Chapter Six: A Miracle
Brianna shivered in the cold, January air. Nigel drew her close as they continued walking, the snow crunching beneath their feet. “Da, will we ever be able to meet in the city again?” Brianna asked.
Chapter Six: A Miracle
Brianna shivered in the cold, January air. Nigel drew her close as they continued walking, the snow crunching beneath their feet. “Da, will we ever be able to meet in the city again?” Brianna asked.
“I don’t know, Brianna. If the Lord wills it, we will eventually. But now that Fàolan has almost complete control of Edaled, we’re going to need a miracle for that to happen.”
“Adan,” Ahearn whispered from the other side of Nigel.
“Aye,” Nigel replied, tousling his son’s hair.
Enid held Ness closer and held Keelin’s hand more tightly. “It’s been so long… the youngest have not known anything other than the world as it is today under Fàolan’s rule. She looked up at the clouded sky, thick with snow waiting to be released. “How long, oh Lord?”
They trudged onwards through the snow, putting one freezing cold foot in front of the other, step by step, to keep their feet from getting too cold. Finally, they reached the clearing in the forest right outside the village and gathered with the other followers of the Creator. Brianna found Tabitha and they began talking, and Fagan stood nearby, leaning against a tree, watching everyone. Before too long, though, Fagan found himself in the midst of a deep discussion.
“It’s been going on long enough,” one boy said. “Before too long we’ll all end up dead or on the side of Fàolan. Supposedly more die each week.”
“We can’t judge by rumors,” Fagan said. “More often than not they land us in the wrong place.”
“Some rumors seem good, though.” Connor countered. “Have you heard what they’re saying about the new man in town?”
Most boys shook their head. “Supposedly, well, according to crazy old Bardan, he’s the one who’s going to rescue us from Fàolan’s oppression.”
“You can’t listen to Bardan,” a few young men scoffed.
“He has been right before,” Fagan defended. “I wouldn’t put it past him to be telling the truth. There is such a thing as prophecy, you know. As for rescuing us from Fàolan, to do that, he’s got to be a great man.”
“The question is, though, will he rescue us from Fàolan, or also all of those who have transgressed against the Creator’s laws?”
“You’re asking that we be saved from ourselves?”
“I guess you’re right, we’ve all sinned.”
“None as bad as Fàolan and Kyle, though.”
“Don’t be so quick to judge – even little sins separate us from the Creator just as much as big ones do. We’re all hopelessly lost and need saving.”
Murmurs of agreement rippled through their small crowd.
“Do you have any ideas, though, when he’ll actually get here and begin this work of saving us?”
Connor shrugged. “No, I haven’t any idea. I’ve only heard a little, mostly just rumors or ramblings of a crazy old mind like Bardan.”
Nigel called everyone together shortly, and after a time of praise and teaching from the Creator’s law, they prayed for Poná and Cathonys.
On the long walk home, Fagan’s mind was filled with what he had discussed with the other boys before their fellowship had gathered. He moved closer to Nigel and brought up the subject.
“Da, today the other boys and I were talking… and Connor mentioned that Bardan has been saying that any day now someone will come to rescue us. Do you think it’s just Bardan making things up, or do you think the Creator’s really sending someone that will save us?”
“Trust Him, Fagan, and all else will fall into place. Sometimes I fear only those of us working together in unity as the Creator’s people will save us – sharpening each other as iron sharpens iron, as the Creator’s law says.”
“But do you think he’ll send someone else to help? It’s too big of a task for us to accomplish without His help.”
“He will supply all of our needs. We need not worry.”
Fagan bit his lip and nodded. They trudged on through the snow, the cold air biting at their cheeks. “Da,” Fagan began. “Whatever happened to King Kyle?”
“I haven’t been farther inside the castle than the courtyard and the gardens since you were a little thing, Fagan. I don’t really know. He may still be there; weakly agreeing to Fàolan’s every word. Or Fàolan may have thrown the King into the dungeons long ago.”
“You think he’s still alive, then?”
“That is my hope.”
“How can Fàolan manipulate someone like that?”
