Chapter Nine: Growing UpChapter Nine: Growing Up Fagan sat on the edge of the well, watching Brianna draw water. Tabitha was telling Brianna about James’s latest escapades around the house, which had included him falling into a pile of horse manure. He smiled slightly, remembering times when Grady and Keelin would have done the same things. Now they claimed they were too “grown up,” to run around as they had done when they were younger, and though they still got into trouble, their household was a good deal quieter, for Ness and Aina were less troublesome than their brothers were. “And so because mama was busy with Charlie, I had to give James a bath… and you know how he hates…” Tabitha stopped short, and Fagan and Brianna followed her gaze. A squad of Fàolan’s men was marching through the town to the ruins of the old walls. Bardan stood outside of his old gatehouse, shouting as usual. “There is a love – a love so much greater than you could ever imagine – waiting out there for you! It is a love that is perfect, a love that will someday come to take us away from this broken world! Look around you – do you see peace and joy in the faces of everyone? No, you do not! Someday we will be taken away from this broken world, but for some it will only be to go to a world more broken than this, to eternity with Daron. Yet others will go to a land flowing with joy and love, a bright and sunny land, beyond what we can imagine. We will be with the Creator forever! But we must know that we are broken and know that we have disobeyed him!” The soldiers rushed toward Bardan, grabbing him and tying his hands behind his back. “By order of King Fàolan, you are under arrest, beggar,” the leader said. “Oh, since when is Fàolan king?” Bardan asked. “Stop your insolence!” “Last I checked, Kyle was the rightful owner of the throne of Cathonys, not Fàolan. And last I checked, his majesty King Kyle did not have the power to give his throne away.” “Well, then, things have changed since ‘you last checked.’ You have your orders, men, take him away.” They began dragging Bardan away. Fagan started to walk over to them, but Brianna put a restraining hand on his arm. “Fagan, what are you doing? Are you crazy?” “I don’t know, maybe I am. Brianna, we can’t just let them take Bardan away like that!” “And if you do anything to try to stop them, it’s not going to get you anywhere except a smelly dungeon!” “I’m going to try, anyway.” Brianna watched dismayed as Fagan walked quickly over to the soldiers. “Get out of our way, boy,” the leader said. “May I have a word with you, sir, about this old man?” Fagan asked. “Be quick and to the point.” “Why are you arresting him?” “We have an order from Fàolan and we obey Fàolan for he is our king.” “He is not your –" Fagan stopped, holding his tongue. He took a deep breath. “Can’t you see that he’s just a raving old man?” “Fàolan has heard that this ‘raving old man,’ has been speaking against him.” “And you think that people are actually listening to him? They all think he’s mad – crazy – insane – and doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” “We have our orders, lad, and we mean to fulfill them. If you would like to join the old man in Fàolan’s dungeon and speak to Fàolan yourself about the matter, you may join us.” The soldier eyed Fagan. “Besides, it does look like you’re a strong boy like those Fàolan wants in his army. Perhaps sometime you should enlist.” “Thank you for your praise, sir, but at this point I have no intention of enlisting in Fàolan’s army.” “Ah, so then we should arrest you too, because you’re planning on finding some rebels and joining them.” “No, sir, you are wrong, I do not plan on joining any armies.” “Well, think about it. Before long I don’t think you’d have a choice – there have been rumors around the castle that Fàolan will be drafting men.” “Thank you, sir.” Fagan moved aside and let Fàolan’s soldiers pass, then returning to Brianna and Tabitha. “Fagan, that was not smart!” Brianna hissed. “I’m still here with you, aren’t I? “Yes, but you didn’t do Bardan any good and almost got yourself taken away to Fàolan’s dungeons or drafted into his army! I told you you shouldn’t do it!” “It almost worked – if they weren’t so loyal to Fàolan, Bardan would be free right now.” “Don’t do it again, Fagan.” Fagan glared at Brianna. “Don’t give me that, either. If you harden your heart like Mikhil did…” “Brianna,” Fagan cautioned. “I don’t mean it like you’d run off like Mikhil did, but just watch your actions! I don’t want to lose you!” Fagan saw the earnestness in her face and nodded. Brianna did not show her emotions often, so when she did it often took everyone slightly by surprise. “You won’t lose me, Brianna. You won’t. At least not doing something like that. I won’t do it again.” “Promise?” “Promise.” Fagan drifted off into his thoughts again, leaning on the side of the well as Brianna and Tabitha talked. Suddenly he turned to them. “Who’s going to take Bardan’s place?” He asked. “What do you mean?” Tabitha wondered, slightly confused. “Last meeting, we said we wouldn’t hold back, we wouldn’t be shy, that instead of just living it we would tell people about the Creator’s love. Bardan was doing that, but people never listened because he had been doing it for so long that they no longer believed him because they misunderstood his prophecies. Now he’s gone, and they’re not going to be being reminded of the Creator’s laws any more. Who’s going to tell them now?” “Elonya will, I’m sure.” “Not as openly as Bardan did. Someone’s got to tell them.” Brianna and Tabitha were silent. “We said we’d do it, didn’t we?” Fagan persisted. “Yes, but…” “But what? Why aren’t we? Why are we sitting here talking amongst ourselves when there are people right here who need to hear? Tabitha, that man over there. Do you think he’s heard?” “I’ve never seen him at meetings, so I don’t think so.” “What about that woman?” “No.” “That boy?” Tabitha shook her head. “Fagan, what were we just talking about?” Brianna protested. “This is not something stupid! Their lives, no, not just their lives, their eternity matters in this!” He looked back at the people in the market, throwing his arm in their direction. “Brianna, I’m not too young to die. None of us are.” “I know, Fagan, I know.” She looked up at him. “The Creator is going to use us all sometime, and it’s going to be hard when He tells us how. But He will give us the power and strength we need to do His will.” Fagan hugged Brianna quickly. “Pray for me.” “I am.” “I want to talk to da, though, before I do anything. I want to know if what I’m doing is the right thing to do. And I think he and Adan need to hear about Bardan. And there’s something else I want to talk to him about.” Brianna nodded. “Let’s go home now, then. We’ve finished what we need to do here.” “Aye. Goodbye, Tabitha.” “’Bye, Tabitha.” “Goodbye, Brianna, Fagan. See you at the meeting.” “Aye.” “Were you scared?” Jonathan asked eagerly. Mikhil opened his eyes. He had been trying to rest, but Jonathan was sitting by the couch again, his brown eyes wide and persistent. “When?” Mikhil wondered. “Before the battle.” “Yes, I was very scared.” “Why? Why were you scared?” “Do you ever think about dying, Jonathan?” He nodded. “I had a baby sister… but she… well, mama told me that she just went to sleep for a very long time, and I believed her then, but now I know that she died.” “And does that make you think what it would be like to die? To be dead? To never play with your friends again?” “Aye, it does. But it also makes me remember how much people here love me, and how much they would miss me if I went. And it makes me want to hold on if I were ever so sick I was dying, I’d hold on to life for as long as I could. I don’t want to leave anyone behind. I don’t want to leave them very sad because I’m gone. Sometimes I wish I could live forever so that I would not ever have to make anyone’s heart break because they were sad.” “I think that then your heart would break.” “Maybe it would. But I’d rather my heart broke than that I broke someone else’s heart.” “But are you ever scared of being dead?” Jonathan shook his head. “No, I’m not scared of being dead. Da says I have a home in heaven, and that the Creator is waiting to welcome me there if I only put all of my trust in Him because I’ve disobeyed Him and He can’t stand things that are not excellent, but if we trust Him He will make us excellent again and so we will not disobey Him.” Mikhil nodded. “Your parents have taught you well.” “They love me very much.” “I can tell. They must miss your sister a lot.” “Yes, they do. Mama used to smile and laugh. Da still plays with me, but not as much as before. Whenever I ask him, he says he’s thinking.” “Death makes everyone think a lot, Jonathan.” “Did it make you think a lot?” “Yes, it made me think of all of the things and people I love. And all of the good memories I had. But those good memories were a long time ago. And while Fàolan still rules, I will not have any more good memories.” “But I thought you said you are going to join Fàolan. Does that mean you agree with him?” “I don’t agree with him all of the way. But I want to win, I want to live –“ “You would live forever if you trusted the Creator. You’ve thrown that away.” “I have not thrown it away, just put it away for later.” “There might not be a later.” “Would you stop it?” Mikhil said angrily. “And I have seen that Fàolan’s men stick together, unlike those claiming to follow the