangs do not linger long. A patrol or another travel group may pass. If they have what they want, they’ll leave again. Then we can see how to help the people out there.”
Indeed, the noise quickly reduces to a single call or laughter, and soon they see how a troop moves in their direction. John realizes that the other party has probably traveled in the same direction ahead of him and Edith, the reason why they didn’t meet other folks for quite a while. By chance the gang met the tribe, with an inevitable clash as a result. He shudders. It could have happened to him and Edith… At some distance the gang passes them now, rampageous men and women who shout loudly, help each other with occasional injuries, and in the meantime admire all sorts of objects. John shivers at the sight of their incomprehensible body decorations and the disorderly uniformity of their clothing. They are too far away to see the look in their eyes, but John guesses that the afterglow of the addictive struggle and the intoxication of victory are still reflected in it. He notices that Edith cautiously creeps further away, and together they wait, tensed, until the group is away far enough, and they know for sure that there are no more leftovers.