Into the Wilderness: Blood of the Lamb (Book Two)

BOOK: Into the Wilderness: Blood of the Lamb (Book Two)
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Blood of the Lamb Book One:
The Crossing

If you haven't already read Book One of the trilogy, here is a plot summary:

On a tiny atoll off the coast of the small Pacific island, Onewēre, Maryam is raised to believe that she and the other Blessed Sisters are special: that when they Cross to the Holy City (the rotting cruise ship
Star of the Sea)
at the onset of puberty they will serve the Lord and His Apostles with willingness and joy. But Maryam is wracked with doubts, alone, it seems, among her peers in questioning the Apostles' power and control. She finds herself cast in the role of human sacrifice—her blood siphoned from her body to save the lives of the Apostles from the deadly plague, Te Matee Iai. Her realization that she and her fellow native servers are nothing more than expendable slaves to the white elite forces her to question everything she once held true—her faith, her allegiances, and her desire to serve.

Weakened by blood loss, she tries to escape back to the village where she was born, aided by the very person who received her blood: Joseph, who is as shocked as Maryam by the Apostles' bloodthirsty deeds. But her father, faithful servant of the Apostles, rejects Maryam, and it is only Joseph's quick thinking that saves her from his violent response. Now gravely ill with Te Matee Iai, Joseph, along with his mother Deborah, convinces Maryam to flee the island, revealing their most precious secret: a boat built by Joseph's late father to aid his family's escape. Maryam, although terrified by the prospect of sailing into the “void” created by The Tribulation that consumed the Earth, reluctantly agrees—but only if Joseph and his mother will accompany her, and if she can take her best friend Ruth.

She hatches a plan, allowing herself to be recaptured by Joseph's cousin Lazarus, the cruel and unpredictable son of Father Joshua, and is taken back to the Holy City, where she is publicly humiliated, then bled again, then locked up and left to die. But through her great determination, and the help of her good friends Joseph, Ruth, and blind old Hushai, she and Ruth flee the Holy City in the night and rendezvous with Joseph at the boat. Just as they are about to leave, Lazarus takes Ruth hostage, insisting that they take him, too. With the pursuing villagers nearly upon them, Joseph and Maryam reluctantly agree, and the four set off together—sailing forth into the void…

Now read
Into the Wilderness,
the second book in the trilogy, to find out what happens next in this gripping and powerful series.

Published 2014 by Pyr®, an imprint of Prometheus Books

Into the Wilderness
. Copyright © 2014 Mandy Hager. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or conveyed via the Internet or a website without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Cover image of hands © Roy Hsu/Media Bakery

Cover image of wire © Koolstock/Masterfile

Cover design by Jacqueline Nasso Cooke

Inquiries should be addressed to

Pyr

59 John Glenn Drive

Amherst, New York 14228–2119

VOICE: 716–691–0133 • FAX: 716–691–0137

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The Library of Congress has cataloged the printed edition as follows:

Hager, Mandy.

Into the wilderness / by Mandy Hager.

          pages cm. — (Blood of the lamb ; book 2)

First published in New Zealand by Random House New Zealand, 2010.

ISBN 978-1-61614-863-8 (hardback) • ISBN 978-1-61614-864-5 (ebook)

[1. Fundamentalism—Fiction. 2. Refugees—Fiction. 3. Islands of the Pacific—Fiction. 4. Science fiction.] I. Title.

PZ7.H1229In 2014

[Fic]—dc23

2013031833

Printed in the United States of America

Satan's successes are the greatest when he appears with the name of God on his lips.

Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi

For the first hour after they escaped Onewēre, the sea fought the boat and its fledgling crew as if it was trying to break their resolve and send them fleeing back to land.

But as the craft finally found its centre of gravity and settled into the rollicking motion of the swell, Maryam relaxed back against the carved aft rail and took in the enormity of what they'd done. Never in known history, old Hushai had said, had anyone successfully escaped the Apostles' tight controls. Yet here they were—four disparate travellers, two brown Blessed Sisters, two white Apostles—heading off across the ocean with only scrappy vestiges of faith and this untested sailing craft to aid their flight.

Poor Ruth, so reluctant to set forth, clung miserably to the side railing and purged streams of bitter bile into the sea. Yet not once since they'd crossed the reef that separated their small island home from this dark sea had her lips stopped forming the protective incantations of her prayers. She feared they sailed into nothingness, a world destroyed by the Lord when He sent forth His punishing wrath.

Maryam longed to comfort her, but she knew the time was not yet right—nothing she could say now would allay Ruth's fears. Her friend must find a place of peace within herself if she was to survive this reckless voyage. And if that peace was found through prayer, then Maryam was pleased for her, even if she could not find the same accommodation for Him in her own heart.

Joseph adjusted the position of the tiller and hunkered
down next to Maryam, briefly freeing up his left hand to wrap his arm around her shoulders with a reassuring squeeze. “Are you all right?”

She turned to him, brushing streaming lengths of hair from her eyes, and nodded. “Are you?”

