Chapter Thirteen: Disturbance at the MeetingChapter Thirteen: Disturbance at the Meeting Fàolan smiled gleefully and stretched his fingers. “Mikhil, you are the best thing that has happened to me in months! First it was this,” he pointed to his grey beard jokingly, “Then the rebellion, and then the followers of the Creator here in Poná start getting people to listen to them! Like that old man I arrested earlier this month. Now there’s a boy, too. I sent him a warning, if he and his family are smart, they’ll listen.” Fàolan sighed and swung his booted legs up onto his desk. “What’s your plan for stopping them?” “They all gather at their weekly meetings on Sundays.” “Yesterday. Pity.” Fàolan said. Then he smiled a sly smile. “Well, there’s always next week. What are you suggesting, though, a raid?” “Aye, but before we attack, noting the families that are there so those who escape can be caught and taken care of later.” Then I can buy them some time. “You are smart, Mikhil, I like you… The other men won’t like it – not that I care what they think – but I’m going to promote you to a captain. You show great promise. And who knows – with all of this grey in my beard, and me unmarried therefore without children – well, I’m going to need someone to take over.” “A captain?” Mikhil asked, shocked. “Aye. You have been a big help.” “Thank you, sir.” “And please, don’t call me sir. I hate when the imbeciles my men are call me that. Please, Fàolan will do. After all, we are going to be friends, you and I.” “Yes, si- Fàolan.” Fàolan smiled again. “That’s better. Now, tell me where these families live.” Mikhil circled various places on the map, but hesitated to circle his house or Fagan’s, then set the pencil down before his mind for power overcame his old friendships. “Are there any more?” Fàolan asked. He saw the hesitation in Mikhil’s eyes. “Two more, but…” “Ah, family and friends?” Mikhil set his jaw. “Come now, surely you don’t think that they are blind enough to still follow the Creator?” Mikhil picked up the pencil again, playing with it and staring at the map while thinking. I know Fagan still follows the Creator. All of them would die for Him. And what of Eliana? Can I betray my favorite Eliana? And Brianna? I don’t want to break her heart! But she won’t know it’s me… Finally, he sighed. “As long as they don’t know it’s me.” Mikhil circled the houses. “And we will wait until after the raid to go to the houses.” “A wise choice.” Fàolan straightened the things on his desk. “Tell me, Mikhil, how many men do you want for the raid?” “Two hundred. There were one hundred or so followers the last time I was at a meeting. We should be able to apprehend most of them with only two hundred men.” Fàolan toyed with a chunk of charcoal on the table. He chuckled and crushed it between his fingers. “They shall be crushed forever more, and I shall be victorious!” He roared. Mikhil looked on in silence. What have I done? Fagan shivered in the cold air. Ach, it’s barely winter! He thought, running back to the house to grab his cloak and hat. He held the door open as the rest of his family exited the house, and then picked Nell up after Nigel closed and locked the door. They started walking toward the woods, hoping to slip quietly away before the castle was up and about – a few times, they had been asked where they were going and willingly had explained it, but now Nigel did not want to risk the whole family being too openly seen as being followers of the Creator. Adan agreed with Nigel, and encouraged that. But he seemed to know something else and at times recently he had been holding back from the rest of the family. On the walk to the clearing, Brenna fell back behind everyone to walk with Adan. “You’ve been quiet lately, Adan,” she said simply, taking his hand and looking up at him. “I have a lot on my mind,” he replied. “Are you going to be leaving us soon?” Adan nodded sadly. “Aye, Brenna, I must leave you soon.” “Why did you come if you knew you would have to leave us and you knew it would hurt to leave us?” “Brenna, when your father asks you to do things that you do not like to do because they might hurt you or because they are not fun things to do, do you do them anyway?” “Aye.” “Why?” “Because I love my father.” “Aye, Brenna. I love my father, and so I am doing what He has asked me to do. It will hurt a lot of us, but Brenna, do not lose your hope and faith in the Creator. He can do anything He wants to do. Take heart Brenna. He will give you the courage you need.” “Why will I need courage?” “Some things are not for me to tell you, Brenna. You will know when the time comes.” “You’re scaring me now, Adan!” “There is no need for you to be scared. You will have your brothers and father to protect you, and greater than your family, the Creator protects and takes good care of His children. Do not worry, Brenna. You will be kept safe under the Creator’s wings.” “Then why did you tell me I would need courage?” “Because sometimes we forget that we have so many people to protect us and try to trust ourselves instead of the Creator.” “And then we are scared, because when we don’t have faith… we fear. And we doubt.” “Aye, Brenna. That is right. However, both love and faith will cast out any fears that you might have. Remember that, child, whenever you face trials.” Adan sighed again. “And pray for me, Brenna.” “What should I pray for?” “I am going to need a lot of courage, Brenna.” “But why? I mean, the Creator is your Father! It should be easy for you not to be afraid and to trust Him. You more than anyone should know that the Creator can do anything!” “I can still feel pain.” Brenna knit her eyebrows together. “Why will you have to feel pain?” “I already feel pain, Brenna. I feel pain whenever I look at all of these people who do not know my Father! I feel pain when I see that they are lost, blind to