Two Opposing Sides

The next day, Konrad took them to a park that was somewhat closer to Opa’s house.  He ran beside them while they rode bicycles that they were borrowing from Opa.  Johannes used his roller skates, because he didn’t feel comfortable on a bicycle.  As they neared the park, Markus pointed.  “There’s a place that we can lock the bikes,” he called.

They slowed as they rode around the side of the park and past a group of picnic tables.  As they locked up their bikes, Konrad pulled Johannes’s sneakers out of his bag.  “I’ll sit in the shade and keep an eye on your skates,” he said.  “All right?”

For a moment, Johannes looked torn.  Did he want to leave the skates on for a while.  Finally, he nodded and sat down on the ground to tug at his laces.  “There are tables with parasols over to the right, Brother,” he said, as he began tugging his sneakers onto his feet.

As Konrad settled down at the tables, he waved toward the nearest climbing toy and a pretend stage that was set near it.  “Stay kind of in this area, you three,” he told Johannes and his sisters.  He looked over at Markus.  “You’re old enough that I don’t need to watch you closely, but don’t leave the playground area.”

“Right,” Markus said, nodding.  He scampered over to a slide that led to the lower playground area and then made his way over to the larger of the two climbers.

Frieda and Liesel exchanged a look and then ran over to the pretend stage.  Behind it, there was a set of play drums that Liesel began pounding on.  Meanwhile, Frieda stepped over to the stage and began tap-dancing on it.

Johannes watched them for a moment and then he stepped over to the small climber.  His brows furrowed as he looked it over.  Konrad watched him examine the slide.  Then, he scrambled up and climbed through the tunnel to the other side.  This led to a set of parallel bars that he edged across to an overhead ladder.

Konrad nodded slightly.  The slide was a bit too small for Johannes, but he really wasn’t big enough for the slides on the largest climber yet.  Frieda and Liesel were big enough for it, but he knew they would enjoy pretending to be performers more than they would enjoy simply scrambling around on a climber.

“Frieda,” a high voice called.  “Liesel!”

He chuckled as his sister froze and then ran over to greet another little girl enthusiastically.  “Olivia,” Frieda said, hugging the girl.  “It’s so good to see you!”

“You left the park yesterday and we didn’t see you again,” Liesel said.

Olivia shrugged.  “After lunch, we went to see Daddy,” she explained.  While her brother ran to greet Johannes, she turned to the person who had brought them there.  “Daddy,” she called, “This is Frieda and Liesel and their brother, Johannes.”

“Hey,” a low, masculine voice said from just behind Konrad.  “It’s nice to meet you.  Olivia mentioned that she met you.”

“It’s nice to meet you as well, Mr. Gilbert,” Frieda said, her tone polite.  Liesel nodded in agreement.  Then, the three girls were focused on their game.  Johannes was showing Josh the obstacle course that he had come up with.

Konrad smiled as Mr. Gilbert settled at a nearby table.  “I’m Konrad Engel,” he said, his voice soft.  “Frieda and Liesel are my little sisters.  Johannes is my little brother.”

“David Gilbert,” he said, leaning forward to shake Konrad’s hand.  As he sat down beside Konrad, he nodded towards the kids.  “Just you four here today?”

“Five,” Konrad said, waving towards the lower playground.  “My other brother, Markus, is down there.  Opa was expecting a bunch of guys from the firehouse to come over for some meeting, so… I figured I should get the kids out of the house for a while.”

“That makes sense,” Gilbert said, nodding.  He hummed softly and then asked, “What’s your grandfather’s name?  All Olivia said was that he was old and Amanda didn’t see him.”

“Richard Shepherd,” Konrad said, his voice soft.

Gilbert hummed softly again.  “Is that Andrew and Henry Shepherd’s father?” he asked.  When Konrad nodded, he chuckled.  “Henry married my older sister.”

Konrad blinked.  “We knew the name was the same,” he said, his voice soft.  “I didn’t realize how directly related you were to her, though.”  He grimaced.  Opa said that she was estranged from her family.  Did they know about her death?  Konrad certainly didn’t want to be the one to tell him.

