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Chapter Seventeen: His Perfect Plan
The travelers spent their first few weeks in Sealyn wandering. They knew no one in Sealyn, but used much of their time watching people, trying to determine from actions who followed the Creator. As they journeyed from town to town, Archie taught the children and listened joyfully as they taught and encouraged each other. In each area, Archie searched for a place for them to stay and work. After seven days, they had found nothing. Every house, plot of land, or room was either too expensive or in a place they did not want to be. They spent nights in the woods and traveled in the morning, exploring towns in the afternoon and evening before retreating to the wild for prayer, song, and reading around the fire as the stars came out.
In each town, a favorite place of exploration for them was the bookstores. It was in one of these that they began to find other followers of the Creator. Jeffrey was browsing some high shelves, Liam ones in the middle, and Kianna sat on the floor leafing through various books of interest. Archie walked around the store, looking at maps of Sealyn. Then Kianna caught everyone’s attention with a gasp. She pulled a large book off the shelf.
“Come here,” she whispered as she dusted off the cover.
Jeffrey and Liam leaned over to see what she held as Archie joined them. “What did you find?” He asked.
“Look.” She pointed to the first sentence, where the words “the Creator” had been beautifully scripted to stand out above all of the other words on the page. “It’s a copy of the Law.”
“Here, in Sealyn?”
Kianna ran her fingers over the page. Then she began quickly flipping through it, stopping every now and then to examine the writing.
“What are you thinking, Kianna?” Liam wondered.
“This handwriting looks familiar.”
“Perhaps it’s just…” Jeffrey began.
Kianna shook her head. “No, like something I see every day.” She interrupted. “Mr. Archie, does it look familiar to you?”
“It looks like our copy.”
She turned around to look at him. “Which daddy wrote.”
“What’s your point?” Jeffrey asked.
“This is daddy’s handwriting, I’m sure of it!”
“But it can’t be,” the boys said simultaneously.
“No, it could be.” Archie said. All of the children turned to look at Archie.
“What do you mean?” Kianna closed the book, but gripped it tightly to herself.
Kianna smiled fondly at memories of her friend. “Aye.”
“Do you know what he left?”
“No, you never would tell me.”
“I didn’t want to disappoint you if he failed. He went searching for your father.”
“But… daddy died.” Liam said.
“We don’t know for sure.” Archie explained. “We know your mother died…”
“… but never looked for daddy, because he was outside of the forest,” Jeffrey finished. He sat down on the floor next to Kianna. “But it’s been ten years!”
“I don’t know what happened, but it’s possible that your father is still alive.”
“Would that he is!”
“Ask the owner of the store where he got the book,” Liam suggested.
Archie took the volume and found the storeowner. The siblings watched them converse. The owner was an old man, with a bushy white beard and stomach that showed years of good eating – and probably as many years of sitting and reading. Soon Archie turned and motioned for the children to join him.
“This man is our brother,” he said.
The man smiled, as did Kianna, Jeffrey, and Liam. Archie quickly introduced them, and then explained about the book.
“He doesn’t know the name of the person who brought the book in.”
“It was two men, though, if I remember correctly.” Donagh, the storeowner, said.
“Mr. Donagh, did one have brown eyes and hair?” Kianna asked hopefully.
“I think so.”
“Lots of people have brown hair and brown eyes, Kianna.” Jeffrey said.
“I know, but I can’t help hoping that maybe it was them.”
Donagh shrugged. “I wish I could help you more. But I really can’t remember. So many people come through here, and often I simply buy their books and see no more of them. The men would take no money for the book.”
“How long ago was it?” Jeffrey asked.
“Not that long, maybe a month. They were going on to another village and trying to travel more lightly. I think it was Wyan that they were going to. It’s not too far from here, maybe two days if you travel quickly. I don’t know if they’re still there, though. They seemed to have traveled around a lot. Spent a while looking at that map over there, tracing where they’d been. All over Sealyn, they’ve gone. Except for down by Ladylan. That’s where they were headed. Wyan is right near the border.”
“Aye, I noticed that as I was looking at the map,” Archie furrowed his brow. “Did you hear anything about how long they’d been here?”