Creator. I have known some of His followers that truly loved – Some that I truly loved, too – but since then I have seen more of His followers that do not love. Fàolan takes care of his men.” “So does the Creator.” “Maybe some of them. But I don’t really call over three thousand men lying dead on the ground taking care of people.” “I think you are so set on hating that you’ve been blinded.” “I don’t think so.” He closed his eyes again and acted as if he were going to sleep. “That you’ve been so blinded you do not even realize it. Like Nathan when he let Daron in. They looked excellent, but they really weren’t, but if he had really listened to his heart when he let them in, he would have known that, but he didn’t, so he disobeyed.” Mikhil opened one eye. “Who told you that?” “My da.” “My da used to say the same thing to me, with the exact same words.” “I think you should listen to him,” Jonathan said, standing up and leaving. Mikhil rolled over and went to sleep. Nigel had been helping Grady with his mathematics when Fagan entered the house. He ran to the boys’ room and knocked on the door. “Come in,” Nigel said. Fagan opened the door. “Da, may I talk to you for a few minutes?” Nigel looked up from the math problem he was helping Grady with. “Aye. Grady, finish these five and then do your reading.” “Yes, da.” Said Grady, sighing slightly and looking back at his work. The tip of his tongue snaked out of the side of his mouth and he bit it in concentration. “Where would you like to talk, Fagan?” “Could we go to the tree fort?” “Ah, so then this is serious?” Fagan nodded. “Aye, da.” They walked to the tree house together, and then Fagan pulled down the ladder and climbed up. Nigel followed behind him. Up in the tree house, Fagan leaned against the wall. “Bardan was taken by Fàolan’s soldiers.” He said. “When?” “Today in the market place. I tried to stop them, but they had orders from Fàolan himself.” “I knew it would come to this someday. I only hoped we could have stopped Fàolan before it did happen. Fàolan knows that we are strong. He knows that there are people who do not like him and who will rise up against him. After the battle a few weeks ago he knows it even more, and instead of making us love him more, he is going to suppress those who are against him.” “That’s not wise, right, da?” “No, it is not. As a ruler, one must get the people on your side, but you must not compromise what you believe, your standards, or your morals to fit what the people want. Yet you must be a good leader who has integrity and competence and who loves his people and wants the best for them.” “Aye.” Fagan fiddled with one of his curls. “That is not all you wanted to tell me, I wager?” “No, da, it is not. There are two more things… I… you know how at the meeting we said that we would not be silent and that we would turn our actions into words. Now that Bardan is gone, there is no one to be frequently telling them… and da, no one else really has the time… but me.” “Fagan, are you willing to risk your life to do this?” “When I stood and said that I would take it to the market place and tell them of the Creator’s love, I was not thinking of rotting away in Fàolan’s dungeons. But da, if they want to arrest us, I don’t want them to have to make up a charge. If I am going to be executed, be sent to Fàolan’s deepest, darkest, dungeons, or even if I am to live to be an old man with a family and grandchildren… I want there to be all of the evidence needed that I am a follower of the Creator, without a doubt. Not just words, not just actions, but faith, works, and fruit. I do not want to follow Him halfway, da. I gave Him my whole heart a long time ago, and I’m ready to really find out what that means.” “Do you believe that this is what the Creator wants you to do?” “Aye. I felt a strong tugging at my heart after Bardan was arrested. I was at the well with Tabitha and Brianna, and I saw people going by. People I knew, and people that I knew were not followers of the Creator. But instead of seeing them walk toward their homes, I saw them instead walking away from the Creator. And I don’t want to see people doing that! Some of them don’t even realize what they are doing. No one really believed Bardan because he had been around for so long and they thought he was crazy. They don’t think I’m crazy. I don’t mind if they think I’m crazy, but there is a love that needs to be unleashed here. When Adan said that when we have a ruler that we don’t agree with, either the hearts of the people or the hearts of the ruler need to be changed. Da, we need to change the hearts of the people!” “I agree, Fagan. I agree.” “But do you think it’s wise to tell it so openly? Do you think it would be throwing away my life to do it that way?” “I do not think serving the Creator is throwing your life away. I believe that the two of those are antonyms, and that one who is truly following the Creator would not be wasting his life if he were arrested and killed because he was telling the world about the Creator’s love. Nay, I think that is great gain. Fagan, I love you. I love you so much. When you were born, I prayed that the Creator would use you for His purposes. I give you now my blessing to do this. The Creator is fulfilling the prayers of a new father. I knew that there would have to be a time when I would have to let my children make their own decisions, a time when I could not hold on to them any longer but turn them over to the Creator, for as you said, you gave your heart to Him, so you are more His than mine.” “I love you, da.” Fagan hugged his father tightly. “But I’m scared. I’m scared to die.” “I know, Fagan, I know. Think of other times you’ve been scared.” “When I fell into the river and almost drowned and then was sick. I thought I was going to die. I didn’t want to leave Brianna, Ahearn, and Brenna without their older brother, especially Brianna.” “And you made it through, didn’t you?” “Aye.” “Because the Creator gave you the strength to make it through. Hang on to your trust in Him, Fagan. Never let it go. The moment you let it go is the moment you fall and the moment that you will be a coward. He gives us the courage we need. He grants us His power when we are fulfilling His purposes.” “Thank you, da.” They were quiet for a few minutes. Fagan was praying and thinking, and Nigel was looking at his son. He had watched him grow from the time he had been in Enid’s stomach, seeing the “lump” grow every month, feeling him kick and then holding Enid’s hand as Fagan was born. He remembered teaching Fagan how to walk and talk, feeding him and singing to him at night. He remembered sword fighting with sticks and reading the Creator’s law to him. He remembered carrying Fagan home from the river the night Fagan had fallen in. He thought of his oldest son’s cold hands and hot forehead as he had struggled to hang on to life. Nigel remembered seeing Fagan concentrating while doing his studies and watching him try repeatedly to get the angle on the table he was making just right. Now Nigel looked at Fagan and saw that his son was no longer a boy. “You’re growing up, Fagan. I don’t see the little boy Fagan running home to me after going to the market with your mother. I see a strong, hard working, handsome young man who looks out for his sisters and more than anything wants to serve the Creator and listen to his Maker’s call. I see a young man who wants to protect what is right, excellent, and pure. I see a young man with integrity and character. Fagan, you are growing up to be a man of God.” “You have trained me well, da. I thank the Creator every day for parents like you and mama. I love you both so much. And I thank the Creator for Adan. He has taught me so much about what it really means to live for the Creator and how to hear His will. But, da… there’s someone else who has taught me a lot, too, and that was something else I wanted to ask you about.” “I’m listening, Fagan.” “Da, Brianna has a lot of good friends.” “Aye.” “One of whom is named Tabitha,” Fagan continued. A small smile crept across Nigel’s face. “Aye, I know that.” “She and I have been friends for a long time, mostly since Mikhil left, she spends a lot of time with Brianna and I spend a lot of time with Brianna… and she is a firm follower of the Creator and wants to be a mother of a lot of children… and…” “So what you’re saying is…?” “Da, I want to marry Tabitha,” Fagan blurted out. Nigel’s smile stretched across his whole face. “Fagan, you have my permission to talk to Tabitha’s father about receiving her hand in marriage. There is one thing I want to caution you on, though.” “What, da?” “These are not times to be getting married and having a family, Fagan. These are times of turmoil, especially now with Fàolan becoming more and more hateful toward the followers of the Creator. Tabitha would have to be willing to have her husband in prison and would have to know the costs of you taking Bardan’s place and telling the market place about the Creator.” “I know, da. I had not finished yet.” “I am sorry, go ahead, and finish what you were saying.” “I would ask her father now, but I would also mention to him what I believe the Creator is calling me to do. Then I will leave it up to him to decide whether to tell Tabitha yet or not. We are still young, da; I am willing to wait until after this is all over. Adan says it will be soon.” “Aye, he does. If your heart is set on having Tabitha as your wife, Fagan, I will not restrain you from talking to