After this, there's just one more chapter and the epilogue... which will be posted before I leave for the states at the end of June!
“Welcome, welcome, welcome!” Donagh said jovially as the tired band entered his bookstore. “Glad to see you again,” he said to Archie. “But you’ve doubled in size!”
“Aye, we have.” Archie grinned. “These are the two men we were asking you about – Jonathan, and Timothy – Kianna, Jeffrey, and Liam’s father. And this,” he said, gently pushing Elspeth forward. “Is Elspeth.”
She smiled shyly at the large man.
“Well, you didn’t tell me about her,” Donagh said.
“We didn’t know about her,” Jeffrey admitted. “We met her in the forest between Wyan and Bonnar.”
“What did you do to deserve joining this… this herd of elephants,” Donagh shot a glance at Liam, whose cheeks turned red.
“They’re not a herd of elephants!” Elspeth said defensively. Then more quietly, she added, “they’re wonderful people.”
“Whatever they are, they’re most welcome here. Even the elephant.”
“Who’s the elephant?” Timothy wanted to know.
“Your young’un there,” Donagh explained. “Now, I have to stay down here for a few more minutes, but head on upstairs – aye, you know the way – and make yourselves right at home. I’ll be up shortly.”
Upstairs, they set about preparing a meal. Kianna sat by the fire, stirring a pot of stew, while everyone else cleaned. Elspeth worked for a time, but then paused by the window. She stared out until Timothy put a hand on her shoulder.
“Yesterday at this time,” she said, “… it’s been a whole day.”
“Aye, it has. You’re safe now, Elspeth, and Ben is even safer.”
She nodded. Taking the towel she held in her hand, Elspeth reached for another dish to dry. “I wish I could be there with him.”
“In time, in time.” He took her gently by the arm and led her away from the window. “But we’re here now, and the work of the Creator still lies before us. Let His joy fill you.”
“It does, Mr. Timothy. It does.”
Donagh came thumping up the stairs. “It smells absolutely delicious in here,” he said. He surveyed the busy room, his eyes stopping to rest on Kianna. “Good lass. That stew will taste delicious.”
Kianna beamed. “Thank you, Mr. Donagh.”
He walked close to her and whispered in her ear. “Thank you for resting, Kianna. It makes all of us relax.”
Liam set a few final things on the table. “Time to eat,” he said. “And about time, too, I’m hungry!”
“Well, good, because there’s lots of this soup!” Kianna replied, laughing.
They gathered around the table to pray, and then Jeffrey ladled the soup into bowls and handed it out. Finally, they sat down and began to eat. Archie had found a loaf of bread in a cupboard, and this they dipped in the soup. Liam, however, refused to do this, avoiding “soggy” bread and instead spread butter across the surface of his bread.
“So,” Donagh said when most of them had finished eating. “Tell me about your adventures in Wyan.”
“Well,” Archie began, “I think Jeffrey should be the one to tell them, for he had most of them, while Liam and I simply wandered about.”
Jeffrey cleared his throat and began to talk. “As Mr. Archie implied just now, we split into two groups – Kianna and I, and him and Liam. We went in opposite directions. My first thought was to stop at the gaol, which we did…” As Jeffrey launched into his narrative, Donagh leaned forward, elbow on the table and chin in hand, to listen closely. He loved a good yarn, especially one that was true and was about those who followed the Creator and were about His business. When Jeffrey finished speaking, Donagh sat back in his chair.
“The Creator’s hand has been all over each one of your lives,” he said.
“Aye, indeed It has,” Timothy agreed. “I am so thankful for His blessings in returning my children to me. I never dreamed it possible. But that shows how weak my faith is, for it proves how little I trust Him.”
“Oh for more grace to trust Him more,” Archie said quietly.
“Take heart,” Donagh said. “Adan said, ‘He gives more grace.’ I do not think you need to worry about the Creator withholding His grace from the ones that He loves.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes. Then Donagh asked the question that was on everyone’s minds – though for some it was more pressing than for others.
“What are you going to do now?”