the Truth. And it hurts inside, so deeply that sometimes it feels like my heart is going to be torn apart because I love them so much but they cannot see it! Because they fear the wrong thing, because they listen to lies!” They were now inside the forest and almost to the clearing. Adan knelt beside Brenna. “Brenna, will you take the Truth to them?” Brenna looked scared, indecisive. She started to speak, but paused. “I’m more scared than Fagan was. I don’t want to die, Adan!” “You won’t die until the Creator’s appointed time for you to die. Never think that you are going to die just because everyone says you are going to. Nothing is for certain until it happens.” Brenna nodded. “I am here, Brenna, because I looked at my father, and I saw these people, and I wondered how they would ever be free. I stared into my Father’s eyes, and said, ‘Here I am, send me!’” “Here I am…” Brenna whispered. “Send me.” She looked up from the ground, where she had been staring intently at a mark in the snow. “Send me, Adan, send me!” She said. “The Creator will use you, child. Never fear to trust in Him.” Hand in hand, they joined the other followers of the Creator in the clearing. They were just starting to sing, and as Brenna stepped alongside Brianna, she glanced down the line at the rest of her family. There was Fagan, next to her, between Brenna’s family and Iwan’s family, Tabitha stood. Brenna smiled. She would miss Fagan once he was married, but she knew that he loved Tabitha very much and that she would still see them. Next to Fagan, Ahearn held Ness’s hand, and Grady and Keelin fidgeted to keep still. Then came Enid, holding baby Aina. And da, his arm around Enid, singing his heart out in devotion to the Creator. Nell stood beside to Nigel, her straight brown hair falling into her face as usual. Brenna’s smile widened into a grin. I love my family. Each and every one of my brothers and sisters… and mama and da especially. She looked around the clearing. And I love these people. Love is what holds us together. The Creator’s love and grace. Nothing can break that bond of love. Nothing… nothing… nothing… Mikhil stopped behind a tree to let the men catch up to him. Breathing hard, he looked out. In the distance, he could hear the voices of the followers of the Creator. Is this right? He wondered. Maybe I should just lead them away and that way they could all be let go. But then Fàolan would lose his trust in me, and I’d be imprisoned and killed. I don’t want to lose his trust. But my family! I don’t want to betray them! The men, traveling in groups of ten, stopped behind Mikhil. “Come on,” he said quietly. “They’re just up ahead, you can hear them. We’ll circle around at a distance, and then close down on them. Wait for my signal, though.” Mikhil quickly whistled like a bird. “Then we charge. Take any you can prisoner, but don’t draw your swords except to threaten.” He called the leaders together for more specific instructions. “I want you to station your men at various points in a circle around the clearing. Five groups on each side, then spread out to surround them completely. I want no noises that would give us away, even the slightest cracking of a twig. This mission will fail if we do make noise that distracts them. You, sir, take your men over to the far side, with you four… you five, go to the left, and you five to the right. I will lead the final five here and wait to give the signal. Is that clear?” “Aye,” the men said softly, nodding. The singing in the clearing stopped, and now Mikhil heard his father speaking. Again, the strange hesitation in his heart was there. Can I really do this to them? The men were moving into their positions, alert and watching every step. I could stop them now, call it all off… and they would all go free and know nothing of it. And Fàolan would kill me, probably have my head. Mikhil nodded to the five squads he was leading. They moved to their places behind him, preparing to attack. “Remember, do not kill anyone!” Mikhil commanded. “Fàolan wants them all alive.” Keeping his gaze toward the clearing, Mikhil waited. He heard snatches of what his father was saying. No, it wasn’t his father anymore. It was someone else – a new voice, wise, firm, and gentle. Yet it was very powerful, almost kingly. Persuasive, yet not sly like Fàolan. What he said was true, reasoned… compelling. Enraptured, Mikhil stood listening as he surveyed the gathering. “The Creator has commanded us to love our enemies – those who would hate us, who would kill us, those who refuse to understand. Most people we are acquainted with, though, are not to be considered the enemy, per se.” The man paused, and Mikhil looked more closely at the people, taking note of who was there. My family… Jonas’s… Carl and his wife… There’s someone new, over there. Three young children, dark haired. She’s pregnant. There’s Tabitha’s family… and Tabitha’s between her family and Fagan’s. Just Brenna between Tabitha and Fagan. That’s strange, thought Mikhil. When did Tabitha become Fagan’s friend? And why is she not sitting with her family? Then it struck Mikhil. Fagan and Tabitha are married… at least, betrothed. They have probably not married in the midst of all of this turmoil. But look at them. They’re so happy. He looked at Brianna. So is she… but she carries hurt. It was me, wasn’t it? I hurt her. Mikhil pushed those thoughts aside. No, it must just be the weight of these times. And her growing up. She’s seventeen now. Same age as Fagan was when I left. “Those we work with daily are not the enemy, but Daron would lead us to believe so. Yet I will emphasize this once more: they are not the enemy, only captive of the enemy. And we are here to free the captives! That is why Fagan, Bardan, and others take their stand in the market place and in their homes for the Creator. They see that the world is captive to