her father. However, use caution and wisdom when you approach him, and make clear to him your intentions. I know my son likes to guard and protect the young women of our village, but I want to protect my son’s heart.” “Yes, da. Thank you for your counsel. When do you think I should approach Tabitha’s father?” “His name is Iwan, Fagan.” “When do you think I should approach… Iwan… father?” “We have a fellowship meal after our meetings, do we not?” Fagan blushed. “Aye.” Fagan darted around people holding plates of food and the table laden with delicious dishes. “Sir – Iwan… Tabitha’s father…” He said, trying to get Iwan’s attention. “May I speak to you?” Finally, Iwan turned around and looked at Fagan. “Aye, what is it, Fagan?” “May I speak to you, off to the side some?” He asked. “Aye.” Fagan fidgeted as they walked toward the edge of the clearing. He felt Nigel watching him, and it may have only been his imagination, but he was sure Brianna and Tabitha were watching him as well. “What would you like to speak to me about?” wondered Iwan. “I… the…” Fagan started, at first attempting to change the subject. “Iwan – you do not mind if I call you by your first name do you?” “No, it is fine, Fagan.” “Iwan, I would like to speak to you about… about…” Fagan took a deep breath. The thought came into his head to say “chickens,” instead of “Your oldest daughter,” but then he blurted it out. “Your oldest daughter.” “Aye, what about her?” “Well, you know that she and I have been friends and have grown up together and talked some over the years…” You’re dawdling, Fagan. “I would like to ask you for your daughter Tabitha’s hand in marriage.” “Well, then, Fagan, I have some questions for you.” “Aye. I thought you might have some.” “What has your father said about this?” “My father said yes, but it might be better to wait until after Fàolan is gone, for a few reasons. If you would like, I can explain them now.” “Aye, please do.” “First is that he does not want us to have to live unsettled and does not want us as a new family to have to suffer the kind of hardship Fàolan is beginning to press on followers of the Creator. The second is what I know the Creator is calling me to do right now. Since Bardan’s arrest, I have sensed very strongly the need for the Creator’s love to be preached in the market place and have felt that it is I who am supposed to do this. If I were arrested, that would leave Tabitha on her own and husbandless, perhaps even widowed. I do not want her to have to live with that.” “Thank you for explaining that to me, Fagan. I agree with your father, however although marriage can wait, I do not see why betrothal or courtship should have to wait as well.” “Thank you, Iwan.” “What has your mother said?” “We sat down after I talked to my father, and she asked me questions about how I would treat my wife, and if I were ready to love and lead and support her. If I would be willing to give my life to save her, and if I were ready to raise children to glorify the Creator. I told her that I would try my best to do so.” “So you think you are prepared to lead a family?” “I don’t think that one could ever be completely prepared to lead a family. I know that I will need a lot of help and guidance at first, and I am prepared to take advice from you, my da, my mother, Brianna, Tabitha, and any others who want to give it.” “How do you plan to provide for Tabitha?” “Unlike many of my friends, my father has not been able to train me up for a specific trade because of his job. However, through his example and my schooling I would like to be able to teach. I know a lot about gardening and some about farming, and Tabitha knows more about those things than I do. I would like to have a farm and sell produce and teach my children and any others whose parents cannot teach them.” Iwan nodded. “What do you like about my daughter?” He asked. “Watching and talking to her I have seen that she is a beautiful young woman who likes to and knows how to think, is a follower of the Creator, and has been raised to be a keeper of the home. She understands the blessings of many children, and counts them a greater blessing than a comfortable life. From the time I was very young, I have known that this is the kind of girl I want to marry.” “Are you willing to grow in communication with her? To share your heart with her, help her share hers with you and to honor and love her?” “Yes, I am.” “Fagan, I can see through your actions, words, and watching you grow up that you are a follower of the Creator, but can you tell me why you follow the Creator?” Fagan paused for a moment. “Aye, I can. I follow the Creator because I know that that is what I was created to do, and I know that when I am glorifying Him is when I am most satisfied. I also see the perverseness in the world and I do not want to be a part of that, so in following Him I am making a decision to set myself and my family away from the world.” “What are the most valuable lessons you have learned from your parents?” “To sort through them all would take a very long time. I think, though, that their example of love – as husband and wife, as a father and a mother, and as friends has been one of the greatest lessons. To see the way that they interact with us and people in a way that honors and glorifies the Creator. My father taught me how to think deeply and use discernment in making decisions. My mother taught me how to treat my sisters and in the future my wife with respect and love.” Iwan nodded again. “Fagan, thank you for being open and honest with me. I will talk with my wife about it, and then we will decide whether or not to tell Tabitha yet. We will tell you what we conclude after prayer and much thought. Deciding to give one of our daughters away in marriage is not an easy decision.” “I can imagine,” Fagan said. “My da and I were talking the other day about letting children go. I had asked him what he thought about me taking the Creator’s love to the market place, and although at first he hesitated, he told me that he had prayed that the Creator would use me, and that I had given my heart to the Creator, and that now he had to let me go fulfill what the Creator was telling me to do. I don’t want to leave my father’s protection either, where things are safe and easy, but I know that that is not where I will find life to be its fullest or where I can best serve the Creator right now.” “Thank you for sharing that, Fagan. Nigel is right – there is a time to hold on to things and a time to let them go. Not all of life is going to be easy, and we cannot pursue the path of least resistance or we will never go anywhere.” “Aye.” Iwan smiled. “Fagan, I see Brianna and Tabitha looking your way with a group of the other young men and women. Why don’t you go join them?” Fagan nodded. “Thank you, Iwan, for your consideration… you know how much I hope to marry Tabitha.” “I know, Fagan. I hope that I can tell you yes, even if it means a time of long waiting between now and when you can be married.” “Aye,” Fagan said sadly. “Though Adan says it will all be over soon, and that we will be free from Fàolan.” “I think it will happen later than we hope but sooner than we dare to think.” ‘Aye.” “Now go.” Fagan walked over to join Tabitha, Brianna, and the other young men and women. He sat down next to Brianna, who leaned over to him, whispering in his ear. “What was all of that about, Fagan?” “I’ll tell you later,” Fagan replied. “Why can’t you tell me now?” “Because it’s not the time and place to tell you. Besides, I am not sure if I want to tell you quite yet.” “Is this the first time my brother has kept something from me?” Fagan looked down. “Maybe it is, but we’re both growing up, Brianna.” Brianna knit her eyebrows together and looked at Fagan. Then her face softened. “Aye, we are, Fagan. It’s an odd and strange feeling… I’m not quite sure I like it.” Chapter Ten: Mikhil’s Return Mikhil sneezed, and then stood up from the couch. As he stood, he looked down at his legs. There were no longer wounds, but the cuts were almost scars now. He lifted his shirt to look at his side. That, too, was almost healed. He could leave! Finally, after two weeks of staying with Jonathan, Ruth, and John, he could finally be on his way. It seemed like it had been so long between now and when he had made his decision to go to Fàolan. Between then and now he had made plans and his longing to join Fàolan grew. These followers of the Creator were so annoyingly persistent. It almost seemed like they were trying to push what he had rejected back onto him. He wouldn’t take it, no, he had made that decision. He just could not understand why they felt that he should take it back. It was his choice, after all. Mikhil shrugged and pushed the thought away. Using the wall for support, he walked into the kitchen where Ruth was reading to Jonathan. Ruth looked up, startled, when Mikhil entered. “You’re walking, Mikhil!” Mikhil nodded. “Aye, I am. My legs feel very strong now. And look – they are no longer ugly and covered in cuts, they’re scars now.” “John’s mother was a healer. She taught him many remedies before she passed away. He has made good use of them, with Jonathan, who manages to get into his fair share of trouble, and with other people in the village as well. Although it is not his job by trade, the villagers look to him as their healer.” “He has done a wonderful job. I feel stronger than I have in years. Healthier, too. It must also be your cooking… I have not had a