“No. I heard people talking later, and they’d been here for at least a year – don’t know why I never met them, they do follow the Creator. But then, we don’t gather very regularly because there are so many cities nearby that we can’t get away into the country.”
“Thank you very much, sir. You have encouraged us greatly.” Archie said.
Donagh nodded. “It’s getting dark,” he said. “And I’d best be closing up shop.”
“Then we shall be on our way.”
“Have you a place to stay?”
“We stay in the woods or outside the city.”
“Ach, it’s so terribly cold out now. Come, I have an extra room above the shop you can stay in. We can eat a nice hot meal, the young ones can sleep in warm beds, and you can be well rested for the morning. I assume you’re journeying on then?”
“Aye, we will make our way toward Wyan.”
“Good, good. Wait a minute while I lock up, and then I’ll take you upstairs.” Donagh took a ring of keys from his pocket and locked the doors in the shop, then closed the window blinds. “Good then… did I forget anything?” He muttered to himself. He smiled at Kianna. “These old minds get so forgetful.” He mumbled as he ambled around the store, checking shelves and tables. “Well, that seems to be all,” he said after a time. “What do you say we go on upstairs and get a bite to eat?”
“Aye!” Liam agreed.
The old man led them upstairs. “Pardon the mess,” he said as they entered. “I don’t spend much time up here anymore. Just to cook and eat and sleep. The shop takes up the rest of my time, but I let it do so. Yes, there are dishes everywhere… I’ll have to find enough plates to go ‘round. Let’s see here… you don’t mind helping some do you?”
“No, sir!” Kianna said enthusiastically. Her hands had been itching to be back in a real kitchen ever since she’d gotten sick.
“Then get some water ready and see what you can do about this mess of dishes while I rummage around for some food.”
Kianna found a large cauldron filled with water hanging above the fireplace. “Jeffrey, could you make a fire?” She asked as she searched for plates. “One, two… three… there’s got to be some more.”
“I saw one sitting on the table,” Jeffrey said as he started the fire.
“Thanks, that’s four.” Soon Kianna found a fifth plate and some cups. By that time, the water was hot and she threw in some soap, and then set about washing dishes. As Donagh finished preparing the food, Kianna made a considerable dent in the pile of dirty dishes.
“Ah, thank you lass. Take a break now and come sit at the table,” Donagh said as he put a pot of rice and sauce on the table. “And thanks for lending me a piece of the fire to cook.”
Kianna joined the men at the table. They bowed their heads as Donagh prayed, thanking the Creator for their food and fellowship, and asking that He grant the travelers success in their search.
“So, tell me,” Donagh said as Kianna dished up the food. “What brings you to Sealyn? We don’t get many coming here except the exiles.”
“We come bringing words of hope to those in darkness,” Archie answered. “Thank you, Kianna,” he said as she handed him a plate of food. “The father of these children sent me and another man out twelve years ago to copy the words of Adan and take them to the world. We spent two years in the forests of Ladylan and then journeyed to the islands off Minarea, where we lived and worked for ten years. Most of our fellow laborers are still on the islands.”
Donagh smiled and nodded. “You will not find Sealyn so hopeless a place as you thought. Daron has a very strong grip on the hearts of most here in Sealyn, but the majority of the exiles are followers of the Creator.” He chuckled. “So there is much work going on here as well. The Creator is moving in Sealyn. Daron is stubborn, but his strength makes him look like an ant when compared to the might of our Creator. Those who have come before us have had much hope. We must keep that hope, but also add to it with our faith. We have assurance that the Creator will one day completely crush Daron!”
“How we long for that day,” Archie said.
“It will come, it will come.” Donagh looked out of his small window at the stars that lit the sky. “Though we know not when.”
“I wish He would come now,” Liam whispered, staring down at his empty plate.
“We all do,” Jeffrey said. “But He’ll come in His timing, not our own.”
“Aye, lad. His plan is more perfect than anything we could conceive. Think about it – would you have used a simple man like Adan to rescue the world from a curse like Daron?”
Liam shook his head. “I would have done it with someone who came down and fought Daron and killed him.”