sin and disobedience… and they see the lost around them and know that the lost must be free, and we hold in our hands the power to free them! When the Creator comes back in all of His glory, those who are lost will suffer! Though we may suffer now, we will not suffer then. It is a short-term suffering for good or an eternal suffering and separation from the Creator. It is better to suffer for good than for evil. Take this to heart!” Adan paused. “We-" He began again. Then Mikhil whistled, and from there, all was chaos, and what Adan was going to say became lost. Briefly, Mikhil watched from the side, but then he lifted his head high, filled his lungs with the fresh air, and joined his men. He ran past the people he had grown up with, running through the clearing, daring anyone to stand in his way. Many of the families escaped back toward their homes. Some hesitated and turned to look back. As if frozen to the scene, Eliana stopped short as she reached the trees, turning to look back. Chris grabbed Eliana’s hand, hurrying her along. But she refused to be rooted up, frozen, staring, her eyes wide and terrified. Chris followed her gaze to see her eyes were locked on one person. Then Mikhil stopped short and stared, eyes meeting his sister’s. Eliana screamed, and then tried to move toward her brother. “Mikhil! Mikhiiiil!” She shrieked. Tears fell from her eyes as her father picked her up, carrying her away. She relaxed in the firm hold in her father’s arms, sobbing into his shoulders. Nigel rallied his family together, trying to gather them all. “Fagan, Brianna, Aina, Ness, Nell, Brenna, Ahearn, Enid… Grady… Keelin! Keelin! Enid, where’s Keelin?” Enid glanced around, and then saw him. “He’s over there!” “Stay here,” Nigel commanded, and then he ran over to where Keelin was standing, rooted to the ground like Eliana, only he was too scared to move. “All here,” Nigel said. “Enid, go. Fagan and I will bring up the rear. Ahearn, help your mother with Aina. Let’s go.” They began fleeing the clearing. Fagan grabbed Brianna and Brenna’s hands, making a way for them through the chaos. Then Fagan felt Brianna’s hand slip from his. Amidst all of the other screams, Brianna had not heard the way Eliana had cried out her brother’s name, and so when she ran into Mikhil at first she did not realize it was he. By reflex, he grabbed hold of her arms. At first, Brianna struggled to get away, but then she looked up and saw who it was. As she stared into Mikhil’s eyes, suddenly she became too heartsick to do anything. Then behind her, Fagan stopped short. His jaw was quivering as he tried to hold his anger in. He was so angry with Mikhil. How could he do that? And to take hold of his sister that way… Fagan’s shoulder twitched as his muscles tightened. “Don’t you dare touch my sister!” He said. His voice was strained, and if anyone who had known Fagan was watching, they would have known that this was something he really did not want to do. When Mikhil refused to let go, Fagan drew back his arm and punched Mikhil in the shoulder. He punched him. His best friend, his comrade, his brother. For his sister, for his Brianna, his little sister that used to love Mikhil. Reeling in pain and surprise, Mikhil let go. Shocked, he stood there; motionless, watching Fagan and Brianna go. Fagan put his arm around Brianna’s shoulders and began leading her away. “Goodbye, Mikhil,” he said coldly. Outwardly, he showed no emotion, but inside his heart was being torn in pieces. He could barely think straight, except for Oh, God, oh Creator… what did I do? What did Mikhil do? Why, oh why… why? Why? The family stumbled inside their home, too tired from running to go much farther. Nigel immediately began to make plans. Fagan listened absentmindedly. “Everyone, pack up as many things as you can. It is no longer safe for our family to be in Poná, and I want to leave the city within a few days. There’s no telling what Fàolan’s next move will be. I only pray that he doesn’t lock us into the castle.” Nigel glanced out of the window to the castle grounds outside anxiously. “Where will we go?” “To Dlani, at least for now. Maybe later we will have to go farther, but I pray that we will not have to move on more.” The children ran off to their rooms to begin packing up their things, that is, all of the children but Fagan, who stood silently peering out of the window. “Did you hear what I said, son?” Nigel asked. “Aye, father.” “Then will you obey me?” “Aye… but, da?” “Yes, Fagan?” “May I speak to you?” Fagan looked pleadingly at his father. “Yes, Fagan.” Nigel joined Fagan looking out the window. “What is troubling you?” Fagan took a deep breath, and then it all came pouring out at once. “Da, at the meeting, or, well, after the meeting, when everything was going so crazy and it was loud and there was confusion… Brianna was running ahead of me and we were separated, and when I found her, Mikhil was holding on to her, and when I asked him to let Brianna go, he wouldn’t let her go but just stood there. I was angry, da, I was angry that he would treat my sister, his friend, that way… and da, he wouldn’t let her go… so I punched him, I punched him really hard so I could protect my sister. Anyone else, da, anyone else I would never have hesitated if they had done that to Brianna. But da…” Fagan’s shoulders shook and he let his head fall against the window, resting it there. In between sobs, he continued to speak. “Mikhil was my best friend! How could I have done that to him?” Fagan turned to look at Nigel. “Da, it hurts so much inside, like my heart is being torn apart! I feel like now he’s the enemy, for sure now, and that he does not care about how we used to be… he doesn’t care da, he hates us now… why, da, why?” Nigel gently let Fagan grip his shoulders and let his son’s tears fall onto his shirt. “Oh, da, it hurts!” “Fagan, sometimes