home-cooked meal for over three years, since I left home to join the Miron.” “It has done you good, Mikhil.” “I have really enjoyed my time here, Ruth, and I thank you very much for your hospitality. But I really should be going soon. I had planned to arrive at my destination a week ago, and although the delay will not affect much, I would like to be on my way again…” “I understand. We will find you some of John’s clothes that you can wear, and as soon as you can walk, better then you will be free to go. However, I don’t know if Jonathan will let you go. He has very much enjoyed having an older brother around to talk to.” “I’m afraid I haven’t always been that gracious of a brother to him.” Ruth smiled. “He does ask a lot of questions, that is true. But it’s the way he learns. Sometimes we tell him to find the answer himself instead of us telling him.” Mikhil sat down at the table. “Do you mind if I listen while you read to him?” “No, not at all.” Ruth continued to read to Jonathan, and he stared intently at the page while she read. Mikhil listened, deep inside of him wishing to be a part of a family again. But no, he thought. I’m past all of that. Maybe someday I’ll have a family, but first these followers of the Creator have to submit to Fàolan. Then we will be able to settle down at last, and I can find a woman that I love and marry her and have children. I don’t know of anyone I would like to marry now. There is one, but she would say no now. It would take a miracle for me to be able to marry her. I used to think that when the Miron returned victorious into Poná and marched into the castle, she would be there standing, waiting for me, clapping her hands and throwing flowers at our feet. Now I see that I thought wrong about the Miron and that I also thought wrong about her and realize that she would not have done that anyway. She’s quiet, not like that. If she loves someone, she serves them, not hangs around them a lot to get their attention, even if they don’t give it to her. I used to think that was beautiful. Now I’m not so sure. Then, I don’t really know what I am sure of any more. Everything is falling apart now. The whole world is. I wonder if anything will ever be back to how it used to be. Though I never knew the world as it used to be, only as it is now. Maybe Fàolan will restore it back to normal; maybe the people just don’t see that quite yet. Fàolan has been stable, though, and if I’m looking for stability, that’s where I’m going to go, and that’s where I’m going to find it this time. I will go to Fàolan, and I will give him my services… and I will find peace and stability. “So what is it, Fagan?” Fagan looked up from his book. Brianna was standing in the doorway to the boys’ room, her back against the sides of the doorpost. Fagan blushed and looked back down, staring at the page. “You and Tabitha’s father were talking for a long time over near the edge of the clearing. Tabitha and I kept wondering if you would come and join us. We were talking with Adan about Creation, and I was trying to remember something that da said but you weren’t coming and I wanted to ask you. Then we changed the subject before you came.” “I know we talked for a long time. It was an important conversation… on the subject of… on the subject of…” “On the subject of what, Fagan?” Fagan looked up and his eyes met Brianna’s. Her eyes twinkled, knowing she was teasing him some. Then they stopped twinkling, realizing that this was serious to her brother. “Brianna, I was asking Iwan if I could court Tabitha.” Brianna’s mouth opened as if she was going to speak, but she didn’t say anything yet, only closed it again. “Since Mikhil left you know I haven’t been spending time with the guys as much. It hurts too much to be with them because of memories, especially with Mikhil’s brothers. You know I’ve been with you and Tabitha more lately. She’s a good friend, Brianna. And I know that she’s going to make a wonderful wife and mother someday. I want to be that man, Brianna. Remember, you said we were growing up.” “I know… it just seems so strange. My brother – my Fagan, who used to tickle me and carry me around the house like a sack of potatoes… my brother Fagan who was so sick and holding onto life, just barely… who used to practically drag me through the market place because I couldn’t keep up with you… is going to get married?” “Nothing is for sure yet, Brianna. I talked to Iwan but he’s going to talk to his wife and pray about it, and then they’ll talk to Tabitha.” “She’ll say yes, Fagan. When you’re not around, she talks about you all of the time.” Fagan turned bright red. “You’ll make a good husband for her, Fagan. I know you’ll love her and take very good care of her. I’ll really miss having you around so much.” “Nothing is in place yet, and we will probably have to wait until Fàolan is gone, or at least I will have to decide between marriage and speaking in the market place.” “Leaving either of those to wait will be hard for you.” “I know. That was my biggest hesitation about talking to da about speaking – or even thinking about taking Bardan’s place. Why I almost hesitated when standing up at the meeting. I wanted to marry Tabitha, and I didn’t want anything holding me back. I don’t know which is right, Brianna.” “I think the Creator will make it clear to you, Fagan. I think that He’ll show you which to choose. Maybe there’s a way that you can have both. Like you said, maybe you’ll just have to wait until Fàolan’s gone before you can marry. If it’s God’s will for you to marry Tabitha, then He’ll let you live through Fàolan’s rule. If not, her parents will say no or you’ll die. We can’t do anything that will go against His will. He’s already gotten it all planned out, but He wants us to trust Him.” “You would think that by now we would be experts at trusting God.” “Every new challenge we have to relearn it because we want glory and we want things to go the way we want them to, we want to control our lives.” “Aye.” “But I guess, then, that it’s for sure now that we won’t ever be Fagan, Mikhil, and Brianna again.” Fagan looked pained. “Brianna, we’ve known for a while that that isn’t going to happen.” “I know, Fagan, but I can’t help but hope.” “Can we stop talking about Mikhil?” Fagan asked in a small voice. Brianna nodded. “Thank you.” “So you really think you’re ready to get married?” Brianna asked. “No, I know for a fact that I won’t ever be ready to get married. I could never be fully prepared for all of the things that lie ahead. However, I do know that the Creator will give me the strength I need to love my wife and future children and care for them as da does. I want my family to be like ours, I want to be like da. I want my girls to be like you, and my boys to be like Ahearn… I have grown up being so blessed.” Brianna smiled. “Aye, we both have. Mama and da have trained us so well to prepare us for marriage so then we can prepare our children for marriage and teach them about the Creator and raise up another generation of His followers. Think about it, Fagan! Mama and da are two of His followers… then they had eight children. When all eight of us are married, then we’ll be sixteen, and if we each have eight children, that will be…” “Sixty-four grandchildren for mama and da, and eighty-two followers of the Creator mama and da have directly and indirectly trained up.” “Yes! See how it multiplies! And if our families are growing like that, so will our meetings, and then we can be an even bigger witness of the Creator’s love to the world.” “Aye. The world has lost the meaning of having children and training them to leave a legacy. There’s no depth in the world of those who don’t follow the Creator, it has been lost.” “I think that’s why they do not seem to notice that they’re headed to destruction – they think that life is just a phase and the earth is just going to go on forever repeating itself.” “Thank the Creator that we know there is purpose in life!” Two days later, Mikhil turned and waved as he exited the house. Jonathan stood between his mother and father, and waved back. “Goodbye, Mikhil!” He said. “Goodbye, Jonathan,” He turned to Ruth and John. “Thank you for everything. I feel so much stronger now.” “It was our pleasure, Mikhil, we are glad to have served you,” John said. “But never forget what those who serve the Creator have done for you. There are many who know not of what they speak. Be wary of them, for they can be convincing and lead you astray.” “Thank you, John.” Mikhil shouldered the bag of food Ruth had given him to eat on his journey, and then set off down the road with another wave behind him. Now he was finally on his way. He was finally on his way to being one of Fàolan’s captains, and to rising in fame and power. He would be strong, outwardly strong, and not just inwardly strong. Mikhil did not realize that this would tear apart his inward strength and cause him more pain than he could ever have imagined at that point in time. He did not know what Fàolan would ask him to do before the end, he did not realize how cold and hard he would become before he left Fàolan’s service and died. He walked on, giving a few nods and waves as he left the village. He checked the sun to note his direction, and then walked eastward, toward Poná. How this walk differed from his last one. Last time, he had been in so much pain and anger. He had been delirious and disillusioned. Maybe he was still disillusioned, not quite sure he was doing the right thing, but