“He serves Daron, Fagan. Servants of Daron have done many, many evil things, some much worse than what Fàolan has done.”
“And yet the Creator still loves them.”
“Aye. But their judgment will come.”
“Will not ours as well?”
“Our judgment will come, but because of the grace of the Creator to those who wholeheartedly follow Him, He will show mercy.”
“I thank Him every day for His mercy.”
“Truly, it is a gift. We must not take it for granted as so many do. That only leads to destruction.”
“Destruction and death.”
A knock sounded on their front door just as they sat down to dinner. Fagan opened the door. A man, his face shaded by the large hood of a cloak stood there, peering in through the crack in the door.
“The man Bardan in the village informed me that there were kind and hospitable people that dwell in this house.” He said. His voice was low and firm, but there was a hint of gentle love in it.
“Aye,” Fagan said, opening the door wider to let the man in. “My parents are very kind and hospitable people. We are about to eat dinner, if you would like to join us.”
As the man stepped inside, he took his cloak off. Fagan took it from him and hung it on the coat rack. Brianna ran to get another chair, making a place for the man between her father and Fagan. The man sat down and they prayed, then Nigel dished up the man a plateful of food, and then served the rest of the family. There was an awkward silence in the room for a few minutes before Nigel spoke.
“What brings you to Poná, sir?”
“My father’s business,” he replied.
Nigel nodded. “You are welcome to stay the night with us, if you wish.”
“I would, thank you, as long as I am not being an intrusion.”
“No, sir, it is not.”
“Then, thank you.”
Enid discreetly cleared her throat and glanced around the table. Nigel understood his wife’s signal and introduced the children.
“Well, sir, this is my family. I am Nigel, and this is my wife, Enid. Our oldest son Fagan is seventeen, Brianna is thirteen, Ahearn is ten, Brenna is seven, Grady is three, Keelin is two, and Ness is sleeping in her cradle over in the corner.”
“You have a beautiful family, Nigel.”
“I am Adan,” the man said simply.
“Welcome, Adan. We were talking about miracles not ten hours ago, and now it appears we have one in our house!” Nigel said.
“Did your parents name you Adan because of the meaning, sir?” Ahearn asked.
“Aye. My parents had difficulty having children, and so when I was born my parents decided I was their miracle, and so I was named.”
Fagan leaned over to whisper to Brianna.
“I wonder if he is the miracle Connor mentioned when passing on Bardan’s news.”
“He doesn’t really look as we expected him to look, though.”
“No, but he has talked to Bardan.”
“Bardan just knows things… it’s probably just coincidence.”
“How long do you plan to be in Poná on your father’s business?” Enid wondered.
“As long as it takes. He has sent me on a mission, and I will not return to him until my mission is complete.”
“You are welcome to stay with us for as long as you are here,” Enid offered.
“Thank you, I think I will.” Adan said.
They finished their meal in silence, and after the children went to bed, Brianna, Fagan, Enid, Nigel, and Adan sat around the table talking.
“You have trained your children very well,” Adan commented.
“It is not us, Adan, but the Creator working in us,” replied Nigel.
“You are followers of the Creator?”
“I cannot believe you live inside the walls of the castle.”
“Before Fàolan I was one of the king’s advisors. I think Fàolan wants us inside the walls still to avoid suspicion of any sort, and perhaps to throw the blame on me.”
“Ah… Fàolan. Dark are these days. Fàolan has such a firm grip on the minds of the people.”
“We have been praying for a miracle,” Fagan said, “For we know that by no earthly means can we free ourselves from him.”
“You are wise to believe that. But be careful, for things are not always what they seem.”
“How do you think we will be freed from Fàolan?”
“It will not be through fighting as many believe, but by destroying Fàolan’s footholds and changing hearts. Tomorrow I will begin my Father’s work in the market place. Hearts will be changed by the Creator’s grace, and Fàolan will be put back in his place.”
“Do you think that then we will be free from sin as well?” Brianna asked.
“Nay, not yet. We must wait and cry out and suffer more before then. But when freedom comes, the Creator will descend in great glory and take His children to Him. Then we will fully understand what it means to give Him glory and live for Him. But, alas, I do not envy those who refuse to turn from their wicked ways. It will not go well for them.”