even my children are hurt so much by others that I do not know what to say. But Fagan, my son, let me tell you this. War and trials make us all hurt. In the Creator’s law, He talks of a refining fire. This refining fire is the troubles that we face. Fagan, when we come out of these, we will be stronger and we will understand the Creator more.” Fagan sniffled and nodded. “And know this – even though Mikhil may no longer love you and Brianna and treat you as friends, even though he is captive of the enemy, there is one much greater than Mikhil who will always love you, with a greater love than Mikhil could ever have loved you with. And Fagan,” Nigel continued, lifting his son’s chin to look him in the eyes. “It shows that you are a man of character that you protected your sister and her purity even when it was one of your friends that was the offender. Thank you.” Fagan sighed shakily. Nigel patted him on the shoulder and smiled. “Now go pack your things.” “Aye, father.” Fagan walked off, his heart filled with anguish. Mikhil trudged through the jail cells, peering into them and writing down who was in each cell as he passed by. Very few of the prisoners recognized him, and those that did stared at him with hate-filled eyes. Yet in a few of their eyes, Mikhil might have seen pity, but he couldn’t be sure because of the darkness. As he reached the last occupied cell and looked in, Mikhil suddenly stopped short. There had been an odd number of prisoners so there was one who was locked up here, all alone, solitary. The boy sat with his head bowed and arms resting on his knees. “Hey, you there!” Mikhil said. The boy looked up. Recognition spread across both his face and Mikhil’s. Moving slowly because of his chains, the boy stood. “Mikhil, my brother?” He said, unsurely. Mikhil looked away, ashamed. Then he turned back to stare the boy in the face. “Aye, Connor, ‘tis me.” For a few moments, Connor stood still, staring at Mikhil. “You’ve changed so much.” “You’ve changed more. You’re so tall now, Connor.” That’s not exactly what I had meant, Connor thought. “Aye.” “Taller than da?” “Yes, I’m taller than our father now.” “How did he take that?” Suddenly Connor could not hold it in any longer. He pressed his face up against the bars of the cell door. “Mikhil, what are you doing here? You don’t belong here. You never have, and you never will! Mikhil, you are a child of the Creator.” “Connor, I am finished with all of that! I finished long ago, almost when I first joined the Miron!” “If you had only listened…” Connor said pensively. “Sometimes I wish I had. But I’ve made my choices, Connor, and laid my alliances.” “So have I, Mikhil, so have I. But why they have to be different, that I do not see! Our parents trained us to be followers of the Creator. How can you ignore your whole childhood?” “How can you be so blind as to not see the bunch of lies it is!” Connor stepped back. “How can you be so blind?” He whispered. “Mikhil, I fear for you. You have forsaken the way tried and true, and when hit with fire and placed around those who do not believe as you do or only say they believe as you do, you fell away and could not stand the trial! Mikhil, do you know what that says about you?” Mikhil stared at the floor, not answering his brother. “It says that your character is not one to be trusted! That you are taking the easy way in life until things get hard. Mikhil, my brother… you have changed so much. It saddens me to see that. Can you not turn back?” Mikhil looked up and looked coldly into his brother’s eyes. “Some things cannot be changed,” he said, then turned on his heel and walked away. Connor stretched his arm outside of his cell, reaching for Mikhil, begging his brother to come back. The other prisoners soon heard sobbing from the faraway, solitary cell. “Elonya, Ezra, Peter, Connor, Sarah, Rachel… Eric, Jonas…” Fagan stopped, thinking. “Ach, there are too many to remember!” Fagan had just returned from a quick trip to the village to talk to the other families who followed the Creator about who had been taken in the raid. Two days had passed, and everyone in Poná, especially followers of the Creator, were anxious. “None of Tabitha’s family, thank the Creator!” Fagan said finally. “They have begun the journey to Dlani, with other families.” “No one died, right, da?” Brenna asked. She glanced sideways at Adan. He had barely spoken all day, as if he knew something that he was hiding from the rest of them. Fagan sighed. “No one was killed.” Ahearn looked puzzled. “Then did someone die?” “Aye.” “Who?” “Eliana,” Fagan said grimly. “Ohhhh…” Brianna moaned. “No!” “Chris said that Eliana saw Mikhil, and it hit her in a way that hurt her too terribly. He had to carry her home; she was in a daze and wouldn’t move, just stood their crying Mikhil’s name. She did not eat, drink, and barely even moved, only stared at the ceiling while lying at their couch. She died yesterday, they think of a broken heart.” “And then to have had Connor taken away like that…” Enid said. “It’s too horrible to think about!” Brianna exclaimed, hiding her face in Enid’s shoulder. Ahearn whirled on Adan. “I thought you said things would be over soon!” “Aye, but I also said that things would get worse before they got better. We must be patient, Ahearn. Our timing is not that of the Creator.” “But how long? How long will He let us suffer and see us in pain like this?” Ahearn asked, emotion sketched all over his face. “Until the cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, and the Lord removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land…” Adan replied. “But take heart! They will know that He is Lord, that He is our redeemer and friend. While we yet live to fight with love, while we yet have breath in us, our cause is not lost.” Ahearn looked toward the window. “Cities are lying waste without inhabitants! The