the hate in his heart blinded him to such an extent that, as Jonathan had said, he did not even realize it. And so he journeyed onwards, his heart as set as ever as joining Fàolan in his evil mission. Little did Mikhil know what would lie ahead for him as he stood before Fàolan and gave him his services. “So, Mikhil, you say you can help me,” Fàolan said, moving pens and ink bottles across his desk, then leaned across it, scrutinizing Mikhil. “Aye, sir, I believe I can.” “You are twenty one years old, and have served time with the Miron, so you say.” “Aye.” “How do I know you’re not going to turn around and turn over all of my secrets?” “I’ll give you my word.” “Mmm.” “My word is good,” Mikhil said. “If I give it, I keep it.” “If you were not as young and strong as you are, I would choose to have you executed rather than letting you stand before me. Nevertheless, I need young men, and you sound promising. My officials tell me that a week ago a young man your age refused the offer, saying he would choose not to fight.” Fagan. Mikhil’s mask slipped for a moment, pain and recognition showing through. “I see that although you grew up in Poná you do not hold the same views as boys who may have once been your playmates.” Fàolan really seems to know how to hit one’s heart. “No, sir. My worldview differed a lot from that of some of my playmates.” “And that did not bother you?” “It did not bother me when we were playing, only when we spoke of religion or politics.” Outwardly, Mikhil remained calm, but inwardly there was a storm raging. “Ah. Here you will find that we are all agreed on those subjects, so you will not have to be bothered with any of that. Go down to the barracks and talk to one of my officers there. He will supply you with the uniform and find a bunk for you. I suggest you find a way to get a weapon, for my armories have run out. I hear there’s a good blacksmith in the village, I’m sure he would be willing to make you one like the ones my men use.” “Thank you, sir… but I have no money.” “You’re an intelligent man, Mikhil. I’m sure you will find a way to find some.” Slightly startled, Mikhil nodded. He had expected Fàolan would have outfitted him with everything that he needed, not just cast him off to find his own things. He’s busy, Mikhil thought. Bowing slightly as he turned and left the room. “And Mikhil –" Fàolan called. Mikhil turned to face Fàolan again. “I will speak to you soon about what you know about the Miron.” “Thank you, sir.” After dinner that night, Fagan sat outside on their porch. He sat on the steps, his left elbow on his knee and chin in his hand, his right arm lying limp beside him, picking at the grass. Adan came out and sat beside him, looking up at the stars. “Your father tells me that recently you asked about courting young Tabitha.” Fagan glanced Adan’s way. “Aye, I did.” “What have you heard since then?” “I haven’t heard anything yet. I trust that her father, Iwan, and her mother are still praying about it. I don’t want them to be hasty in this decision. I know that for a long time my father and mother have been praying for me. I don’t know how long ago they began doing so, but I am surprised that although I’m only nineteen they’re letting me pursue her hand.” “It does not surprise me. These three years I have been here, I have seen you mature very much and grow to be a man of God.” “Thank you, Adan. That means a lot to me to hear it from your lips.” “And, if I am correct, you are almost twenty.” Fagan nodded. “Tabitha is eighteen, though. I fear I will have to wait even if they decide that these times are not a problem, nor is my longing to take the word to the market place.” “Have you not done so yet?” “Nay, I have not. I only go to the market when Brianna goes to run errands for mama, and now she will have to take Ahearn with her so that I can stay by the well.” “Your father doesn’t like you going to the market alone?” “He doesn’t mind me going on my own now, but he has always commanded that the women of the family always have a man with them, and the younger children as well. I thought you knew that.” “I had a feeling that was where your father stood on that. He is a wise man.” Fagan leaned his head against a post on the porch. “I love children,” Adan said suddenly, his train of thought extending from marriage and into the fruits of marriage. “But I have many children because my Father does, as I and the Father are one.” “So although I am your friend, I am also your child,” Fagan noted. “Aye. Like you and your father are friends, although you are his son and he is your father.” “I want my relationship with my sons and daughters someday to be like that.” “You are already wise like your father, Fagan.” “Thank you, Adan. Thank you very much.” They were quiet, staring up at the stars. Fagan closed his eyes briefly and when he did, he saw Tabitha’s smile flash in his head. He smiled at the thought of her, and then opened his eyes again. “How long, Adan? How long will we have to wait to be free?” “Longer than you think, sooner than you hope.” Adan said with a smile. “Has Iwan been talking to you?” Fagan asked cockily. “Nay,” Adan’s smile widened. “I have been talking to him.” Chapter Eleven: Fagan’s Task Ahearn took Brenna’s hand and glanced back at Fagan. He stood up at the edge of the well, holding on to the covering for support. Brianna stopped as well and looked back. Creator, protect him! She prayed silently. This was his first time. As she looked at her brother, she saw a slight tremor roll through his body, but then he drew himself up to his full height, and ran a hand through his curls. “I want to stay and listen,” Brenna said. “Not today, Brenna,” Ahearn replied. “Da said no, because he wants to let Fagan do this on his own at first.” “I think he would like us to be there with him,” Brenna retorted. “First of all, what da says we have to obey, and secondly, Fagan will not always have us to support him.” “Aye, but when we are not around, then he will have his wife to support him.” “Fagan’s not married yet, Brenna, and there isn’t anyone saying that he will be married any time soon. You’ll understand more when you are older, but sometimes we have to just let things go a certain way even if we may not understand why or even if we don’t want to, just because of the way the world is.” Brianna nodded in agreement with her younger brother’s words. It’s so strange, like all of a sudden it hit. My brothers are growing up! That is not to say that I am not growing up, but I guess I just do not see myself growing up like I do them. She glanced back at Fagan, whose actions had now drawn a small crowd wondering what was going on. And my Fagan will not be only mine for much longer. But they will live close by. And they work for each other. They understand each other. Fagan will be a good husband; he will understand her heartbeats and will really love her. Creator, protect him… please. Let him come home safely. Fagan gave his heart to me, Brianna. And you gave me mine, too. I will use them for my own purposes. You won’t kill him, will you, Creator? What I do is for my purpose. I have put each and every person on this earth for a reason, to touch someone’s life or be touched whether he or she are trying to or not. I will protect them according to my plans. But you must remember, Brianna, that your wishes are not always in line with mine. I know… make them in line with yours! Make them in line with yours so that I will be more like you, be more excellent! I love you, Brianna. I love Fagan, too. Trust in me. I’m scared, I’m scared, Creator. Protect me! Fagan’s voice shook as he started to speak. “One hundred twenty five years ago, I was not on this earth…” He began, his voice growing steadier as he went on. People turned their heads toward him, and he took a deep breath, continuing. “None of us were. There was only one, one called Man. He was like us, he had hands… and feet, eyes, ears… a mind – a heart! He could feel, he could touch and love and sing. He looked like us, spoke like us… but he – there was one way and one thing alone that he was not like us, that separated us from him. Yes, he was our father, the father of all humanity. He could feel like us and hurt like us. But there was nothing to hurt him. You there!” Fagan pointed at a young boy. The boy looked up, startled. “Aye?” “Have you been hurt?” The boy nodded, and Fagan could read in his eyes that yes, indeed, the young boy had been hurt, and probably deeply as well. Mothers and fathers were turning away and not caring for their children, or worse, mistreating their children. Some of the wounds the children carried with them would never heal, others would scar the boys and girls for life. Fagan knew that the only way these could be healed was through the Creator’s love. So like the Creator was Adan’s father, the Creator could be a father to these fatherless children as well. Fagan turned to a man. “And you? Has someone scarred or wounded your life?” “Aye,” the man grumbled, somewhat hesitantly and unwillingly. “And you?” Startled, a girl Brianna’s age stopped walking and turned to Fagan. She looked down quietly, and then whispered, “Aye.” Pain etched in Fagan’s face, he stood up straight again. “You see? Now we all live in pain. We all carry scars and hurts that people have laid upon us. We cannot hope to have a better life here on this earth. Not in Edaled. No, it would not work. We could try to start over, but it would only lead to destruction, maybe more