“But the Creator knew better. He knew that killing Daron wasn’t what we needed. We need our sin killed.” Donagh bowed his head. “And that is what Adan did. He took the wrath of the Creator for our sin, that we may spend eternity with Him.” He began picking up their empty plates from the table. “So you see, lad, if we were left to our own means for getting rid of Daron, it would not be what we needed. The Creator understands our necessities better than even ourselves.”
“I’m glad He doesn’t leave all of that up to us,” Kianna said. “Look at what a mess we make of the world.” She sighed. “And yet the Creator chooses to forgive us anyway.”
“Not because of any merit of our own,” Archie said, “but because of the merit of another.”
“’Tis a beautiful thing, is it not?” Donagh asked.
“The most beautiful of all.”
Kianna rose from the table and began washing the dishes from dinner, then moved on to the dishes she hadn’t finished washing earlier. The men stayed around the table talking as she worked. Kianna was thankful to have something for her hands to do as she listened to the wisdom that they imparted to each other. She remembered something that her father told her long ago, something from the Creator’s law.
“He who walks with the wise will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” She turned so she could see her brothers while still scrubbing dishes. They listened intently, and offered insight when they could. Kianna smiled. I have such wise brothers! Jeffrey especially often surprised her with astute observations, whether on life, the Word, or the Law. Liam was following quickly in his footsteps. They walk with the wise, She thought. Both the wise men of Edaled that the Creator has placed in our way, and with the Author of wisdom Himself. She grew thankful for their life then, and all discontentment that had ever slipped into her heart was gone. Why would I want to settle down during this time? We are busy at the Creator’s business. I have had so many opportunities to sit and learn from the wise because of the places we’ve been… and my brothers have such a great wealth of knowledge and understanding. I am blessed to see things that people who have lived three times my lifetime have never dreamed of seeing. I am learning so much about the Creator I serve as I serve Him and others. Oh, my heart is so full of joy!
Although Jeffrey was listening to the conversation going on between Archie and Donagh, his thoughts were far from discussing what they had been doing on the islands. Like Kianna, he was thanking the Creator. He, too, realized the great wealth of wisdom that the Creator had allowed them to learn. He was filled then with a desire to share that wisdom with someone else. He was being trained to someday lead, whether a family, a congregation, a business – perhaps all three. He looked toward Kianna and their eyes met, and they shared a smile, knowing they were thinking similar thoughts.
Thank You, Creator, for my wonderful sister, Jeffrey prayed. I know not what Your plan for my life is, but I pray that one day You will lead me to one like her – one who delights in studying You and Your beauty, who has spent her days serving You, who understands what You would have a woman who follows You to do – and that then You will allow me to lead her. You commanded us to take dominion over all the earth. One way is by raising children who follow You… thank You for allowing my parents to teach Kianna, Liam, and I about You. Allow us to find daddy, that he may teach us more about You, and that together we can study Your Words and help You work salvation in Edaled…
It was very late when they finally climbed into the warm beds that Donagh had promised. He had a few extra rooms upstairs fitted out for company – friends and people in need; Donagh turned no one away. They fell asleep quickly and slept long and well. So long, in fact, that it was near midday when they finally climbed out of bed. Jeffrey was the first awake, and after dressing he went downstairs to the bookshop, where Donagh sat behind the counter, pouring over the Law.
“Good morning, Mr. Donagh,” He said.
“Ah, ‘morning, lad.” Donagh glanced outside at the sun. “Though it’s coming up on afternoon, isn’t it?”
Jeffrey blushed. “Aye. You have very comfortable beds; I slept very well.”
“Well that’s what beds are for, isn’t it?”
Nodding, Jeffrey walked over to the map of Sealyn. “Where’s Wyan on here?”
“Just up from the bottom – near the lower right-hand corner. Aye, that’s it there.”
“How far did you say it is from here?”
“Two, three days. Though you might have to travel more slowly, your sister’s health isn’t good.”
“You noticed?” Jeffrey turned from the map.
“Aye. You boys are robust and healthy, but she’s so frail.”
“She got sick – near death – on the way over here. She’s doing better now, though.”
“Settle down soon, for her sake.”
