It seemed safe out past the walls, but Tess knew it was an illusion. As the junior elder at the Library, it was her job to take the stories of the refugees they let into the camp between the inner and outer walls, and the far fewer students they let into the inner sanctum. She knew from those tales that even now, ten years into what they were calling The Collapse, things were hard out there, and dangerous, and the bandits were only getting worse; with all of the country to gather in, they still had more refugees coming to their growing-cramped camp than they could handle, and the story was the same from every Family outpost they could reach. The world was a dangerous place, outside of their forts.
Tess wondered, as she took the long stairway down from the wall into the inner courtyard, if the elder Elders would make the decisions they did if they heard the stories she did. She was haunted by those stories, by the expressions on the faces of the refugees, by the injuries they would show – and the ones they would only hint at. She was haunted by the violence she sometimes saw just outside their walls, when those that weren’t allowed inside tried to set up camp, and the marauders were feeling brave.
“We should expand,” she’d told the elder Elders, and “we don’t have the resources,” they’d come back; “we’re already stretched thin with the farmland inside the walls. Maybe when the marauders aren’t such a threat.”
By then, of course, it would be too late for so many hundreds of refugees. By then, the ghosts haunting Tess’s nightmares would have doubled or quadrupled in number.
“Elder Tess,” the guard called, as she reached the bottom of the stairs. “We have more refugees than we have farm work, and the others are asking for something to do.”
Like that, it fell into place. “Do you have a few guards to spare?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Ma’am, from a man probably old enough to be her father. Rank had its privileges. “We are over full strength right now; everyone wants to join the guard.”
The guard got full rations and a better place to sleep, and the test wasn’t as hard as becoming a Scholar. “Take those that want to out about two hundred feet beyond the outer wall, and begin prepping to build another wall. I’ll send an engineer with a plan while you get them gathering rocks and clearing the ground.”
If they didn’t have enough room for more refugees, the answer was clearly to build more room.
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