destruction than already exists.” He caught the eyes of his listeners. “There is only one thing we can do, only one person that could ever help us. His son is living here, among us. He will fight the battle between our hurt and what could be – perfection! Where no one is hurt. Someday, every eye will be dry; no one will weep and mourn any more. Every longing will be fulfilled! Can you imagine what that day will be like?” His heart felt like it was about to break, feeling pain and compassion for those who would not be there, while at the same time filled with a longing for that perfect place. Heads shook, and some eyes shone – a few were crying because of remembering old pain. Some faces were hopeful, and others cynical. A little girl tugged Fagan’s shirtsleeve. “How?” She asked. Fagan knelt down next to her. He had heard his father speak of this girl, or ones like her. Abandoned by their parents at a very young age, they grew up in the streets, living off what people gave them, what they could steal, or what they could forage. Most were malnourished and dirty. This girl’s face was streaked with mud and dirt, and her clothes were brown from dirt and torn in many places. “What is your name, little one?” Fagan asked, gently putting his hand on her shoulder. Startled by his kindness, the girl did not reply for a few seconds. “Nell,” she said finally. “Well, Nell,” Fagan said, looking her in the eyes. “It will happen. And I am here to tell these people how. Would you like to hear as well?” Nell nodded. “Here, come sit up on the well.” Fagan lifted her up and set her gently on the stone edge of the well, letting her lean her back against the poles that carried the bucket up from the bottom of the well. She tipped her head back to look up at Fagan when he stood to continue speaking. “That day… it is beyond our imagining, beyond our greatest dreams. I cannot begin to imagine what it will be like. But the best part – is not the no more pain. It is not that we will no longer cry… there is something so much greater waiting there, and that is why it is beyond our dreams.” Fagan paused to look down at Nell. “The Creator has made our eternal home there. In a world so broken that we cannot call any place truly home, that there is nowhere you can go to ‘get away,’ from anything… we long – oh, we hope, we wait, we suffer – to go there, to a perfect place. The Creator made us to be excellent. I would explain excellent, show you an example of excellent… but I cannot find anything but the Creator’s creation, and there are things far better than that. Look at the stars at night, the flowers, clouds, the sun, and the moon. Look, there, at that weeping willow! It is beautiful, is it not? Imagine something infinitely more beautiful! Nell, how would you like to live where everything is infinitely more beautiful than that willow?” Nell fumbled for words briefly. “Oh, very much, sir!” “But look at us.” Fagan paused to give his listeners a chance to look around. “Do we belong there?” He asked sadly. “I fail every day! Countless times just each morning I lose my patience with my younger brothers. I forget to do things, I make mistakes! How will we fit in to a place where everything is excellent?” A tear rolled down Nell’s cheek. “We can’t.” Fagan bowed his head. “Aye. We can’t.” Angry murmurs rippled through the crowd. “Then why is he telling us of such a great place? Only to make us discontent with where we are now?” “Ah, but I have not finished!” Fagan said triumphantly. “The Creator loves His creation even though we have gone astray! There is still hope for us, the hopeless ones. As a child, did you ever read or hear the Creator’s Law? Nathan, one of Man’s sons, brought this upon us by his disobedience. The Creator said only to pursue that which is excellent, and Nathan let things that were faulty into his kingdom… but because his brothers and sisters did not stop him and had an idea of what was going on, and because the evil spread so quickly, we all suffered for it – we all suffer for it. Only when the Creator comes in glory to take us home to Him will we ever be free from evil. “But we have to be excellent before the Creator can be in our presence. After Nathan disobeyed, the Creator left us with a promise – that one day He would make a way for us to be with Him. I do not know what that way is yet, but I do know that the Creator will keep His promises. It goes against his excellent nature not to keep His promises. But He wants us to realize that our actions have consequences, sometimes very drastic ones. We must live and suffer with these. And the Creator wants us to learn about Him and learn to trust Him with all that we are and have. That alone is not enough, however. Yes, we must trust Him to keep His promises, but if we saw Him in His full glory, we would have no doubt of how much we can give Him… I have given Him my whole heart and my whole life. It is for you to decide how much of your life we will give Him. Give Him your life, and tell Him that you want to pursue excellence with all that you are. “You will not be able to do it. Not on your own, and in Edaled we will never do it even with the Creator’s help, but in pursuing excellence and trusting Him, He will make us excellent and perfect in the day that He comes back… so we can go home to be with Him in His utter beauty and awesomeness. “Be warned!” Fagan shouted. “He will change your life!” He sat down on the well next to Nell. She cautiously leaned over onto his shoulder, stiff at first, but when Fagan put his arm around her, she settled down into his side. “What do you think, Nell?” She looked up at Fagan. “Nobody has ever loved me like this,” she said. Tears filled Fagan’s eyes. “Nell, I am so sorry to hear that. It breaks my heart that parents – your mother who bore you in her body for nine months, and birthed you in pain, and has now left you by the side of the road.” Nell looked away. “I never knew my mother. How do I know I wasn’t an accident?” “Nell, nobody is an accident in the eyes of the Creator. He loves each and every one of us; He made us all with a purpose.” Nell looked hopeful. “Really? You’re not just saying things to make me happy?” “No, Nell. I would never do that.” “Are you absolutely positive you would never do that?” “Yes, Nell.” “Because nobody has ever said I had a purpose. Everyone said I was a mistake because nobody has ever wanted me. They haven’t said it just like that, but the way the people in Poná look at me, I just want to die sometimes!” “They were wrong, Nell. You’re right, people do lie sometimes and there are some people that we cannot trust. But there are some that we can trust.” The crowd had lessened by now, and people started drawing water from the well. A few looked at Fagan strangely, but a few stopped to talk. “You are young still, boy.” One man said. “Use your life on something else. There are other ways to tell people about the Creator – pack of lies that it is – but don’t be throwing away your life like this. Fàolan will hear about it and have you executed, as he is like to do with that beggar Bardan. Good riddance I say, though.” “Sir, may I explain something to you?” “Aye,” he said gruffly. “I do not believe that this is throwing my life away. If I lose my life, I have used it for the greatest thing I believe life can be used for – to glorify the One who made me. After much prayer and thought and talking it over with my father, we decided that in this time of my life, this is what the Creator has called me to do, and I must follow His calling.” “Say what you want, it seems like foolishness to me.” Fagan smiled. “Aye, it does seem like foolishness to those who do not understand the power of the Creator.” The man shrugged and walked away. “Why does he think you are crazy?” Nell asked. “I don’t think he thinks I am crazy as much as he does that I am foolish. He thinks that the Creator is a lie, meant to bring comfort in the world. And so he thinks that I will lose my life doing this, and that I would be dying for a lie. I thank him that he wanted to protect me and help me, but he does not understand.” “He’s not right, is he, that the Creator is a lie?” Nell cried out. “Nell, do you see stars at night? Can you move your hand? Take in a breath of fresh air?” Nell looked sideways at Fagan and raised her eyebrows. “Yes, of course.” “Do you think all of that came about just by chance?” “Maybe it’s always been there.” Fagan shook his head. “It had to start somehow, and it was not an accident.” “Just like I’m not an accident.” “Aye. The Creator made it because He wanted something to love and He wanted to make something with a purpose to glorify Him! That’s why we exist, Nell, because He can make us happy when we find ourselves in Him.” “So then we’re all happy, because He’s happy we’re serving Him, but we’re happy because He makes us happy.” “Yes, you could say that.” Brianna, Ahearn, and Brenna came running up to Fagan. “Fagan!” Brenna said, throwing her arms around Fagan’s neck. “I was worried,” Brianna said. Her shoulders, which had been tense for the whole time they’d been at the market, relaxed, and she breathed normally. Fagan smiled. “Don’t be worrying about me, Brianna.” He gave Brianna a hug, then Brenna. “Brenna, Brianna, Ahearn… this is Nell.” Nell leaned close to Fagan. “Who are they?” She asked shyly. “These are three of my siblings.” “How many brothers and sisters do you have?” “I have three brothers and four sisters.” “That is a BIG family!” “Yes, it is. And