houses are without people! His people are being removed far away!” He said suddenly. “Can it get worse before the Creator saves us?” Adan looked down, quiet once more. “Aye, Ahearn, it can get worse,” he said, finally. Sunlight streaming in through the window caught the lone tear that rolled down Ahearn’s cheek. Then how bad will it get? Chapter Fourteen: Farewells “Do you still think it’s too early to raid the houses?” Fàolan asked Mikhil, staring at a map of Poná. He pushed little flags signifying his guards around the map, moving them to outside of the houses Mikhil had circled. “Nay, I do not. Many are already escaping and have slipped through our fingers.” “Where have they gone, I wonder?” “Perhaps to Dlani or beyond… I am sure many wish to escape to other kingdoms.” Fàolan laughed. “Perhaps they do not realize the extent of my rule.” “No, my Lord, they do not.” “Tell me, Mikhil.” Fàolan stopped pushing the markers around to put his elbows on the desk. “You know the boy; I don’t know what his name is, but the one who was preaching in the market place, taking after that old man?” “Aye, I know of him.” “Just of him? I hear he’s around your age. Did you, mayhap, know him when you were young?” “Aye, I knew him.” Mikhil said stiffly, remembering the raid in the clearing with a heavy heart. “After searching the cells, did you find the lad?” “Nay, neither he nor any of his family were taken.” Fàolan sighed. “Pity. I wanted to have the boy publically executed. You know, silencing those who dare to raise their voices against me. I think it would silence any of those who still had thoughts to defy me.” “I think it would. But the people would become afraid of you.” Fàolan chuckled. “Isn’t that what I want?” “I suppose so.” “What do you suggest differently?” “My father used to say that a wise ruler had subjects who loved him, that way they would willingly obey him and not feel suppressed by the laws he made.” “You think I am oppressing my people?” “Nay, nay. I only know that there are those who feel that way and hate you.” “There will always be those, Mikhil. You have a lot to learn before I die.” Mikhil nodded. “Aye, I know.” “So, then, if not this lad, was there anyone else you knew that was captured?” Is he trying to hurt me? Or is he trying to help me justify what I did? But why would it need justifying if it wasn’t wrong? “Aye, there were some that I knew.” “Does your family still firmly follow the Creator, as you said they had before?” Mikhil looked down. “Aye, they do.” “Mikhil, your family is breaking the law. You should not be remorseful for being a guardian of the law and fulfilling it, or for obeying orders.” Aye, they are breaking the law. But which law are they breaking? Which law did I break? Which law should I bow to? The Creator’s or Fàolan’s? Which is the higher power? Does the Creator exist? “Aye, you are right,” Mikhil said finally. “Good, then. May I see the list of people?” “Aye.” Mikhil handed the list he had made to Fàolan, who perused it. “Ah, Elonya. She is the healer, is she not?” “Aye.” “If she will work for me, I will let her go. Deliver that message to her, will you, Mikhil?” “Aye, my Lord.” Fàolan quietly read the names aloud, muttering comments to himself following some of the names. “I seem to know everyone on this list but the last… who is this Connor?” Mikhil clenched his jaw, his jaw muscles taut. His back became rigid, and briefly he struggled to speak. “Someone you knew well, I see?” Mikhil could only nod, his muscles straining in pain. Why does this hurt so much? Why does justice have to hurt? Once more, if Mikhil had searched deep inside of himself, he would have found the answer lying hidden under his mask, under his blinders. His confusion over the pain and law was because his conscience told him some of these things were wrong, but his mind refused to listen and instead chose the path of destruction. It was not justice that was hurting his heart, it was injustice and hatred. But oh, how it hurt… his brother, stronger, wiser… than him, urging him to return. Who was the one in chains? Connor’s face had been bruised, and he was weary, yet he had spoken with such vigor, such fervor, strongly believing what he knew to be true. Yet Mikhil still refused to listen, hardening his heart. Thus Connor still suffered, his heart bending and weeping for his lost brother. Finally, Mikhil spoke. “Aye, I knew him well.” He paused, and then continued, his voice hard. “He was my brother.” “Was your brother?” Fàolan asked, raising his eyebrows questioningly, and putting extra emphasis on the tense of the verb. “Aye, he was my – I mean, he is – my younger brother.” “My guess is that it hurts to see your brother opposing you,” said Fàolan, looking sympathetically at Mikhil. “I can tell from the way you speak.” “Yes – I mean, no, it does hurt, but not in that way or because of that.” Fàolan’s smile was condescending as he looked at Mikhil. “You get used to it.” “To what? The pain?” “Aye. You grow to have a higher pain tolerance over time.” “Not numbness?” Mikhil asked, almost challengingly. “Nay, an immunity to pain, not numbness.” “You would have to have a stone heart for that to happen.” “That is not too hard to have.” “I would rather have one of flesh.” “Then do not be complaining to me again of pain!” “I was not…!” Mikhil began to object, but then remembering his manners, stopped and straightened. Fàolan nodded to Mikhil stiffly. “You have work to do, Mikhil. I suggest you go and do it.” Mikhil nodded, his face red from the reprimand he had just received. “Take your men and go to the village. Save the boy’s house for last.” “He has a name, you know, Fàolan.” Mikhil said bluntly. “It’s ‘my lord,’ if you please, Mikhil.” “His name is Fagan,” Mikhil protested, ignoring Fàolan’s comment. “Then, save Fagan’s house for last.” “Aye, my lord.” Mikhil bowed and