“She’s the one who always pushes us onward.”
“She seems the type who would do that. Make sure she gets lots of rest and not too much excitement.”
“You seem to understand much about doctoring,” Jeffrey said.
“No, not much at all.” Donagh shifted in his seat. “But I know of many who had the same disease at sea. Often it comes back. Be careful.”
Jeffrey nodded. “Thank you.” He turned back to the map. “If we do find my father, I’m sure we’ll settle down for a little while, especially after I explain to him about Kianna’s sickness. She doesn’t listen to me when I tell her to slow down, but she will listen to daddy.”
“And… it’s like you were talking about last night. The Creator’s plan is so much better than our own. On the ship, when I thought about having to let Kianna go… it hurt so much, but I remembered that things always go according to His will. I was afraid to think it, but I knew that it might be His will to take Kianna to Himself. I know how wonderful that would be for her, but I’ve lost so much of my family already that it would be hard to go on. But His will is perfect, and I know that I need to trust Him in it all…” Jeffrey sighed. “Even if He does take Kianna.”
“Aye. But you needn’t fear Him. Every good and perfect gift comes from Him. It is because of the sin of Nathan that we suffer in this way. Let us choose to be joyful through it, knowing of the day that there will be no more tears.”
Jeffrey nodded. “Aye.”
Quiet footsteps padded down the stairs, and Kianna entered the room. She was dressed and smiling cheerily.
“Good morning, Mr. Donagh,” she said. Then she saw Jeffrey and ran to him, giving him a hug. “’Morning, Jeffrey.”
“How did you sleep last night?”
“Very well. The bed was so cozy and warm. I could have stayed in there forever.”
“I don’t mind if you go right back to bed,” Donagh said.
“I wouldn’t mind so much either,” Kianna admitted. “But I’ve slept half the day away, and feel stronger than ever.”
“In that case, perhaps we should be on our way,” Archie said as he came down the stairs. Liam thumped down behind him.
“Who let the elephant in?” Donagh asked as Liam appeared in the bookstore.
The lad grinned sheepishly. “Sorry, sir. They’re always telling me to be quieter.”
“It’s nice to have some noise around. Usually it’s too quiet.”
“Glad to have been of service.” Liam swept a ridiculous bow, losing his balance and falling to the floor.
“We have much to thank you for, Donagh,” Archie said as he helped Liam up. “But the day is getting late, and I know that these charges of mine are eager to get on to Wyan. Your store and home have been a haven for us in the midst of our travels, and the fellowship has been refreshing… as have been your beds.”
“It was the least I could do,” Donagh replied. “I wish I could do more, even journey on with you. Your mission is a noble one, and I will remember you in my petitions before the Creator regularly. It is an exciting thing that you are a part of.”
“We could not do it without the support and prayers of people like you, Donagh. As for you, may the Creator bless your bookstore, and give you many opportunities to share the Truth with those who pass through.”
With those words, Archie, Kianna, Jeffrey, and Liam gathered their things. Donagh provided them with food, and after quick farewells, the travelers were once more on their way. They longed to reach Wyan, and even Kianna walked at a remarkably fast pace. The night they spent in the forest was difficult after spending a long night in warm beds. However, as Liam remarked as they set out again early the next morning, the hard ground kept them from sleeping half the day away again. They traveled more slowly on the second day, and were quieter and more thoughtful. Archie and Jeffrey walked ahead of Kianna and Liam. Jeffrey’s fears about Kianna had remained dormant the day before, but today they seemed pressing.
“I don’t think she can survive many more nights in the open,” Jeffrey confided to Archie. “Donagh was worried about her, too. I’m so concerned for her health, Mr. Archie!”
“So am I. She is in the Creator’s hands, Jeffrey. I will make a point of finding a warm, comfortable place in Wyan, however long we stay there for. We only have one more night to spend in the forest. I pray that your father is alive, so that Kianna might be encouraged to settle down again. She seems to get more restless than you.”
“Aye. Hers is not a restlessness to stretch her legs, though, as is mine. She has always been an example to me in her desire to serve others. But she works herself to exhaustion too often.”
