Mortown was a place that really did not live up to it’s name. Instead of being the large and thriving place that it’s name suggested, it was a small town, not much bigger than a village. It’s situation was very isolated. There were only very few ramshackle houses scattered around the outlying area, most of which had been long since abandoned to become no more than empty derelict shells.
The population of Mortown was small, numbering only five hundred, give or take a few. Sometimes the numbers would increase when babies were born, but equally the population would suffer a decrease when there were deaths. In spite of its few members, Mortown was a place that was very self-contained. As much as was possible would be grown or made within the town itself, with the population having a wide and varied collection of skills.
The people of Mortown were, for the most part, content. They each had a place in the community and all were given respect. Of course there were times when tempers would flare, and disputes would arise, but they never got out of hand before some resolution would be found. A settlement would be reached; one that would eventually be seen by all sides as being both fair and reasonable.
Because of its isolation, Mortown rarely attracted newcomers. Those that had arrived during the previous decade could have been tallied up on the fingers of both hands. Likewise, the residents had little interest in the goings on elsewhere. It would take something pretty momentous to have any disrupting effect on their lives, after all.
No one seemed to notice when things changed. Instead of all the residents being treated as equals, one of the newcomers had stepped forward and had taken charge. At first it was barely noticeable; problems of any kind would be taken to this one man and his control over the town began to grow. First one then another man was recruited and given privileges, once they had pledged to serve him rather than the town as a whole.
Where the weapons came from seemed to be a mystery. The man must have brought them in undercover, hidden in one of the rare shipments from outside. It did not take many armed men to seize the town and take it over. Night and day there would be patrols; most of the guards had been one-time friends, but their attitude to the rest of the townsfolk changed into one of coldness and superiority. They were representatives of the ruler now and mixed only amongst themselves.
It did not take long for a curfew to be introduced and the people, although confused and nervous, obeyed. Infringements were harshly dealt with and the townsfolk were too scared to intervene. Life as they had known it was gone.
A meeting was called and everyone was required to attend, from the oldest resident to the youngest child. To ensure that none took it into their heads that they could stay away, several of the guards, guns in hand, called at and searched each house. The townsfolk were herded towards the Town Hall, their fear keeping them silent. What the meeting was about and why they have been forced to attend, none of them knew. Stony-faced guards stood by the door, waiting for the last to arrive before finally opening the doors and ushering the tense townsfolk inside.
In spite, or maybe because, of their fear, the people walked in an orderly fashion to sit in the seats that had been arranged to face the podium. They barely made a movement once sat, and even the baby sensed something wrong and refrained from crying. The seconds turned to minutes as the guards stood, spread out along both sides of the hall and in front of the doors.
Someone needed to speak up, to demand to know what is going on, but no one seemed prepared to do so. Instead they sat in silence, waiting for the man, their self-appointed leader, to take to the stage and offer some kind of answer.
Amberly Haig and Joel Farr sat side-by-side. They longed to hold hands but instead made do with moving that bit closer together. They were very much in love and had plans to wed as soon as the arrangements could be made. Their families were delighted by the prospect of the marriage, for the couple not only adored each other but respected each other too.
Someone clambered up onto the stage and all eyes became fixed on him. It is not the leader, but a man none of them have ever got to know well. Another outsider, this one seemed to have brought the change with him.
“I will call out names,” he said, his voice loud enough to reach the back of the hall without amplification, “and if your name is called you are to walk straight up to the front of the stage. Do not linger, but rise from your seats straight away.”
Joel and Amberly held hands then as the names of some of their neighbours and friends are called out. There gets to be quite a gathering at the front of the stage but still there is no clue as to why these people were being singled out. Clearly the man had almost finished, for he began folding up the sheet of paper, pushing it into his pocket. There could only be one final name left: “Amberly Haig.”
Mindful of the instructions that have been given out, she quickly disentangled her fingers from Joel’s and rose to her feet. Could the others see how she was trembling? Amberly wanted to turn back towards Joel, to meet his eyes for the encouragement that they would provide, but she dared not. Instead she walked steadily forward to join those already called to the front of the hall.
The leader of the town stepped forward with a guard standing either side of him. Those that watched from the seats had a sense of foreboding; the presence of those armed men could not be a good sign. “Fellow townspeople,” he said, looking towards the seats, “these that stand before you are to leave the town immediately and are never to return.” He paused as a gasp rose up from both groups of people. “You have all been found unworthy, and, as such, are exiled. Return and you will be executed!”
Amberly could not believe what she was hearing. What had she ever done wrong? There had not been a single moment in her life when she had been in trouble. Her eyes finally locked on Joel, whose face looked pinched and horrified. There were others in the hall that were climbing to their feet, crying out names of those that they were about to lose.
“Silence!” The man shouted and the guards all aimed their guns at the crowds.
The sobbing quietened but did not cease. This man, the one that claimed to represent the town, was tearing apart families, breaking hearts, for no discernible reason. One woman stood up from her seat, staggered towards her husband who was standing at the front of the hall, deeply shocked himself. The crack of a gun echoed around the hall as the woman took a couple of final steps before she fell to the floor.
With armed guards in front and behind the exiled began to walk away. Amberly longed to run to Joel but she knew what would happen if she did so. There had been a mistake, that’s all. This man, he could not mean what he has said… Could he?
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