As soon as the gigantic church bell went, every man in my neighborhood had to gather in the church compound.

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As soon as the gigantic church bell went, every man in my neighborhood had to gather in the church compound. That day, everybody swore it was different. The familiar pattern of the ding dong was etched in our ears. Not the frantic, uncoordinated ringing that made the bell sound like a siren that i was witnessing today. Moreover, never before had the bell chimed at such a late hour. It was almost unthinkable for anyone to be walking outside in these parts shortly past midnight. However, in our little upstate town, defying a summons by the bishop was even more unthinkable.

I walked outside my cabin and reached for the water point by the chicken coop. I scooped a handful of water and hurriedly wet my face, rubbing my eyes in one swift motion. A yellow lamp shone suddenly at about knee height ten feet away from me. It startled me a little before I made out my brother’s shadow as it played in the bright light. He reached for a crowbar on the ground by his foot and set off briskly towards the church. He always had a sharper nose for danger. So I picked up a rock that perfectly fits my palm and started after the bright light ahead that was receding into the distance fast. The bells were still ringing.

On the main road, the stream of trekkers swelled by the minute as more men joined in from the adjoining lanes. I was surprised to make out several weapons in the half-lit night. Several lamps supplemented the light from my brother’s lamp. He had planted himself at the head of the rather quiet group, which was now about two hundred strong. A little forest started on both sides of the road as soon as one cleared the last house of our small town. On a normal day, one would walk for about ten minutes before the trees on the right gave way abruptly to a large wooden church. I suddenly found myself standing just below the bell between the two colossal steel poles between which it was suspended about forty feet high. The bell ringer left his role shortly after we arrived perhaps because we were the last group.

There was a constant chatter as the men found their voices. Small clusters of no more than five men had formed, but it was hard to make out what was being said. Eavesdropping was not my style either. I let my mind stray and recounted the more impactful announcements that had been made on this field in my lifetime. I also thought about my blankets and why the bishop had allowed us to stand there for more than fifteen minutes without addressing us. My brother had been moving around pretty quickly, getting talking confidentially to the more senior men in the crowd. Now I was interested in what was being discussed, but it seemed as if the people deliberately checked their speech as soon as I got close.

Within no time, there was a reorganization of the multitude into rows and columns. Most other men had seen it all before as they seemed aware of their place in what was turning out to be a parade of sorts. Several boys my age or slightly younger joined me by bell posts. My brother came to where we were and found places for each of us, among the others. He then took his place as the first person in the column I was in and whistled loudly. That was when the solemn-looking bishop came out of the massive church doors wearing his ceremonial robe, a small bottle of holy water in his hand, which he sprinkled on all of us. My brother blew his whistle again and followed the bishop as he left our presence. Two other men went into the church and came out with a sack that seemed very heavy and dropped them. My brother, who I had looked up to all my life, opened the bags to reveal a bunch of swords whose shiny blades made my throat raspy all of a sudden. I was going to war.

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