Cannons of the Northwest
Otto spent his entire life studying the cannons that guarded the border of the Northwest. They were the only remnants that his people kept from the revolution. He learned how they worked and how they moved. All those years around the cannons left him deaf in one ear and partially deaf in the other. He learned to concentrate on what he could see and feel.
Years later he journeyed from the Northwest to the town of Stead at the request of his people. Along the way, he felt the tremors that came from the south. They reverberated in his chest and in his head and in his bones. They were preceded by burst of orange light that contrasted the mountains that stretched along the landscape and into the sky. Often the bursts would illuminate the peaks and he caught glimpses of charred homes, people running. He could feel the heat wash over him.
The road to Stead was perilous but Otto was never afraid. Because he couldn’t hear, he relied on his eyes and had to move during the day. He kept his flag low and cloaked himself in clothing that was the same color of his surroundings. Light brown. The color of the earth and the rocks and the creatures the rustled among it. During the frightening times he remembered why he went. He was the only hope. The letter made it clear.
The only thing that made Otto nervous was the unknown. He lived a sheltered life among the people he knew. There were never many outsiders and strangers were rare. He didn’t know the man he was sent to meet at Stead. Would he be a kind man? Was he a tyrant like ancient kings he’d read about in stories? He had time to ponder these questions along the journey. How would he be accepted by the man who ruled the east? He had never met a king.
A large, flat valley separated Stead from the fiery mountain range to the west. The valley was mostly barren with sporadic wild saguaro plants and rocks. A narrow creek snaked its way along the valley floor. Otto followed its banks, where the air was cooler. Every few miles he would stop, face the north, raise his hands in the air and let the sun warm his palms.
When he squinted his eyes he could see blue and white flags billowing and a large stone wall that ran parallel to the horizon. Behind him the bursts of orange crept over the peaks. The tremors were stronger. The vibrations made his legs tingle and his teeth rattle. The enemy was closer.
The stone wall that guarded Stead was nothing like he had ever seen. It was made of unblemished, white polished stone and stood higher than any tree that he had seen. As the sun drifted level with the mountain range the bursts of orange reflected off of the white stone. Specks of light spilled down the east side of the mountain like ants on parade. They would be in the valley soon. He examined the wall again. Could it withstand their fire, he thought.
Otto stood warily in front of the gate to Stead. He could feel the vibration as the giant iron monstrosity was lifted from the ground. Dark figures stood a top the wall, some staring at him others staring at the mountains. When the gate was opened, two tall men exited. They were dressed in similar attire as Otto with one exception. They wore miniature versions of the blue and white flags on their chests. The three men stared at each other for a few awkward moments until one of the men raised his hand and put his finger on his chest. Otto nodded and unhooked his cloak revealing his colors. The colors of the Northwest. Green and white with an emblem of his cannons in the center.
He was led through a long, steel walled corridor. As the tremors got closer, the whole complex shook. Streamers of dust fell from the ceiling resting on Otto’s shoulders and head. The men who were leading Otto looked nervous. They glanced at the ceiling and at each other and walked with a frantic pace. When they reached the end of the corridor one of the men turned a large metal lever and opened a heavy metal door. Otto looked in. A group of five men stood around a table that was covered with wrinkled, yellowing maps. The man in the center looked up at Otto as he entered. He examined Otto’s colors and smiled. “My letter made it.” he said.
Otto ate preserved meat and a spoonful of vegetables as the king studied him from the other side of the table. He went by Sunderland. His face was creased along the brow and around his eyes. His cheeks were sunken. Signs of a harder than expected life. A life not expected of a king. But his body language conveyed strength and nobility.
As Sunderland watched Otto chew his food on one side of his mouth he was reminded of his younger years and how his mother would scold him for bad manners and how his father was too preoccupied to notice. He looked at Otto and saw an opposite reflection of himself. He saw freedom in Otto. Wildness. A simple man. Sunderland felt the weight of responsibility. A responsibility to his people. Something he couldn’t give them without Otto’s help. He never needed help from anyone… until now.
Otto wiped his mouth and pushed the plate away. He looked Sunderland in the eye and nodded. A gesture of thanks. The road had been hard and food hard to come by. What he carried with him had to be rationed and even then it wasn’t enough. He hadn’t eaten in three days. The food, as hard as it was to eat, was a generous and welcomed gift.
“How was it?” asked Sunderland. Otto leaned his head to one side and looked at Sunderland with inquiry.
“The food? How was it?”
“Good. Thank you.” Said Otto.
Sunderland rested his elbows on the table. He didn’t have the heart to tell him what animal he was eating and he didn’t have time for pleasantries. As he began speaking again, Otto turned his head so that his better ear was directed towards the king.
“Tell me what you saw. Who’s coming over that mountain?” he asked.
“Foreign. We held them off when the attacked the Northwest but at a cost. They are fearless and they move fast.” Said Otto. The calm in Otto’s voice filled the room. “They’ll be here by morning.” Sunderland stood and walked to a stairway in the back of the room. He motioned for Otto to follow him and they ascended a spiral staircase to the top of the wall.
The setting sun was partially covered by pillars of smoke that cascaded across the mountain tops like marching giants. Otto felt the breeze whirl around him. It smelled like a campfire. He looked out over the valley and noticed that the horizon was dotted with small flickering flames, spread across the width of the base of the mountain. He could hear their faint roar. There were thousands of them. This wall, this small army that was behind it and this king would not be enough to stop them.
Sunderland stared out over the valley with a quiet gaze as if he were deep in thought. “My grandfather told me stories about war.” He said. “Before the revolution. Before we were no longer united. He told me about great battles and how we had so much resolve and pride. No one dared attack us back then.”
“Was he a king too?” Otto asked.
Sunderland chuckled. “We were never kings. The people chose him. They chose me.” He said. “He was no king nor am I.”
One of Sunderland’s generals ran up to his side. “Santa Fe is gone sir.” Sunderland looked at Otto. “We may be divided and we may fly different flags but this is still our land. It’s still America. Did you bring them?” he asked as he pointed to the cannon emblem on Otto’s chest. Otto nodded.
“We brought them all.”
Throughout the night the Northwest’s cannons fired into the valley from a hundred locations along the Colorado border where Green and white flags snapped in the wind. Otto’s people aimed the cannons in mile long increments, in spots where the sun would shine from the north. The wall shook but remained unblemished and in the morning, Sunderland’s army mounted an attack on a weakened army of foreign rebels. The remnants of a fallen government.
The valley smoldered for weeks after the cannons fired. Sunderland left the wall and continued to govern the east. Otto followed the creek back through the valley. He watched the water cascade over river rocks. He opened his palms and felt the warmth of the sun.
Story by: Stewart Conkle
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