After a moment, Gilbert said, “How’s Henry doing?  Has he… moved on?”

A soft sigh escaped Konrad.  That sort of question indicated that Gilbert knew that his older sister was dead.  He nodded slowly.  “He’s doing better now,” he said, his voice faint.  “He… adopted us, after our parents were killed.  It was… our parents had spoken to his wife about it and she okayed it, but I don’t think anyone ever imagined…” he trailed off.  “It’s not something that you really expect, even if you do prepare for it.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” Gilbert said, his voice soft.  He heaved a sigh.  “Every time I look at Olivia, I wonder if Emily was anything like her.”

Konrad nodded slightly.  Tevas compared Liesel and Frieda to Emily fairly often.  If she’d lived, she would be the same age as Konrad, but she hadn’t.  That meant, in the minds of everyone who knew her, she was permanently caught at the age of eight years old.  “Did she ever… visit with you when they came out for holidays?” Konrad asked.  He knew that he was prying, but he was curious.

“Nah,” Gilbert said, shaking his head.  “Her and Pop had it out over her marrying Henry.  He told her to stay away from the house and… I never had a chance to reach out to her.  Then… well, we found out she’d been killed.”

For a moment, Konrad was silent.  Then, he thought about what Tevas had said about his wife.  She’d been killed by a spirit of wrath – both her and Emily.  “You can tell me to shove it, if you want… but… did Ann ever make anyone angry enough to kill her?” he asked, his voice soft.

Gilbert was silent for a moment.  Then, he heaved a deep sigh and nodded.  “Pop,” he breathed.  “The Elders… Not only did she marry outside the community, but then she moved out to Shepherdstown, a stone’s throw from a Haven community.”

Konrad blinked at his words.  “Elders,” he repeated.  “Do you… live in your community, Mr. Gilbert?”

“Moved away after Ann’s death,” Gilbert said, his tone somewhat distasteful.  He shook his head.  “How’d she die?  If you don’t mind telling me, that is.”

“It was a spirit of wrath,” Konrad said, his voice faint.  “That’s all I know.  A True Cross in the Washington area took care of it… when it came after her too.”

For a moment, Gilbert was quiet.  “Well, I’m guessing that you’ve put the pieces together by now,” he said, finally.  “We’re from two opposing communities.”

“Did you know the Thurmans?”

“Knew them,” Gilbert said.  “Never really cared for them, though.  They were very good at pretending to be one thing in front of you and then speaking ill of you once your back was turned.”

“They opened a portal in Opa’s garden,” Konrad said.  He nodded towards Frieda.  “A spirit of pride attacked Frieda and… Hansel closed it, mostly.”

“He’s a True Cross, then.  Are all of you Defenders?” Gilbert asked, his tone amused.

“Yes,” Konrad said, glancing towards his sisters and brother.  “Frieda’s our Lance, Liesel’s the Hammer.  I’m the Sword and Markus is the Staff.”

“We have the same designations,” Gilbert said.  “It’s funny… Our Elders love to say how you’re evil – how you seal spirits that have never done any harm to anyone and seal portals, cutting them off from their home… but, now that I’ve met you…” he trailed off.  “That little Cross is playing with a spirit of temperance.”

Konrad glanced over at Josh and Johannes and saw that they were both dodging back and forth around the climber.  Josh was following Johannes’s lead, but it was clear that Johannes was playing with Michael.  It was also clear that Gilbert could see Johannes’s invisible friend.  “Our Elders tell us that you want to destroy the world,” Konrad said, after a moment.  “They call you Dark Defenders.”

“Defenders, yes,” Gilbert said.  “Dark… your mileage may vary.  Some of us are pretty nasty, but… not all of us.”  In a soft voice, he said, “Ann was a good one.”

“So are you,” Konrad said, nodding.  He heaved a sigh and then shook his head.  “I’m beginning to think that this battle is less about good and evil and more about two opposing side, with vastly different viewpoints.”

“Isn’t that always the case?” Gilbert asked.  In a way, Konrad supposed that he was right.  Somehow, though, he doubted that any of the Elders would see it that way.

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