"You think that a wall as solid as the earth separates civilisation from barbarism. I tell you the division is a thread, a sheet of glass" . The Power-House ,John Buchan , 1913
He dreamt of letting his hand dance under the cool water which flowed freely from a tap and then watch as the unwanted liquid disappeared into the hole.
He awoke with a start and yet there were not the usual battle noises that kept him awake at night. This was a darkness that brought with it nostalgia, an aching for the past that was guaranteed to suffocate any of his happiness that clung for survival.
He walked the top officers’ corridor, the one which was plastered with the war propaganda:
“Remember our enemy – they squander”
This was supported by photos of water being abused at the hands of the barbarians to the north.
Placed at the far end of the corridor was the most famous poster of all:
“Remember why we fight” the photo of a tap and a drip of water.
Every home had one on the wall – put there by order.
He had been a night-walker ever since he was a child, long before the Drought, long before the War, long before the dreams of the past.
The drought and the war were things he could fight against but the nostalgia was the worst, it lured him into a warm land. In his dreams he was bathing in hot water while his family prepared the evening meal in the rooms below.
Those days had gone and most of his family were dead or taken as slaves and shipped to the north.
Once people crossed the rebuilt Hadrian’s Wall they were very rarely seen again. Satellite photos showed camps for re-education on the outskirts of Edinburgh and Aberdeen. For re-education read extermination camps.
Those unfortunate enough to be captured were usually worked to death building underground storage areas for the water or the new gold as it was better known.
His own parents had gone ‘over the wall’ ten years ago. They had moved for safety to the hills in the Lake District but had been captured on a raid by The Reivers. Those to the north had the water but not the manpower - so that need had brought them raiding as far south as Old Manchester.
If the war continued it would be thirty years old next February. The war was older than most of the people left in the United English States, he guessed that was why they had made him a General - he was forty three years of age and one of the few people that old. One could still make out ‘General Robert Star: UES Army’ on his fading breast badge.
He had sent his wife and child to a holding camp near Liverpool as it still had some water and was considered safe, at least for now.
It was estimated that the population of the United English States was just under a million, many had perished in the first drought but disease had been the main cause for most.
The Barbarians on the dark side of the wall had an estimated 200,000 and probably another 100,000 made up of those captured or those who had defected.
The defectors were known as ‘Thirst Runners’ and if they were re-captured by their own people, they were normally flayed alive and laid out on the grass as a warning to others.
Robert, or Bobby as he liked to be called by his men, had been a soldier for most of his adult life. As the drought moved up what was once known as Britain, so Robert’s garrison followed. He had spent thirteen years in Old Manchester before moving to this new camp called New Manchester built on what had been once a town called Preston.
Preston had been razed to the ground at around the same time as his parents had disappeared.
He was issued with a small bottle of water each Sunday and this was to do him for the week. There was still some water reaching them from Wales but most of what was left of those supplies had been stolen, the pipes having blown apart. Those who lived in the border areas of Wales were systematically erased, it was considered better to rid the area of Drinkers (that was how the UES referred to non-combatants) than wait for them to become potential terrorists. Except the extermination gave birth to more terrorism than if the place had been left alone.
The scorch and burn policy was now dropped in favour of bribery. Give the Drinkers water and they had no need to hit back at the troops.
Everyone knew on both sides of the wall what was coming next - it was inevitable. It had been discussed, planned and resourced from the Garrison in Old Manchester. In two days time the entire UES Army was going to attack the wall from both the Carlisle side and also using those battalions based at the River Tyne; there had been a proud city there once.
Robert always finished his nocturnal walk as the dawn was breaking through - this shortened the dream-time.
The next few days would change the war one way or another for everyone.
What they couldn’t do was stay where they were.
bobby stevenson 2012