left the room, face – and heart – heated from what had just happened. Nigel rose early the next morning and journeyed to the front porch, where he sat watching the sun come up over the castle walls. As the rest of the house began to wake up, Adan came out and joined Nigel on the porch. “We have to leave today,” Nigel said, not turning his eyes from the sunrise. “Aye, today is the day you will leave,” Adan agreed. “But mayhap it will not be how you think.” Nigel looked toward Adan. “What do you mean?” “Our plans are not always those of the Creator.” Nigel nodded. “Aye, I know that. I just pray that our family will be safe. “It is good that you wish to get your family out of danger.” “As their father and husband it is my duty and my honor to protect them.” “Aye.” “Only, I fear splitting up, but it is something that must be done.” “You will be brought back together,” Adan replied determinatively, and then neither man spoke for a few minutes. “You’ve been hiding something lately, Adan.” “Aye, I have,” Adan replied, sighing. Then he shook his head. “My father’s business is not light work. The hardest part of it is yet to come. I tremble to think about it, and fear overwhelms me when I do.” “You more than anyone else should know how much the Creator watches over His children.” “Aye, I do know how He watches over me. And I trust Him, I trust Him completely. But this is something that He has asked me to do, and the pain of it is what I fear. My heart is burdened, Nigel, heavily burdened. There is such a weight in it that I cannot even speak about it. It is a burden that only love is strong enough to bear, but for now I must carry it.” “I would help if I knew what to do.” “Alas, I am afraid this is a burden I must bear alone. But the Creator has not given us shoulders for nothing. They are there to bear our burdens, and bear my burden I must.” Nigel was quiet. “You will be in my prayers, Adan,” he said after a while. Inside, the children were happily helping their mother prepare breakfast. “You have been such a blessing to my family. Thank you, Adan. We have enjoyed the opportunity we have had to let you stay with us.” “Your family has also been a blessing to me.” “We are blessed to be a blessing,” Nigel said pensively. “Aye, that we are.” “Da! Breakfast is ready!” Brenna called, stepping outside and grinning at her father. “Good morning, sunshine!” Nigel said, kissing his daughter on the top of her head. “Morning, Da!” They sat down to breakfast, and after Nigel prayed, they began passing around biscuits and condiments. As they finished eating, Nigel pushed his chair back. Everyone turned to look his way, and for a few moments, they sat there, looking at their father, watching his quiet, sagacious eyes take in his children. “We have to leave Poná. It’s no longer safe. I spoke to Adan this morning about getting the family out of danger. We’re going to split up. Fagan, take Brianna with you to the mountains. Enid - Aina, Grady, and Ness will go with you to Dlani– there are many there already, you will be well taken care of. Ahearn – I want you, Brenna, Nell, and Keelin to go to the next village, stay there a few days, and then continue on to Dlani to find your mother. Ahearn, you know how to identify followers of the Creator. I have friends there who will be willing to take you in for as long as is necessary. Eventually we will all be together again in Dlani, but we cannot risk traveling all together now.” “And you, Nigel? Where will you go?” Enid asked, worry written all over her face. “I will stay here for a few days longer to show those who do not know the way,” Nigel replied. “Children, run and get your things.” Enid sat next to Nigel at the table, and placed her hand on his. “God protect you,” she whispered, her eyes filled with emotion as she looked at her husband. Her hand shook on top of his, and he laid his over hers. “Trust in Him, Enid. He will guide your paths.” “I know.” Enid and Nigel stood, and Nigel embraced his wife. Enid closed her eyes tightly, not wanting to let go of her husband – provider, protector, and friend. “I love you, Nigel.” “I love you, Enid, my dear.” The children returned with their few bags, and Enid turned to pick up Aina. “Come, Grady, Ness.” After quick hugs all around, the four left for Dlani, leaving the rest of the family in silence in the house. As she reached the castle drawbridge, Enid turned and looked back at the house, knowing in her heart that she would never return to it. Then Grady pulled on her hand and they walked on. Nigel knelt next to Brenna, Nell, and Keelin. “Girls, and Keelin – I know this will be hard for you, but I need you to do exactly what Ahearn tells you to do. This is no time to goof off even the slightest bit. You must do exactly what he says. Ahearn is with you to protect you and lead you, but he can only do so if you obey him. I trust his judgment, and for now he is taking my place as authority over you.” “Yes, da.” Keelin said, and the girls echoed his response. Nigel hugged his children, then stood and put a hand on Ahearn’s shoulder. “The Lord will guide you, Ahearn.” Ahearn wrapped his arms around Nigel’s waist, burying his head in Nigel’s chest. “I’m not ready for this, da! How can I lead them when I’m so scared?” “My son, there are many times when we all have to do things even though we’re afraid. I need you to be courageous and protect your brothers.” “But how can I have courage when I’m afraid?” “Ahearn, courage is not never being afraid! Fagan shows great courage, yet he’s often afraid inside. Don’t let fear control you, and then you’ll have courage.” “I love you, da.” “Godspeed, my boy.” “Bye, da.” Ahearn straightened and took Nell’s hand, and together they left. As Ahearn closed the door behind them, he looked one last time at the house and his father, and then he left. Fagan looked at the floor, knowing