you are welcome to be my fifth sister! Let’s go home.” As they started walking back to the castle, Brianna walked alongside Fagan. “How did it go, Fagan?” “I can’t tell for sure. Except for Nell, no one really responded positively. The crowd seemed interested, but I don’t know how many of them actually believed what I was saying. Maybe they were hoping Fàolan’s men would come… maybe they really wanted to hear. I don’t know, Brianna. I’m kind of disappointed, but I don’t know what I was hoping for, or what was realistic to hope for.” “Bardan never got a response.” “Bardan was… different.” “He still touched lives, Fagan. There are those who will hear but we may not see how the words they hear might change their lives. Don’t worry about it, Fagan!” “Thank you, Brianna.” “So how did you meet Nell?” “She’s one of the street children da has told us about. And she needs a home, Brianna.” “I see that, but how did you meet her?” “She was listening near me, and asked questions. I set her up on the well so she could hear better, and when I finished we sat and talked.” “What are you going to tell mama and da?” An impish look spread across Fagan’s face. “Well, I was hoping…” Brianna smiled. “I was hoping, too.” “Do you think they’ll let us add another child to the family?” “Another arrow to the quiver?” “Aye!” “I think they’ll be happy to. And, we’re almost home, so we will find out soon!” Brianna grinned at Fagan, and they broke into a run toward home. The other three children followed. Brianna stopped short outside their front door, panting and breathless. She was laughing, too. “It’s been so long since we last raced like that, Fagan!” She said. Fagan came up behind her. “And not much has changed,” he commented, resting with his hands down on his knees. “Aye, you still let me win, as always!” “’Tis my manly duty toward the women of this country, especially to my sisters, to let ladies go first.” Fagan teased, bowing. “Oooh, you really have not changed, Fagan!” They waited outside for Nell, Brenna, and Ahearn to catch up to them, and then Fagan took Nell’s hand and opened the door. “You all go in first. I’ll be inside in a minute.” He said. His siblings filed inside ahead of him, and then he followed, closing the door behind them. Enid was setting the table for dinner. “Welcome home, Fagan, Brianna, Ahearn, and Brenna!” She said, smiling at each of her children. She stopped when she saw Nell, and then looked back up at Fagan. “And who’s this?” Fagan took a deep breath. “Mama, this is Nell. Could you set another place for dinner?” “Of course I will, Fagan!” Enid turned to the cupboard and grabbed another trencher out, setting it on the table. “Ahearn, go get another chair, and then call your father and brothers and sisters and Adan for dinner.” “Yes, mama.” Ahearn left the room for a few minutes, and soon the rest of the family came bouncing into the room. Brianna briefly took Nell to the washroom to wash Nell’s hands and face, then brought her back and pulled out her chair between her and Fagan. Nigel served Nell first, and once everyone had been served they prayed. “So, who is this?” Adan asked when they finished praying. Fagan whispered in Nell’s ear. “Why don’t you tell them?” Nell looked shyly around. “I’m Nell.” She gave Ness a small smile. “How old are you, Nell?” “Eight, I think.” “You fit right in! Grady is six and Brenna is ten. Right in between!” “I can’t stay, though, if I’m off of the streets overnight, someone will take my place.” Nell said worriedly. “Nell, don’t ever worry about someone taking your place, because you won’t ever be going back to the streets.” “Not ever?” “As long as one of my family is here to care for you, you will not lack a bed to sleep in.” Nell was startled. “Do you mean it? You really mean it? I’ll have a home?” “Yes, Nell, you will have a home,” Nigel said, smiling. The whole family was grinning. Adan looked on; not smiling, but his face was full of joy just the same. “Tomorrow, I’ll make you a bed, and we can put it on top of Brianna’s – it will be like you’re sleeping in the stars!” said Fagan. Nell’s eyes widened. “Really? You’d really do that for me?” “Yes!” All of the children said together. “And we can look in the boxes and find some of my old dresses that Brianna can fix so you can wear them!” Brenna added. Nell’s eyes shone, and her face seemed to. Then she smiled. It was the biggest smile any of them had ever seen. Then she laughed. “Thank you! Thank you thank you thank you!” Everyone smiled and laughed, then ate their food. Nell barely touched hers; she was so full of questions. “And will I have friends?” “Aye.” “And go to school?” “Not like the rich in Poná go to school. You’ll go to school right here, like all of us!” Brenna said. “Really? What’s that like?” “It’s so much fun, Nell; you are going to love it! Mama and da teach us and we can do our lessons outside – in the garden, up a tree… down by the river on the tree bridge, or even IN the river if we want!” “And will you carry me when I get tired?” She asked, looking at Fagan. “If that’s what you want. We can go swimming sometime, when it’s not so cold any more, and we can splash and race all you want, and then we’ll all be so tired da will have to carry us home!” “Does he mean it, sir?” Nell asked Nigel. “Yes, he does, Nell.” Nigel’s eyes twinkled. “But you don’t need to call me sir.” “Then what do I call you?” “Da… because I’m going to be your da.” “Yes… da.” Da. I have a da. I like it. Da. My da. Chapter Twelve: Under Fàolan’s Command As Mikhil entered the barracks, no one even bothered to look up. Slightly taken aback by this, he shrugged and walked farther into the room. He spoke, breaking the awkward silence there. “I’m looking for one of the officers.” He said. Suddenly everyone looked up at once, their eyes on Mikhil. One man stood. “I am one of Fàolan’s officers, what do you want, boy?” “Fàolan told me to come here and you would supply me with everything I need.” “Are ye one of the draft, then?” “I did not know Fàolan was starting a draft. But nay, I am not, I came here of my own free will.” The officer nodded, looking Mikhil over. “Name?” “Mikhil.” “Age?” “Twenty one.” “Have you had any experience fighting before now?” “Aye, sir. Many times with playmates, and some hand to hand combat.” “In the fray against the Miron?” Mikhil nodded. “Aye.” Thanks for not asking which side… I’d sure get it if they found out. I’d be dead with a knife in my back before Fàolan knew anything about it. “Alright. There’s an empty bunk in the corner, and some armor in the back room. Do you have a sword?” “Nay.” “Rolf, take Mikhil down to the blacksmith to get a sword made.” Then it hit Mikhil as to what it would mean for him to go down into the town. He would be seeing old friends, people who he remembered. Would they remember him? What would he do if they did? Turn away and ignore them? Or would he talk to them and break their hearts in explaining to them what he was doing? Would he hurt them either way? And the blacksmith was down by his family’s booth. What then? Would Eliana be there? Would she see her runaway brother? Mikhil had no idea how much he had hurt his sister when he left. He did not know that if she saw him and he did not turn back homewards, her heart would break so much that she would die. Just recently had she been coaxed into speaking, Adan’s arrival had put a light into her eyes and an interest back into her life, but that was all, nothing more. Until recently. Then she had spoken. It was at night the first time, in her dreams. “When will Mikhil be back?” She asked aloud. Connor heard her and bowed his head in prayer, his heart twisting as he thought of his older brother. The older brother whose place he now had to fill as the oldest boy in the family. He had never expected to have that leadership, and now when he had it, he took it unwillingly and unsteadily at first. Now he was somewhat used to it, and his brothers and Eliana were starting to look at him as they once had Mikhil. But he wasn't Mikhil; he wasn’t the older brother Mikhil had been. What had changed in Mikhil’s heart? They often wondered, yes, he had thought about it before, but they never thought he would actually leave. If only they knew! If only they knew where he was now! And what he was doing, how he had turned astray! How their hearts would have been torn and broken. Mikhil followed Rolf out of the barracks. As they walked out of the castle walls, Mikhil turned to see Brianna’s house. “Who lives there?” He asked Rolf. “A family. Eight, nine, children, I think. They’re outside a lot, playing. At least, the younger ones are. The oldest has taken it into his head lately to replace the old man who used to shout in the market. I have a feeling he’s going to be arrested sometime, doing that, just like the old man. He’s supposed to be executed soon.” “Who is?” “The old man. I think they call him Bardan.” Mikhil nodded. “I remember him.” “You are from Poná?” “Aye. I grew up here. I left three years ago.” “What for?” “I wanted adventure, you could say. Found a band of warriors and joined them, but they betrayed me and so then I left them and came here to Fàolan. It will be better here.” “Aye. We may not love each other like the Creator’s followers claim to, but we stick by each other, and we have power. People fear us.” Fear? Is that why I wanted power? So people would fear me? So I could make young girls quake on the ground when I took their fathers away to be locked up? So I could