“Be patient, Jeffrey. If she continues to remain weak after a stay in Wyan, then I, too, will be very worried. The doctor said she needed rest, and lots of it. We’ve taken that from her. I mean to give it back to her again.”
Jeffrey nodded. “Aye.”
“We are all in the Creator’s hands, Jeffrey, and are subject to His plans. He could choose to take even the most fit of us at any moment. Trust His perfect plan.”
Chapter Eighteen: Tomorrow at Dusk
“It’s Ben, they’ve taken him.” Ardal said, running into the house. Elspeth looked up from feeding Brona.
Still catching his breath, Ardal nodded. “I was finishing a delivery at the gaol, and as I was leaving they arrested him.”
Elspeth’s hand trembled, and the spoon clattered onto the table. She shook her head. “Ardal…” Starting to stand, the girl sat back down again. “Ardal, you do know what this means?”
He nodded. There was no smile anywhere in him, not even in his feet.
Elspeth jumped up and ran to the door. “I have to go to him.”
Before Ardal could stop her, she was gone, running through the town and to the gaol. Ardal told his father, and together they went after her. The guard at the gaol let them in, as they told him that a member of their family had just entered. They found Elspeth standing in front of Ben.
She gripped the bars of the cell tightly. “Oh Ben…”
“Pray for me, Elspeth, that I will die well.”
She looked down to hide the tears in her eyes.
“I am going on before you, to be with the Creator. Tomorrow at dusk, I will be home.”
“I know. That alone brings me comfort.” She looked up.
“Oh child…” Ben reached out and drew her head close to his. “I wish this had not happened either. But I knew that it was bound to happen someday. Now that it is here, I must not fear the will of the Creator.”
Elspeth shook her head.
“Elspeth, the guards here know you. They know you follow the Creator. It is no longer safe for you here.”
“I have nowhere to go.”
“You are the Creator’s child, always under His wings.”
Footsteps. Ben glanced toward the stairwell. He saw Brock and Ardal standing there. He looked in the other direction. Shadows were moving down the corridor.
“Go now, they are coming.”
“Only for now.” He gave her a gentle push. She ran to Brock and Ardal, glancing back at her friend. He nodded. “Go.”
Ardal put his arm around her and they walked out.
“You must go,” said Brock. “But not alone.”
“You can’t spare Ardal,” Elspeth protested.
“I can spare anything for the Creator and for the protection of those placed in my care.” They stopped walking. “Run for the border. You can stop in the forest for the night, but no longer.”
Ardal hugged his father long and hard. Few words passed between them, but they were encouragement to Ardal nonetheless. Then they left.
An hour passed without any incident. But then came the shout, “Stop the traitors!”
A cry escaped Elspeth’s lips. Ardal drew her close to him.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous,” he whispered in her ear. They began to run.
They were in the forest now, dodging in and out of trees, and jumping over logs. That is, jumping over logs until Ardal tripped. His leg twisted under him as he fell. Elspeth winced when she heard a crack.
Ardal bit his lip to keep from yelling in pain. Elspeth knelt down to help him up, but he shook his head. “Papa told me to protect you.” He said this in between small cries. “I’m not protecting you if I slow you down. Go on without me.”
“Elspeth, Uncle Brock may not be your father, but he is still in authority over you. Ohhh it hurts! They’ll take you and kill you or jail you. But I’m still a boy. At worst, they’ll hit me a few times and take me home with a strict warning. Just go!”
“Ardal…” She stopped as they heard a horse whinny.
Elspeth hesitated, looking from Ardal to the forest beyond. “Alright, I’ll go.”
He waved her on.
And so she ran deeper into the forest.
Elspeth sighed and added another piece of wood to her small fire. It was almost too quiet in the forest. The clearing where she had played in a child seemed empty and forlorn. No animals walked by, no birds chirped overhead. It was eerily still. But at least in silence small noises are louder… so I’ll hear if anyone comes. She sang quietly under her breath.
“Him serve with mirth, His praise forth tell…”
“That’s a nice fire you got there.” Someone said behind her.
She froze. Slowly, Elspeth turned her head to look. Her heart raced. She gripped the stick she held in her hands more tightly. There was only a shadow. Only one, Elspeth breathed a sigh relief.