“You speak as if you knew such things were for certain.”
“They are, Fagan, they are. These things will come to pass. But before the last days, there will be much suffering and many tears from those who follow the Creator.”
“Many tears have already been shed,” Enid said, “tears of pain for the lost.”
“Be encouraged, not all, but some of the lost will come back home. Others will die while still in darkness, and they will suffer the consequences.”
“Brianna and Fagan, it’s time the two of you went to bed, it’s getting late.”
“Good night, da, good night mama,” Brianna and Fagan hugged their parents good night and went to their bedrooms.
Nigel, Enid, and Adan moved from the kitchen table to another room in the house, where they could sit and talk more comfortably.
“I hope you are not just trying to pour false hope into my children,” Nigel said protectively.
“Nay. The things of which I speak will come to pass.” Adan reassured.
“But how can you speak with such certainty?”
“My father has told me.”
“You speak so much and so highly of your father, but have not said his name. From what you say, it seems as if your father were the Creator himself.”
“Aye, I know it sounds like that.” He sighed. “It is a very long and unbelievable story, but because anything is possible with the Creator, it is true. When Nathan fell, you know the Creator promised that there would be redemption. Through one man sin came, and through one redemption will come, a promised miracle. But man who has sinned, man who has mud on himself, cannot clean another sinful man covered in mud, and sinless man cannot be born of sinful parents.”
Nigel began to interrupt.
“Now before you shoot me down, let me finish. My parents named me Adan because I was a miracle child – my parents could not have children on their own. Bardan had told my mother that the Creator would use her in bringing redemption and saving us from something yet to come at that time – Fàolan. I was not conceived by the normal means, it was truly a miracle. My mother and father tell me that it was from the Creator, and I am the son of the Creator. Thus my Father’s business is that of the Creator.”
“Adan, I will just have to trust your story. I know and believe that nothing is impossible with the Creator. Yet your history does seem very outlandish. You do seem to be a man of God, however, and we will let you stay unless we find that you have been telling tales.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Enid will set up a cot in the boys’ room for you to sleep on.”
The next meeting day rolled around, and Adan was still with Brianna and Fagan’s family. Adan had participated much in their daily life, helping Fagan with his chores, giving input and wisdom during their daily readings of the Law, and playing with the young children. Things Adan did or said confirmed the story he had told Nigel and Enid about himself, and by the end of the week Brianna, Fagan, Nigel, and Enid believed that he truly was the one sent to free them from Fàolan. How he would free them, though, they did not know, and if he had told them they would not have understood.
After discussing it with the other leaders of their fellowship, Nigel told Adan that if he wished he would be allowed to speak at their meetings and read from the Law. So at the meeting Adan stood and read from the beginning of the Law, where the story of Nathan’s disobedience was written as an example to all.
““Nathan, when I set you up as a ruler of a kingdom, I trusted you to follow my laws. You know I cannot look upon that which is not excellent, so now I can no longer dwell among you,” the Creator said.
“Nathan, you must reap what you sow. Your disobedience has brought this on all of Edaled.”
“But what is it? This evil, it appeared so good, so excellent, at first, but then…”
“As you know, his name is Daron. But what you do not know is what he is. Daron is a dragon, like to a serpent – crafty and wily. However, Daron is wiser than the serpents, and tries to find loopholes in my laws through which he may cause you to stumble. Be wary of him, for though I now leave, he will be the prince of this world.”
The Creator turned away, and Nathan fell to his knees. “No! Is there any way to turn back what I have done?” Nathan no longer saw the creator, but when He spoke, he heard His voice.
“I will provide a way. While you live in Edaled, things will never return to the way they once were, but I will provide forgiveness for ALL who fall into Daron’s traps, for now complete resistance will be futile.”