His short dismissive laugh was scooped up by the wind and carried off into the night. “I feel like I'm in a crazy dream—that any moment now I'll wake up strapped to that bed again and realise my uncle Joshua has unearthed our plan.”

Lazarus, who had earlier retreated to the sheltered canopy that spanned the two hulls of the boat, now poked his head back out into the wind, his fine sand-coloured hair catching the moon's cool light. “Don't underestimate my father. If he sets his mind to come in search of us, we
will
be caught.”

Ruth groaned, shooting Lazarus a horrified glance before she returned to her prayers.

“Keep your musings to yourself,” Maryam snapped. Her fury at Lazarus's hijacking of their plans seethed in her still. “Your presence here has put us even more at risk.”
How dare he?
That he could have treated Ruth so—held a knife to her throat and threatened to use it if they did not let him come—only fuelled her hatred of him. He was cruel and arrogant, already too close in spirit to his controlling father ever to change.
How did they get stuck with him?
If the Lord had wanted to punish her for her wilful disobedience, Lazarus's forced inclusion in their escape plan did the trick.

“You've picked the thorn instead of the flower, cousin.” Lazarus laughed as he sought out Joseph's eye and jerked his head towards Maryam. “If I was you I'd watch your back. This one really is a witch.”

“It's
your
back that is still at risk,” Maryam retorted. “You are not welcome here and if you think that distance from Onewēre will dull our memories and poor opinion of you, think again.”

Beside her, Joseph sighed and dipped down to whisper in her ear. “Don't waste your energy,” he urged. “This is a very small and unstable platform on which to conduct an all-out war.”

His reproach stung her, though she knew he was right. This anger supped on what little strength she had left after the Apostles of the Lamb had taken so much of her blood. Still, she drew away from him.

“I'm
not
a witch.”

Joseph grinned at her, tension playing hide-and-seek behind his eyes. “Well, I don't know about that. I think you put a spell on me!”

She softened at this, relieved by his lightness of tone. He was still on her side. Even now, she was amazed that Joseph had thrown away his chances for privilege and comfort and chosen, instead, to join her in flight from the Holy City. His kindness shone from him like the miraculous globes that lit the rooms in the great hulk from which they'd run.

She glanced back over her shoulder, scanning the dark horizon for one last glimpse of Onewēre, the only home she'd ever known. But there was nothing now to mark the place they'd come from, merely the lumpy outline where sky met sea—where the stars were swallowed by deep inky darkness and, below, the moonlight fractured on the breaking peaks of swell. They were truly alone out here, perhaps the first to have sailed this route since the immediate aftermath of the Tribulation that consumed the earth. Her heart registered her fear and tension in a jittery dance.

“Are we on course?” she asked, trying to focus on the few small things they could still control.

Joseph flung his head back, pointing to the familiar stars that formed the Maiaki Cross in the southern sky. “If we keep the Cross aligned to our left throughout the night, we should be fine.” He fumbled in his pocket, drawing forth a circular object that he pressed into her palm. “Here. This compass shows the direction we're heading. If we use it with the map, we're sure to find our way.”

Maryam studied the compass in the wan light of the moon. A delicate arrow-like needle swivelled from a centre point, while around the border of the enclosed face a calibrated measure marked off north, east, south and west. She turned it in her hand, watching as the arrow swung towards an invisible force to starboard of the boat. “How does it work?”

“Give it here!” Lazarus rushed from the shelter of the canopy and snatched the compass from Maryam's hand. “It has a way of finding north,” he said, ignoring the fury in Maryam's eyes. “Something to do with magnetic force.”

Maryam turned back to Joseph. “But why then did your mother make me study the book of stars?”

“Back-up,” Joseph replied. “Besides, she thought you needed something to occupy your mind while you waited to escape.”

For a moment Maryam felt outraged, remembering the strain and effort it had taken her to learn the patterns of the stars. She'd been so drained from blood-loss it was difficult to think at all. But perhaps Mother Deborah's intuition was right—if Maryam hadn't had to focus her energies on the star guide, she truly would have gone mad with worry that their plan would fail.

Joseph seized the compass back from Lazarus now, returning
it safely to his pocket as he called to Ruth. “Do you feel up to coming over here? It's time we talked.”

Ruth bit down on her bottom lip as though damming back her nausea, and nodded. She crawled across the cramped deck space and tucked herself down next to Maryam as Joseph began to speak.

“If I've worked things out correctly from the map, we should be heading straight for Marawa Island, the closest landfall to our own. My father discovered its existence years ago, when he first started planning our escape.”

Lazarus cut in again, seemingly unconcerned that he re-ignited Maryam's hostility each time he spoke. “Now I understand why he would sneak aboard and lock himself inside the library for days on end. I thought he was just toying with Father.”

“Who cares what you thought,” Maryam nipped back at him. “Let Joseph speak.”

Joseph looked from Maryam to Lazarus and shook his head. “Peace now,” he murmured, tiredness sweeping his pale face. He glanced up to check the angle of the string of feathers flying from the tip of the forward mast, and adjusted the tiller to ease the twin hulls a fraction more downwind. At once the boat settled into a more comfortable roll.