A tall young man stepped out of the forest.
Elspeth shifted uncomfortably. “Can I help you?” She asked. Her voice wavered. He didn’t look like one of Daron’s men, and certainly didn’t seem to be threatening her, but she couldn’t tell. The young man looked as if he was around Elspeth’s age, but the shadows hid most of his face. He had been holding sticks in his arms, but had dropped them at Elspeth’s question.
“I - I saw the fire in the distance and was hoping it was my friends. I was looking for more firewood and got lost.”
Elspeth poked at the fire. “Well you’ll only get more lost if you try to find them again. It’s a big forest and you can’t see the stars.”
They looked at each other awkwardly.
“I don’t have any food,” she said. Chewing on her lip, Elspeth looked down at the ground.
“I have firewood.” He said, also looking down. He bent and picked up his dropped wood. Then he moved into the clearing and sat down across the fire from Elspeth. They stared at each other, yet neither met the other’s eyes. Finally he spoke.
“My name’s Jeffrey.”
Elspeth dared a glance at him. “I’m Elspeth.”
Another silence followed.
“What’s a girl like you doing out in the forest alone?”
She hesitated. “That depends…”
“On who I am?” He finished.
She looked up. “How did you know?” Her expression was a mix of grateful surprise and fear. He knew either because he was in the same predicament – which would make him a friend - or because he had encountered many fugitives – in which case he would be an enemy.
“Because so does our reason for being in the forest.” He gave her a slight smile.
She returned it. “They took my father,” she said. A breeze blew through the trees, and Elspeth shivered. She did not have her cloak, having not been able to return to the house. “For a time, I visited him in the gaol, reading the Law to him. A soldier there listened, and the Creator has redeemed him.” She lowered her voice. “He protected me. But they found out that he no longer served Daron.” She glanced in the direction of the city. “He dies tomorrow at dusk.”
Both were quiet.
“The soldiers are after me now, because they say I have broken the law by converting one of their soldiers. They already called me ‘the traitor’s daughter,’ but now I have been labeled as a traitor also. Ben told me to run… so here I am. My friend was with me, but he pushed me on ahead when we were being chased. I know not what has happened to him.”
Jeffrey scrutinized her. She was so small and frail, yet had been through so much. The Creator had made her strong. “I… I am sorry to hear that.” Now he shared his story. “…We are coming to Sealyn to bring the words of Adan and the Law. Myself, my sister, brother, and the man who has been our guardian all of these years that my parents have been dead.”
“You will meet with much resistance.”
“I know. We are prepared.”
“Prepared to die?”
“We –“ Jeffrey began, but his words were cut short by cries from the surrounding trees.
The calls echoed through the forest. Soon three others entered the clearing. “Jeffrey!” Kianna ran to her brother’s side. Liam followed close behind her. Archie stood a ways off, watching them. He noticed Elspeth sitting quietly, a smile on her face as she watched the siblings.
“Yes, I got lost,” Jeffrey said between questions. “And Elspeth here suggested not going back out into the forest with no stars.”
Kianna and Liam were suddenly aware of another’s presence and turned to Elspeth.
Both Kianna and Elspeth smiled shyly at each other. Both said their names at the same time. Their smiles grew wider.
“I was telling Elspeth of our mission in Sealyn.”
“Jeffrey!” Kianna’s head snapped back to stare at her brother. Her mouth moved wordlessly. “Is she…?”
“It’s alright,” Jeffrey reassured. “Yes, she is, and she made sure I was before she told me anything past her name.”
They began speaking in whispers. Elspeth only heard snatches of their conversation.
“Should we go…?”
A glance to Elspeth, then Jeffrey shook his head. “Not without…”
“…not … alone… dangerous.”
Elspeth lowered her eyes, knowing that they were talking about her. “I need to be moving on soon anyway,” she said quietly.
Archie now joined the small group. “Not until the morning.”
Elspeth looked up at him. So did the other three young people. “Why?” Kianna wondered. From looking at Elspeth and the short bit of the girl’s story Kianna had heard, she had put the pieces together and understood that Elspeth should keep going.