“The Creator promised redemption to Nathan, that a way would be provided in which we could someday be free from sin and free from Daron. Yet in these days, we have begun to despair, because all we see is that Daron is triumphing more and more, especially through Fàolan. But let us keep in mind that redemption IS coming. The Creator always keeps His promises; it would go against His awesome nature to do otherwise. The final and most important battle will soon be fought. It will not be a battle like many think, filled with blood and swords and arrows, but it will be a battle in which love and hate will fight, and love will prevail and come out victorious! The Creator will win the battle, but there will still be a long time of waiting and watching for the Creator to return and prove Himself to the whole world a triumphant victor. Until then, He will watch, wait, and work through His people here in Edaled. Let us spread His love from the rooftops! We hold in our hands such great joy and such great news, yet in times like this when we are suppressed we forget that it is even more of a joy to share that news with others, share the hope of getting away from this imperfection. It will not be easy. Many followers of the Creator will suffer and die before the last days come, and even more will perish in the last days. But when we perish, we will go to be with the Creator. Those who do not know will be forever separated from the Creator and live in agony for eternity. There is still hope for the lost! Cry for them to come back home!”
Adan sat down, and the crowd was silent. Then murmurs rippled through the gathering. “Who is this man? He speaks with such wisdom and such certainty. Is he the promised miracle? Or is he just heralding the coming of a miracle? He says we will be free from Fàolan soon, but how soon will it be? How will he manage to free us without fighting with swords? Will no one die, then?”
Many questions filled everyone’s minds, and for a while all sat in awe of this new teacher. After their fellowship meal, the fathers gathered around Adan talking to him and asking questions. Eliana sat on her father’s lap, listening to Adan speak, for once her eyes hopeful. Fagan saw this and immediately began praying for her, hoping, praying, that maybe there would be some way she would speak again and the pain that had struck her so deep with Mikhil’s departure would go away.
Fagan’s thoughts then turned to Mikhil. Where was he now? What was he dong? Was he still alive? Had he joined the Miron? Was he involved in the attack of the caravans coming into Poná from Aquis the week before?
“So you think we should never fight?” Mikhil had asked.
“Nay, not never. I just don’t believe fighting is the best and most effective means at the moment. I fight to protect my family. When we are threatened, then I will fight and defend. Now is not the time to take the offensive for the Creator. He teaches that love is the strongest thing, not war.”
“Do you think, then, that joining the Miron is a sin?”
“I do not know, and I do not know what to think on the subject. It may not be the best choice, but I do not know that it is a sin.”
Fagan and Mikhil had been discussing that in the tree fort only days before Mikhil had left. Maybe I should have told him I thought it was a sin, just to keep him here. I don’t think what they do is always excellent, I see that now. O God, will Mikhil be one of the lost that finds his way home? Or will he perish in darkness? Help him see where he has turned astray!
The next day, Fagan was working outside with Adan, pulling weeds in Enid’s small vegetable garden.
“You and many others are mourning the loss of a friend, aren’t you?” Adan asked suddenly.
“Aye,” Fagan replied, yanking a weed out of the dirt.
“What was his name?”
Fagan sat back on his heels. “His name was Mikhil. He was my best friend, like a brother to me and Brianna, but he left to join the Miron not a month ago,” he said, voice filled with sorrow.
“I am sorry to hear that.”
“You said some of the lost would come home,” Fagan blurted out.
Adan looked away. “I also said some would die in darkness, Fagan. Not all will have a happy ending. Some will go deeper into darkness than you would dare to think.”
“So Mikhil won’t come home?”
“Not in the way you would like him to. I fear that he will hurt you and your family even more before things get any better.”
Fagan’s chest felt like it contracted so that it was hard to breathe. Then he sobbed, and cried for his lost friend.
Chapter Seven: Lamrae
It was his twenty first birthday today.
Not that anyone cares, Mikhil thought, kicking a rock as the soldiers marched. It had been three years since he joined the Miron, and only a few men had ever shown that they cared for their fellow “messengers,” since then. It seemed as if all of the men involved in the radical group were fighting personal wars of their own or were out for personal gain and did not care at all about the others. His relationship with Marek seemed strange and out of place to the others in the Miron, but Marek and Mikhil treasured their friendship. If it wasn’t for Marek, Mikhil probably would have left the Miron long ago – it was not quite what he had expected, and he missed Fagan and his family. Instead of farm work and games with his siblings and friends, long, hard training now filled his days. Nights were long, hot, and uncomfortable in a small bunk surrounded by ten score of other men. Every month or so, squads of men would march out on special missions that were indirect attacks on Fàolan. They would sink supply ships coming in from other kingdoms, ambush armies that were marching, or stop caravans from entering Cathonys. Yet none of it seemed to help. Fàolan still ruled as harshly as before. The work of the Miron was very rarely productive; Fàolan always had more soldiers and other means of obtaining provisions and weapons, his rule had stretched so far.