Jonathan, Timothy, and Archie all looked at each other.
“I haven’t yet gotten past today,” Timothy admitted. The other two nodded in agreement. “We were in such a rush to get out of Wyan that now I’m not sure what we’ll do. We can’t go back to Wyan, at least not for some time. I cannot leave Sealyn, and at least Kianna, Jeffrey, Liam, and Elspeth will stay with me. For now, we need to find a place to settle and rest. We are all tired and weary, some more so than others.”
“My home and bookstore are welcome to you for however long you need them,” Donagh invited.
“Thank you. Your offer is very tempting – your home is so warm and cozy, and books could never bore me. I think, though, that after a time we will need a place of our own, to really feel settled and spread out.”
“I understand. But until you find such a place, I am in no rush whatsoever to get you out of here. Even then, you will be welcome often. And,” he said, casting a glance at Jeffrey and Liam, “I could use a hand around here from time to time.”
“I’d be glad to help any time you need it, Mr. Donagh,” Jeffrey said, and Liam nodded in agreement.
“Then you can start tomorrow!”
“It will be so good to rest,” Kianna said quietly.
“Aye, it will,” Elspeth agreed. “Ever since… well, ever since they took papa it seems like I haven’t gotten real rest. I was always praying for papa, and then for Ben. And, of course, helping Aunt Cara with the children.”
“This Aunt Cara, is she the wife of your Uncle Brock?” Timothy asked.
“Aye, but they’re not really my aunt and uncle. They lived across the street and were followers of the Creator – I spent much time helping Aunt Cara and, when I was younger, playing with her sons. I went to them after Daron’s men took papa.”
“Do they know where you are?”
“I don’t know. Ardal – their oldest – went with me for a time, but then he broke his ankle and told me to keep going. I didn’t see them yesterday, but then I wasn’t really looking for them.”
“Do you think you could explain to Jeffrey and me where they live, and then we can take them news of you?”
“I think I could. I’d love to show you myself… but I know that it’s too dangerous for me to go back yet.”
“Aye. Perhaps someday we can all return to our homes.”
“Even if we can, it won’t be the same,” Archie said. “The world will be different – whether better or worse – let us pray it doesn’t get worse.”
“We will be different,” Jonathan added. “Ten years is a long time to change any man, but especially one who left a follower of Daron and would return a follower of the Creator.”
“Aye. There is no greater change than that,” Donagh said. “And none more lasting, either.”
Everyone went to bed that night more joyful and full than they had been in a long while. They ended their night with prayers of thanksgiving to the Creator for His hand of mercy that had been all over the past two days. The next morning, Elspeth gave Timothy directions to Brock and Cara’s house, and then Timothy and Jeffrey set out for Wyan. Two days later found the father and son standing outside a house in Wyan.
Jeffrey knocked on the door. “I hope this is the right house,” he told Timothy.
“Elspeth’s directions were clear. If this isn’t the place, it would be our fault, not hers.”
The door opened. “Hello, how may I help you?”
Father and son looked down to see a small boy looking up at them.
Timothy bent down to speak with him. “Is this the home of Brock and Cara?”
“Aye, they’re my parents.”
“Could we speak to them, please?”
The boy nodded. “Wait here.” He closed the door and pattered off to find his mother and father. Soon Brock opened the door.
“Hello,” he said.
“My name is Timothy, and this is my son, Jeffrey,” Timothy explained.
“I know your face,” Brock said, “but not your son’s.”
“You may have seen me at the meetings here. A friend and I were distributing copies of the Law and Word.”
Brock opened the door wider and let them inside the house. “Then, welcome, brother. I’m sorry if we appeared rude at first. You can never be too cautious these days – and with the way the city has been in an uproar the past few days, you never know who will be knocking at your door next. Especially when you follow the Creator.”
“Those dangers are what we came to talk to you about.”
Brock motioned to the couches. “Please, sit down.”
Jeffrey and Timothy sat.
“My son and friends met Elspeth in the forest a few nights ago,” Timothy explained.