that he and Brianna were next to leave. He then glanced around the room – where had Adan gone? It seemed as if he had vanished. Nigel hugged Brianna tightly and handed her a bag of food. “I love you, my child.” “I know, daddy. I love you too.” “I do not know where God will lead you two to go for know, all I know for certain is that He is in control of everything.” Brianna trembled as Nigel stroked her hair. “What do you mean, da?” “Fàolan knows who Fagan is. He knows that our family – in fact, he knows our family, at least to some extent,” Nigel shuddered remembering the first day Fàolan had come to Poná. “He wants all of the followers of the Creator dead, and as most rulers would, he wishes to silence the strongest voices first.” “That means me,” Fagan said, realization spreading across his face. “Da, how will we survive?” “I cannot protect the two of you for long. The Creator will guide you keep you under the safety of His wings.” “But why us? There are others that are just as firm in their faith and that are just as vocal about it…” Brianna said. “I do not have all of the answers, child, but most likely Fàolan wants to show that he has no scruples when it comes to ‘rebellion’ against him. He will suppress rebellion no matter who it comes from.” Fagan reached for his sword belt, which was lying on the table, and buckled it on. “Is that what mama and Adan meant when they said there would be a time when we would have to love our enemies?” Nigel nodded. “The Lord will help you.” He embraced Fagan, holding his first born and eldest son in his arms, praying all the while. “Watch over your sister, Fagan. She is strong at heart, but I fear what Fàolan might do to her. She is a precious gem shining with the Creator’s light – do not let darkness overcome her.” Fagan took a deep breath. “I’ll try, da, I’ll try. I won’t let it happen, I won’t…” “Da… da…” Brianna said urgently. “There’s someone outside. Lots of someones.” “Oh God, protect us!” Fagan breathed. Nigel ran to the window and moved the curtain slightly. “Go quickly, he said. “Out the back, run to the mountains and don’t stop until you’re out of sight from the castle.” Fagan grabbed his and Brianna’s cloaks off hooks on the wall, and throwing Brianna hers, he ran for the back door. Brianna stopped at the back door. “Da, what about you?” “Don’t worry about me, Brianna. I love you!” “Don’t die, Da! Please don’t die!” “My life is in the Creator’s hands, Brianna. Now go!” “I love you, da!” Brianna said as she pushed the back door open and ran after Fagan. He had stopped running and was coming back to get her. “Come on, Brianna.” “I was telling Da I loved him…” Brianna said. She trailed off, her voice cracking as she said the last two words. Fagan saw the tears running down from her eyes. “We can cry later,” he said, trying to be brave, but inside, he could feel tearless grief streaming down his heart. Fagan took her hand and led her through the back paths inside the castle walls. Finally, they came to a breach in the wall they had discovered only a few months earlier. Fagan gave Brianna a boost up, and she scrambled over, and then helped Fagan climb through. Then they were off running again. It took only a few minutes for them to reach the foothills, and then they slowed their run to a walk. Brianna stopped at the top of a hill, looking back at Poná. Fagan put a hand on her shoulder. He heard a quiet murmur escape her lips. “Deliver us…” “Aye, deliver us, Creator!” He echoed. They stood in silence briefly, but then Fagan moved his arm down around her waist and turned her away. “We must keep moving.” As the continued, both Fagan and Brianna were silent, too focused and breathing too hard from exertion to talk. Every now and then, a tear would roll down Brianna’s cheek, and Fagan would glance back behind them to make sure they weren’t being followed. Darkness fell, and Brianna stumbled to a stop near a pile of rocks. “We can hide here,” Fagan said, helping Brianna around to the back of them. He rummaged through their bag of food, picking out a loaf of bread and hunk of cheese. After eating, they took turns resting and keeping watch. Morning light streamed onto Brianna’s face. Fagan, his heart heavy, watched his sister sleep, glad at least her face was peaceful, even though he knew her heart was troubled like his. He wished they had time to stop and comfort each other, but he knew that in order to protect her, they would have to keep moving and leave some things unsaid for the time being. He turned to look at the land around them, watching anxiously – half hoping that there would be no one there, the other half hoping he saw someone, just in case there were people out there, hidden and lying in wait. Brianna stirred in her sleep, now stretching, and then opening her eyes. “Everything alright?” Brianna asked, trying to sound cheerful, but the fear she felt inside overwhelmed her attempted smile. “I think so, but I may have seen something move down below us. It was a while ago, though, and I don’t know if it’s still there. It may have just been an animal.” Brianna sat up and brushed dirt off her dress. Neither spoke for a quarter of an hour, both watching where Fagan had seen the movement. Suddenly two soldiers emerged from behind a small rise. “Brianna, run.” Fagan whispered. “I don’t want to leave you… I’m scared, Fagan, I’m so scared!” Glancing out of the crack again, Fagan turned to Brianna. “So am I, Brianna. But remember what da said when we split up?” “Not all of it.” “He said I was to protect you, Brianna. You gotta run. They’re out there, and they will find us. And when they do… I don’t want you to be here.” “I don’t want you to be here either!” “I knew there would be a price to pay. This is it.” Tears in her eyes, Brianna reached up and hugged Fagan. “Godspeed, brother.” “I love you, Brianna.” “Love you too, Fagan.” As Brianna