hear mothers’ scream when their boys were killed in battle? No. I did not come here to instill fear in people! I want power, and I want to be accepted and I want people to stick by me. I want power, that is all. Mikhil lifted his head higher as they went out of the castle walls and into the village. He looked around, taking in all that had changed since he had last been here. Had it really been three years? Poná had hardly changed in all of that time. Maybe it had grown a little, but not very much. There were new faces, but some were oddly familiar, like blurred faces from dreams. Or grown up people that he had known once upon a time. That wasn’t Tabitha was it? And was that there Joshua? And there – no, that couldn’t be little Rilla. Rilla all grown up now. She had been only a baby when he left. Well, not a baby, but still with her mother. And she used to be shy! Now she was smiling happily, shouting, and playing with the village children! They neared the smithy and Rolf took his sword belt off and pushed the door open. Mikhil followed, stepping inside of the hot, dark, blacksmith shop. He took his hat off as they entered. The blacksmith looked up, wiping coal off his face. “Hullo, lads, how can I help you?” Rolf laid the sword across the anvil. “We need one sword made like that.” “Just like that?” “Aye, just like that.” “Can’t Fàolan take his business elsewhere? I have to care for the villagers!” The blacksmith protested, turning back to his work. The hammer’s thud echoed in the small building. Mikhil looked at Rolf, who was struggling for words. “I only bring things here when Fàolan tells me to. It’s his business where he takes things to be made. You should be thankful he thinks highly of you. At least you won’t be arrested and your family turned out of your home because you’re a follower of the Creator.” Rolf fingered a horseshoe nonchalantly. “Oh, so that’s why everyone has been ‘gone’ lately?” “You could say that.” Mikhil leaned toward Rolf. “When did Fàolan start arresting people?” “Oh, after the battle. He figured that just to make sure the followers of the Creator should be taught a good hard lesson. Hence all of the arrests.” “But he’s leaving all of those mothers and children without someone to provide and care for them!” “They’ll find a way. Get used to it, Mikhil. Things around here aren’t as peaceful as they once were, you’ll learn that quickly. Followers of the Creator are being disruptive, Fàolan is doing what’s necessary to restore and enforce peace.” Mikhil looked down. “Come back tomorrow, your sword will be finished.” Rolf nodded, and he and Mikhil walked out of the smithy and back outside in the fresh air. Mikhil squinted at the sun as he put his hat back on, and they started walking back to the barracks. “Wait, just a minute, please, Rolf.” Mikhil said. He walked back toward the smithy, stopping to look into the booths. There! Was that her? A girl with bouncing curls – like Eliana’s once were – stood behind a booth, smiling and helping fill someone’s sacks with flour. She looked up and caught his eye, suddenly startled. She stared harder for a second, then shook her head and looked away. Yes, that would be Eliana. She was beautiful now, really growing up. He wished he could have seen her grow up. But it was too late for that now. He turned and walked back to Rolf. “Sorry. Just checking out an old favorite spot of mine.” Rolf shrugged. “No problem. We’ve already finished our drills for the day, and unless we’re on guard duty, we’re free to do as we please. Anywhere else you want to stop by?” Mikhil shook his head. “Nay. That was all.” They kept walking, but shouting by the well brought them to a halt. Rolf ran in closer to the well to see what was going on. Two of Fàolan’s guards were pulling down a boy with curly black hair from the well. He was shouting, his face glowing. The people seemed intent on what he was saying, and some were angrily trying to push the guards off the boy. The people backed away as Rolf stepped in. “What’s going on here?” The guards stopped to salute. “Sir, this boy was causing a disturbance of the people. We had orders from Fàolan to take him home and give his parents a warning.” Mikhil pushed his way through the crowd, trying to see who it was. Then he stopped short. Fagan looked up at that moment, and Mikhil saw him sag. Both of them looked away at the same time. The villagers moved out of the way as the soldiers began to take Fagan toward the castle. Rolf squared his shoulders and straightened. “Well, that’s done. The villagers always bow to an officer.” He flashed an enigmatic smile at Mikhil, who frowned, still staring after Fagan. Rolf pushed him on the shoulder. “Hello, Mikhil?” “I knew him,” Mikhil said quietly, looking into the distance in disbelief. “He and I… we…” “People change.” Mikhil glanced at Rolf. “Aye, they do,” he agreed. But who changed? Fagan or me? Fagan let himself be led away. The soldiers knew who his father was and where he lived, and so Fagan closed his eyes and let them take him away, praying the whole time. They knocked sharply on the door. Please don’t let it be Brianna or Mama, please, God, please! Fagan prayed. The door opened. It was Adan. Fagan let out a sigh of relief, and then looked up to meet Adan’s eyes. “Your son was causing a disturbance in the market place. Try to keep him out of trouble.” The soldiers released Fagan, who slumped into Adan’s arms. “Aye,” Adan said. “Thank you for your duties.” They bowed slightly. “Sir,” They said, and then they left. Adan turned to Fagan. “What were you doing?” “The same thing as always – just preaching the Creator’s love to those who haven’t heard.” Nell came running, Brenna behind her. “Fagan, are you alright?” Nell asked worriedly. Fagan smiled. “Aye, Nell. I’m fine.” “Don’t you go getting in trouble again! Those men are mean!” “No, Nell, I wasn’t in trouble.” He knelt down to look at Nell in the eyes. “Remember what I told you about men thinking those who follow the Creator are foolish?” Nell nodded. “Yes.” “Those men don’t understand what I’m talking about. Every day they have been there, in the market place. Fàolan gave them orders to take me home this time, thinking that I wouldn’t do it again after a warning.” “You’re not going back, are you Fagan?” Brianna asked. She had come running to the front room when she heard the commotion. Nigel, Enid, and the rest of the children were there, too, gathered around Fagan and Nell. Fagan stood. He looked at Nigel, then at Enid. His face was worried. Then he looked down to Brianna. His voice trembled as he spoke. “I don’t know, Brianna, I don’t know!” Brianna’s eyes filled with tears, and she moved toward her brother when she saw the anguish streaked in his face. He hugged her, resting his chin on her head. Ahearn moved in closer, too. Oh, God, comfort Brianna. Give her strength, Fagan prayed. But what do I do? “Fagan, remember what you said before?” Fagan shook his head, eyes now closed. “You said that this would not be throwing away your life. You wouldn’t be wasting it. And these aren’t God’s authorities, they are man’s authorities. The Creator has given you a calling to fulfill. I think that should be your highest duty, above everything else right now.” Fagan looked up, meeting Nigel’s eyes. “But what about Tabitha?” He asked. “I don’t know yet.” Fagan nodded. Then he frowned. “So do you think I should keep doing this?” “We’re not going to decide anything for you. It isn’t for use to decide,” Enid said gently. Fagan straightened. “Ahearn has a point. This is what the Creator has given me to do, my task on earth until I can marry Tabitha. I will do it to my last breath or until He makes it clear to me that He wants me to move on.” “Fagan, no!” Brianna whispered, her arms tightening around his waist. “I’m sorry, Brianna. We talked about this, what it would mean…” “I know… I know… but it’s so different… when you’re in the middle of it and not just talking about it.” Fagan bent farther down to whisper in her ear, unable to hold in his secret any longer. “Brianna, I saw Mikhil in the market place.” Brianna looked up. “Can you take me to him?” “You don’t want to see him, ‘Na. He’s changed, little sister. If it had not been for his eyes, I wouldn’t have known it was he. Brianna, he hates now. He’s not like the Mikhil we used to know.” “Has he changed that much?” “Aye.” “He’s not coming home,” Brianna said bluntly, the truth that had fit Fagan long ago finally driving home in her heart. “No, ‘Na, he’s not.” Brianna buried her head in Fagan’s chest and sobbed. Soon she heard whispers above her head, and felt Nigel take her. They sat on the cough together quietly. The rest of the family ate dinner and went to bed. Brianna fell asleep with her head on her father’s shoulder, his strong arms around her. In her dreams, she saw the old Mikhil they had known, loved, and played with. A smiling, bright-eyed Mikhil, now laughing, now soaking wet in the stream after sword fighting with Fagan. Images of building the tree house, training horses, and picking berries flashed in her mind. But he wasn’t coming home. He would never be like that again. Not Brianna, Fagan, and Mikhil again. Not ever. “Da, why’d he have to run away?” She asked quietly. “Shh, Brianna,” he whispered. “Just rest, precious.” Too tired and heartsick to realize Nigel hadn’t answered her question, Brianna sank back into her father’s arms and drifted back into fitful sleep.
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!