“So she’s safe?”
“She’s safe now. Were you not at the execution?”
“No, we decided it would be best for us not to be there. Why?”
“We had told her to wait and were going to send Jeffrey to Ladylan with her. But she left before it was necessary for her to go, and was captured.”
“But you said she’s safe now?”
“Aye. She fainted during the execution. The soldiers paid no heed and were trying to quiet the crowd – I assume you heard the singing – and we were able to get her to the safety of our house. From there we journeyed to Bonnar, where we have been ever since. We wanted to inform you of her safety and whereabouts.”
“Thank you. I am glad to know that she is safe and with followers of the Creator.”
“I also wanted to tell you that I have offered to regard her as my own daughter, as it is no longer safe for her to be with you.”
“Even if it were safe for her to remain in Wyan, I think it would weigh heavily on her to be here. This is where they took her father, where they executed her friend… she holds so much sorrow to this place.”
Cara entered the room and Brock beckoned her to join them.
“These men came bringing news of Elspeth,” Brock explained. “She is safe, in Bonnar.”
“Not across the border?”
“No, that did not work. But she is with followers of the Creator, and is safe. This man has offered to treat Elspeth as his own daughter. I thought it might be best for Elspeth to be away from Wyan for a time, even if it were to become safe here.”
“Aye. She has so many nightmarish memories here, it would be best for her to be elsewhere. I only wish we could be with her.”
“We have duties here, Cara, else I would pack up and move in a heartbeat. Bonnar is not too far away, so we will see her from time to time.”
Cara nodded. “I think it best, then, that this man be as her father. Unless, of course, we find James.”
Brock shook his head slowly. “No one knows where he is. Or if they do, they would not tell us. We must be patient and trust the Creator. If it is in His plan for father and daughter to be reunited on Edaled, He will accomplish it.”
“Aye.” She glanced toward Timothy and Jeffrey. “Do you want something to eat and drink? You look weary – and it is getting too late for you to start back to Bonnar today.”
“Please, spend the night with us,” Brock offered. “Then you can be on your way early tomorrow morning.”
Timothy agreed, and Cara left to prepare a meal, assigning tasks to the boys to ready a room for their guests to stay in.
“Tell me more about yourself,” Brock asked Timothy.
Timothy chuckled. “Well, you may be getting more than you think. Mine is a long story, and my son’s is almost completely different.”
Brock relaxed in his chair. “Then it’s a good thing you’re staying the night.”
“Aye, it is,” Timothy said, then began telling his story.
By the time he finished, all of the boys had gathered in the room around their father, and were listening intently. Ardal sat next to Jeffrey, his broken ankle propped up on one of his brother’s shoulders. He had hidden himself in the woods until the soldiers passed by, and then hobbled homeward, where Cara had immediately taken him to see the doctor.
“What about you, lad?” Brock wondered when Timothy ended his tale.
“My name is Jeffrey,” Jeffrey said, then wound the yarn of his life to his eager listeners. Before he could finish, they sat down to eat dinner, during which Jeffrey finished his narrative in between bites of hearty stew and freshly baked bread.
“The Creator has been clearly at your side your entire life,” Brock said.
“Aye, He has. Even in the times when it seemed as if I was all alone, I knew that He would never leave me and forsake me, His child. It brought great comfort during the years on Tilkah when I became restless or was painfully aware of my state as an orphan. He has shown many mercies to me.”
“As He has to us all,” Ardal said. “I am so thankful to hear that Elspeth is well, and that she will be safe with you in Bonnar.”
“We are all thankful for the Creator’s protection of Elspeth,” Brock agreed.
“Especially me!” Carlisle, the third youngest, piped up.
“Eee,” squealed Brona.
“Let us bow in prayer to thank the Creator for His goodness toward us,” Brock said as he knelt in prayer.
Jeffrey and Timothy were up before dawn the next morning. Brock and Cara were awake as well, and Cara prepared a hot breakfast for the travelers to eat before they left. After thanks, farewells, and a quick prayer, father and son set off for Bonnar.