started to go, Fagan grabbed her hand and squeezed it lightly, then let her go. Then he turned to look out. The men were getting closer. At least there are only two… but I’m still only one. “Two,” A voice in his head seemed to say. Fagan smiled slightly. Help me, Creator God! His hand made its way to his sword hilt, and he grasped the cool metal in his hand. I won’t fight unless I have to, he resolved, quietly drawing the blade from its sheath. This had been his birthday gift from Nigel on his eighteenth birthday, and was his most treasured possession. Stealthily, he began to go in the same direction Brianna had run, hoping that he might make an escape the same way. The soldiers had stopped and were talking and pointing, their swords resting at their sides. Fagan paused, hoping, praying, that they would not see him. They glanced his way, and Fagan crouched down, but then began carefully climbing back toward the rock pile, the whole time keeping an eye on the soldiers. Suddenly, they looked at each other and nodded slightly. Fagan jumped, caught slightly off guard as they ran at him. As they drew nearer, he got to his feet and waited nervously. One hundred feet. Fifty. Twenty. Ten. Fagan began to back away slowly. They began to circle him, and Fagan tried to keep both of them in view, but failed. One of the soldiers ran at him, and Fagan tried to deflect the blow, but the soldier was stronger than he was and Fagan’s sword locked with the soldier’s. The soldier loosened his grip briefly, and Fagan leapt at the opening, flicking the soldier’s sword down on the ground and backing away quickly, freeing his own blade. Almost the instant his sword was free, he had to turn to block an attack from the other soldier. His blade brushed Fagan’s side, and the boy winced. Funny, that was Mikhil’s favorite spot to go at. He knew how badly I block there. In all his jumbled thoughts – thoughts of his family, especially Nigel and Brianna, thoughts of Adan, thoughts of Mikhil - one in particular stood out to him. I can’t do it this way. It won’t work. I have to get something behind me. Trying to keep an eye on his opponents, Fagan quickly took note of his surroundings. He would have to make a run for the rocks. He ran. But one of the soldiers guessed his move and tried to get ahead of him as he ran. It’s almost as if he knows me. Just as he was turning to put his back against he rocks, Fagan tripped. His sword flew from his hands, stopping at the feet of a soldier. Fagan reached for it, then rolled over to get to his feet – if he could not fight, he could at least run. He rolled over only to find a sword at his throat. Fagan looked up, only to see Mikhil’s eyes. “What are you doing here?” Fagan hissed. “My duty.” Fagan drew his eyebrows together angrily. The other soldier joined Mikhil. “You put up a hard fight, boy. We’ve been tracking you since yesterday morning.” The soldier growled. “I know.” “Where’s Br- the girl?” Mikhil asked harshly. “She ran,” Fagan said simply. The soldier snorted, sheathing his sword. “Mikhil, it sounds like we have been chasing after a bunch of frightened rabbits.” Fagan jumped to his feet, wincing at the pain in his side. “Don’t you dare talk about my sister that way! She’s the bravest person I’ve ever met, and she only ran because I told her to.” Aye, brave she is, Mikhil agreed inwardly. The soldier came up behind Fagan and tied Fagan’s hands behind his back. “So, then, you’re the one scared, not your sister?” “It’s something called protection and love… something I doubt you know much about.” Fagan answered, trying not to raise his voice. His mind went back to something Enid had told him long ago. In order to show them the Creator’s love… we must live like the Creator, and show them which is the better way to go – show them the strength of love as they try to sever what binds us all together. “Oh God, help me show them love,” Fagan muttered under his breath. “Tyrone, you stay here with the boy. I’ll go look for his sister. She can’t have gone far,” Mikhil said. Fagan’s heart churned at the sound of the familiar voice. He drew his eyes away from the well-known form, face, eyes… Tyrone nodded and shoved Fagan forward onto his knees, then sat down on the rocks next to his prisoner and took out a dagger. Fagan made himself as comfortable as possible on the uneven ground, and then promptly began praying for Brianna. Tyrone began sharpening his dagger, every now and then glancing at Fagan to make sure he wasn’t going anywhere. Brianna only ran for a few minutes before she stopped to rest, too exhausted to go any farther. She slumped against a tree, aching all over, her muscles sore from the long run the day before. She felt a sudden urge to keep running, and she tried to force her legs to run farther. They could carry her for no longer, however. Her legs burned, and she kept tripping over her own feet. At least I’m a little farther away from them. Oh, Creator, watch over me. And protect daddy, protect daddy, protect daddy… Brianna sat down behind a boulder, these thoughts ringing in her mind as her eyes closed, begging her for sleep.
Read Prologue --- Part 1 --- Part 2
In editing, I plan to make Daron more present and extend the prologue. Anything else I should edit?
To portray life as a Christian with a Christian worldview and Biblical foundation yet living in the world well. I want my characters to seem down-to-earth, I want my readers to get attached to the characters and mourn with those who mourn, and rejoice with those who rejoice. I want to display the pain of death, the joy of life, the wonder of the resurrection and freedom in Christ… family unity, Biblical marriage... I want everything to be theologically sound, while at the same time not so recognizably that a nonChristian reader would put the book down.
If you see ways I can do that better, please tell me!