He began to flesh out the details of the boat's creation for Ruth and Lazarus: how his father Jonah had built it, using sketches from an ancient book. How he had hidden the craft within the sacred cave, desperate that one day he, his wife and son would escape the clutches of his power-hungry brother, the Holy Father Joshua.

“Uncle Jonah and me as well!” Lazarus interrupted. “I take it they had no plans to return?”

Joseph merely shook his head.

“And you? Do you ever plan to go back?”

Maryam snorted. “Go back? For what? For your mother to bleed me dry of life? Your father to take my dear friend Ruth here and defile her again?”

Joseph gasped and turned shocked eyes to Ruth. “I had no idea. I'm so sorry,” he said, as though the sin was his and not his uncle's to resolve.

“Don't speak of it again,” Ruth mumbled, firing a resentful glare at Maryam. She swallowed hard, as if struggling past a seasick lump inside her throat. “What's past is past.”

Maryam was not surprised by Ruth's desire to wipe the sins of the Apostles from her mind. Ruth had always been the docile and accepting one while she, Maryam, was much slower to forgive. Her anger and disgust at what Ruth and she had endured would never abate. They had
believed
; been raised to hold the Holy Fathers up as sacred spokesmen of the Lord. That the Apostles had deceived them both, abused their trust and bodies as if they were nothing more than slaves—than animals—churned around inside her still. She might have escaped the island physically, but the memory of it was etched forever in her brain. And the fact that Lazarus had forced his way aboard just made it worse. The son of Father Joshua was tainted by his father's blood.

She breathed in deeply, calling on the strong salty scent that rose off the sea to calm her. It was all-pervading, free of any verdant hint of land, and so oxygen-rich she was ambushed by a yawn before returning her attention back to Joseph. “How long until we reach this place, this Marawa Island?”

Joseph shrugged. “I think perhaps three or four days.”

Ruth groaned. “Four whole days?” She was struggling to keep her eyes open, the motion of the boat and the after-effects of their flight from the Holy City now taking their toll.

Maryam, too, felt the lulling call of sleep. She stifled another yawn and shifted to awaken her leaden limbs. “Then we should plan to sail in shifts, two on, two off, to get some rest.” But no sooner had she spoken than she realised she could hardly pair Lazarus with Ruth. Nor were she and Ruth experienced or strong enough to take on a shift together—they'd need either Joseph or Lazarus on hand to help control the two huge woven sails. The only alternative—to co-operate with Lazarus, to work with him while Joseph and Ruth were sound asleep—filled her with dread. She'd never forget the way he'd dosed that poor female server with the stupefying anga kerea toddy, and most certainly would have abused her had he not been stopped by Brother Mark. Or her own terror at his attempts to overpower her at the pool near Joseph's home. She did not trust him and had no idea how she was going to hold her fear of him at bay.

“You rest now,” she told Joseph, worried he'd taken the most strain during their wild flight across the reef. The killer plague, Te Matee Iai, still stalked somewhere inside him, and although the transfusion of her blood to him had slowed its march, she knew his body still was frail. “And Ruthie, you go rest as well.”

“But that would mean—”

She brushed Joseph's arm with her hand. “Believe me, I'll call you if I need your help!” Now she turned to Lazarus, all playfulness fading from her voice. “Just keep away from me. I'll work the tiller; you do the ropes and sails.”

He saluted, mocking her resolve, but quickly scrambled to
the place at the prow where the deck between the two hulls narrowed to a thin walkway, only two planks wide, that cantilevered out over the oily black sea. At the walkway's end he nestled against the carved figurehead of a warrior, whose inset shell eyes stared off towards the unfathomable west. Instantly, Maryam felt the tightness in her chest diminish a little.

Joseph and Ruth struggled to their feet and retreated to the shelter that straddled the two sturdy hulls. A dense thatch of pandanus leaves shrouded the tightly lashed bamboo frame, forming a roof and walls to hold out wind and rain—a dry place to sleep and shelter for the stores Joseph and his mother, Deborah, had packed inside.

Maryam shifted into the seat Joseph had vacated, huddling down as she took possession of the tiller for this first night shift. It fought against her, as if wanting to swing the boat around, and she had to lean into it, using her body-weight to hold it firm.

Up to the south, the Maiaki Cross was the only familiar marker in the cloud-rinsed sky. She tried to recall the constellations she'd studied in Mother Deborah's book, as well as the lessons from old Hushai's tales of their ancestors' fabled travels. But she couldn't recognise any other feature in the vast network of stars. What kind of navigator was she, to sit beneath uma ni borau—her ancestors' great roof of voyaging—and not even recall the simplest of stars?

Yet as she willed her panicked pulse to slow, some of the familiar blueprints of the stars emerged and grew more solid, like the peaks of Onewēre's highest mountains when the mist that cloaked them in the squally months began to clear. There was the crab-like constellation Tairiki off to the north; that hungry shark Te Bakoa, with his gaping mouth and glowering
red eye, lurking around the reef of stars in the north-east. And there, flowing between them all like a silted tidal stream, the wash of stars the Apostles called the Milky Way.

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