“We have traveled this road so many times lately that I am beginning to know it well,” Timothy said.
“Too well for my liking,” Jeffrey shifted the position of the bag on his back. “I hope to finally get good rest for a long while.”
“As do we all. I pray that Kianna especially will receive all the rest that she needs in order to restore her health. I cannot imagine going through all that she has suffered.”
“She is braver than I,” Jeffrey admitted. “When we thought she was dying, she wasn’t afraid – only worried that dying might hurt. But she knew that if she died, she would be with the Creator.”
“That alone is hope for the dying soul.”
“Aye. I am thankful to be able to cling to that hope, not just in death, but also in life. I cannot imagine living with a fear of death, suffering, or trial – not that they don’t frighten me sometimes, but I have no reason to fear them because I know what awaits me beyond this world.”
“And even that is but a small knowledge compared to what is truly there. We know so little of the Creator that we must spend our whole lives pursuing Him only to barely know Him.”
“How do others live,” Jeffrey wondered, “with no purpose to life, thinking that they weren’t created, just appeared, and have no reason for being here?”
“I don’t know. Considering a life of purposelessness is enough to throw me into despair – it is no wonder that so many people wish to be free from this earth.”
“I am so thankful for a reason to live.”
“Aye, so am I . I would have given up many times had it not been for that Reason.”
They lapsed into silence for a time, but the rest of their journey was spent in exhilarating conversation. Upon arriving back at Donagh’s bookstore, they told everyone of their travels. Elspeth listened intently, asking many questions. Jeffrey cast many a glance in her direction as they talked. He was continually amazed with her gentleness and the way she asked questions that were quiet but at the same time held much strength. Kianna rested quietly by the fire, enjoying its warmth and the comfort of Donagh’s armchair. Liam sat at her feet, stirring the fire from time to time. Jonathan, Timothy, and Donagh sat at the table with Elspeth and Jeffrey. Once more, they talked late into the night.
The next morning, Timothy took the boys and Elspeth out into Bonnar to search for a house. Kianna watched them go from the window of the bookstore. She wanted to join them, but Timothy and Donagh ruled against that wish. “I’ll need your help in the book store,” Donagh had said, and so Kianna did not mind as much. She enjoyed spending time with the grandfatherly man. He encouraged her greatly, and helped her see why she needed to rest.
A month passed. A week after they first began searching for a house, Timothy found one that was exactly what they needed. As a gift, Donagh helped them purchase it, and found Jonathan, Archie, and Timothy jobs. The rest of the month Jeffrey, Liam, Elspeth, and Timothy spent preparing the house. Jonathan and Archie would stay with Donagh until he decided what to do. Finally, the house was ready. They gathered up their things from Donagh’s store and the rooms above, and then set out across town. Although Kianna knew that something was up, she did not know exactly what was going on. When Timothy found the house, the house hunters decided not to tell Kianna and completely surprise her. Now they shared excited smiles.
“Here we are,” Timothy said when they stopped outside the house.
“Are where?” Kianna wondered.
“Close your eyes,” Elspeth said.
Jeffrey took Kianna’s hand and led her inside after Timothy opened the door.
“Can I open them yet?”
“Not quite yet.” Jeffrey motioned for Elspeth to open the curtains. “Alright, now!” He said when sunlight flooded the room.
She opened her eyes and gasped. “I’m home, at last,” Kianna said as she surveyed the living room. She laid her head on Timothy’s shoulder. “Thank you, daddy.”
He kissed the top of her head. “I am glad that it pleases you, Kianna. I want this to be a place for you to rest in and be filled in, and to serve from; however the Creator may call you to do it.”
Jeffrey joined them. “It’s been so long since I’ve felt really home,” he said. “Even on the islands it wasn’t really home.”
“All we’re missing is mama.” Liam added.
“And she is more at home than we are,” Timothy said.
“Aye, she is. I can hardly wait for the day when we will join her there.”
“I hope it is soon.” Kianna whispered. Timothy drew the three of them closer.