“I heard soldiers while we were searching for Jeffrey.”
A cry of fear escaped Elspeth’s lips as she jumped to her feet. “I… I need to go… now… if… if…” Urgency crowded Elspeth’s mind and jumbled her words.
“If you go, you might run into the soldiers. If you stay, we can protect you.” Archie said.
“And if there’s too many of them, they’ll kill you all.” Elspeth blurted out. She shivered again, this time from a mixture of the nippy air and her fear.
Archie took off his cloak and put it around the girl. “You’re staying here until morning.” Gently, he forced her to sit back down. “Get some rest, and you can leave tomorrow.” He turned to Liam. “Come with me, we’ll go get the food from our campsite and put the fire out.”
Elspeth drew her knees up to her chest and rested her head on top of her knees. She knew they would stop her if she tried to leave, and they were probably right - it was safer with them than out alone.
Kianna and Jeffrey continued talking in hushed tones. Elspeth sank deep into Archie’s cloak, enjoying the warmth of the soft wool. For a time, she watched the brother and sister as they conversed. But soon she grew weary and lay down to sleep.
Archie and Liam returned shortly thereafter, bringing with them food and a few belongings. In her semi-wakeful stage, Elspeth heard their conversation.
“Is she asleep?”
“I think so.” That was Kianna. Her voice was gentle.
Elspeth sat up, rubbing her eyes sleepily. “No, I’m awake.” She yawned.
“Here, eat this.” Archie handed her a large chunk of bread.
“Thank you,” Elspeth said, looking up gratefully. The bread tasted delicious after having nothing to eat all day.
“You said that your friend – Ben was his name? – dies tomorrow, but what of your father?” Jeffrey asked.
“Yes, Ben is his name.” She paused before answering his question. “I do not know what has become of my father… up until Ben was put in the gaol, I was able to visit him. Then they moved him, I do not know where to.”
“Where have you been staying while your father was in the gaol?” Archie wondered.
“We have friends, like family. It has only been papa and I for as long as I can remember. Ben was very kind and made sure I had a place to stay before he left.”
“He was there when they took papa. I had seen him before, once when I ran into him getting water, and another time at a meeting. He tried to get papa then, but things didn’t go according to his plan then. But they came later, to our house, and took him. I went to Uncle Brock’s. No, he’s not really my uncle,” she added. “But his sons – and daughter - are like siblings, and his wife is like a mother.”
“I am sorry that you have been through so much and are still yet to face much.”
“Don’t be sorry. All of these things are things that the Creator had planned when He created Edaled. None of them are back-up plans. People think they can foil His plans, but they never can, as hard as they try.”
“Knowledge of a truth like that will bring you much peace.”
Elspeth smiled. “It already has.” She finished the last bites of her bread. “Thank you,” she said again. “The bread was delicious.”
“Kianna made it,” Liam said cheerfully. “She makes the best bread.”
Kianna and Elspeth shared a smile.
Elspeth yawned again, and Liam followed suite.
“Well, I think it’s time you all got some sleep.” Archie said. Everyone except Jeffrey agreed. While Kianna, Liam, and Elspeth lay down to rest, Jeffrey stood and walked over to Archie. The two talked late into the night.
Near the end of their conversation, Archie looked down at the small form of the sleeping girl. “I still don’t like her going out through the forest alone, then to who knows where with no one there for her.” He shook his head.
“I don’t either. It seems so strange to care so much for her when we don’t really even know her.”
“The Creator has told all of His followers to care for the orphans.”
“But what can we do? Leave Sealyn and take her to the islands? She’ll get exiled from anywhere else.”
“I don’t know… and we have so little time to decide what to do.”
“How far is the border from here?”
“Two miles, maybe. But at least a mile of that is through this forest.”
“I can go with her.”
Archie nodded. “It’s the best option that we have right now.”
“How can one so young and gentle suffer so much?”
“You suffered greatly when you were young, Jeffrey.”
“Aye, but I was not alone. Mama and papa were gone, but I had you, Mr. Keegan, Kianna, and Liam.”
“The Creator gives us all the strength we need in suffering.”
“I am so grateful that He does.”
“Go get some rest,” Archie told Jeffrey. He glanced into the woods. “I hope the soldiers are gone, but we can’t know for sure. I’ll wake you the moment I hear anything.”
Covering himself with his cloak, Jeffrey lay down near Liam and fell asleep quickly, but his sleep was troubled. As soon as he was asleep, he began to dream. But it was the most nightmarish dream he had ever had. It began with a girl running. The sky revealed that it was near dusk. Soon he realized that the girl was Elspeth, and she was running through the woods, with soldiers behind her, but he was not with her. Then the terror began. They caught her, and hauled her off to the gaol. But it didn’t stop there. As evening fell, the soldiers brought out a man. They chained him to a stake, and piled hay high around him. They lit the fire. Jeffrey wanted to tear his eyes away, but the image would not vanish. Elspeth went willingly as they took her to a second stake. She didn’t tremble, rather, she shone. They were about to put the torch to the hay when the crowd jostled Jeffrey.
“Wake up, wake up!” Someone near him said.
Jeffrey jerked awake. His breaths were uneven as he shook away the images he had seen in the dream. He rubbed his eyes with the backs of his sweat-covered hands and sat up. “What is it?”
“I heard soldiers in the woods,” Archie said.
“No, no!” Jeffrey cried.
“Hush!” Archie clamped a hand on Jeffrey’s mouth. He removed it when Jeffrey calmed down.
“My dream…” the young man whispered. “They caught her in my dream.”
“Get up and get going and they won’t catch her.”
Jeffrey stood. “Is she awake?”
“Not yet. The border is that way,” Archie pointed out past the trees. “If they’re still chasing you, go over with her. Find a way back later, when she’s safe.”
Nodding, Jeffrey fastened his cloak at his neck.
“God go with you.”
“He will.” Jeffrey bent down to wake Elspeth, who had been sleeping near Kianna. “Mr. Archie, she’s gone!”
Archie was at Jeffrey’s side in an instant. “But how…? I never fell asleep!”
“She left your cloak,” he said, picking the cloth up.
Soldiers entered the clearing suddenly, drawing swords as they circled the camp.
“Who are you?” The leader asked.
“We are travelers staying the night in the woods.”
“Why aren’t you in the town? It’s only a few miles from here.”
“I wasn’t aware that the town was so close, sir, and we don’t have money to spend on an inn.”
“Well.” The man paused. “Who’s the lass there?”
“She’s my sister,” said Jeffrey.
“Wake her up.”
“Do it,” Archie whispered.
Jeffrey knelt next to his sister and gently shook her shoulder. “Get up, Kianna.” She murmured in her sleep, but woke. He helped her to her feet and put her arm around her. Come and get her, He thought, but then prayed that they would not mistake her for Elspeth, who he hoped was well on her way to the border.
“She’s not the one.”
“Have you seen a young woman come through here tonight?”
“No.” We came through. She was here.
“If you see anyone, bring her to the town tomorrow. She’s a traitor.”
“To the border!” The leader commanded, and the soldiers were gone as quickly as they had entered the clearing.
Kianna looked up at Jeffrey once they were gone. “Where is she?”
“I don’t know. I was going to go with her to the border, but she was gone when Archie woke me.” Fear seized Jeffrey as he remembered his dream. “She was alone… running alone…”
“In my dream last night. The soldiers were chasing Elspeth, and she was running, and they caught her.” He turned to Archie. “What time did she say they were executing her friend tomorrow?”
“I didn’t hear.”
“I guess you weren’t here yet. Ben is being executed tomorrow – tonight - … at… Oh, I can’t remember! At… at dusk!”
“What sort of plan are you hatching, Jeffrey?” Archie wondered.
“If she makes it past the border, she’ll find a way to safety, and we don’t have to worry about her. But if they catch her, they’ll kill her, or imprison her for years. While they’re all busy with the execution…”
“… we find and rescue Elspeth.” Kianna finished.
“It’s risky, and we don’t even know…”
“What else is there to do, Mr. Archie? Stand by and watch as she dies?”
“Alright, we will try. But for now, we must pray.”