Every one in the Miron, even Mikhil and Marek, thought that this march was different from their other missions, however. Side by side, the two comrades pushed onward, placing one foot weary foot after another. Mikhil’s heart beat excitedly. This was it. This was going to be the final battle, the final attack. He glanced around him. The other underground barracks of the Miron from around Cathonys were there with them. Almost one thousand men, all united for one purpose, all in one place. They were going to defeat Fàolan at last. One last victory, the Miron would free Edaled from the shackles that had been ruling them for so long. Oh, what honor there would be for them! The peaceful followers of the Creator would see that he, Mikhil, had been right, and that they way to destroy Fàolan was to fight him, that the Creator had been saying that it was by way of fighting that He would save them.
He’ll renew our strength! Mikhil thought excitedly.
The Miron had been slightly divided in this decision to fight. Many claimed it would be a waste of men and supplies, because Fàolan’s army was too strong for them – after all, Fàolan had soldiers who were trained professionals, not a motley, disjointed band of freedom fighters. Others, however, seemed to have a good deal of hope in the strength of the Cathonians, not to mention the many men who came from other kingdoms of Edaled. Mikhil and Marek were among these optimistic men. Eventually the leaders all agreed to fight- if they could not defeat Fàolan this way, it was a hopeless cause and there was no other human way to be free ever again until Fàolan died. And if they did not succeed, then they would be free in death.
Two days earlier, all of the armies in Cathonys had left their bases and begun the march to their meeting point, Lamrae, a day’s journey from Poná. It was a place that was far enough away from civilization that a battle would not devastate farmland or a village, but it was close enough to Poná that news of the battle would travel quickly, and maybe some of the men from Poná would join the ranks of the Miron. Mikhil’s unit planned to reach the canyon by nightfall of the third day of their march. Now it was late afternoon on the third day, and within a few hours, they would arrive at their destination. There, they would make camp, eat, and sleep. The next morning leaders of the armies would discuss tactics, and lookouts would announce the arrival of other armies. The men would talk and clean their weapons and maybe practice some as well.
The boredom of marching is more tiring than the marching itself, Mikhil decided, sighing and crunching more snow beneath his feet. Sure beats training, though. But do we have to march this far when there’s snow on the ground, is what I want to know. Sure, it’s only November, but this November is the coldest on we have had in years! Imagine… after a few days, there will be no more training, no more drills, and no more running laps. It will all be over. But for better or for worse? How many more sunsets will I live to see? Who will win? Who will die? How many will live to tell the story to their families? Will I be dead before this week is out?
The army trudged on in silence for a while longer, and then as the sun set someone spotted the canyon. “There it is!” he shouted.
Suddenly the men came alive, speeding their march as much as they could. Soon they would be there; soon they could rest and eat. Maybe there would be a river where they could bathe, even if the water would be freezing cold. Mikhil turned and looked at Marek, who grinned, then broke into a run along with the rest of the troops.
Three long days of waiting followed. They were waiting for more of their troops – hoping, praying, wishing that more would come – restlessly and fearfully preparing for battle. Mikhil sparred with some of the men, and often watched Marek and the other archers shoot at targets. In the evenings, they would swim in the river or play card games. Each day, more troops came and joined those already gathered. The canyon was getting crowded, and now some were sleeping on the ledges above the riverbed or even above the canyon on the ground. All of the men grew more and more restless, even Mikhil. Marek was the only one who had not become impatient; instead, he became quiet and withdrawn. Mikhil noticed this and wondered what was up.
“You feeling alright?” He asked, sitting down next to Marek, who was on the edge of the riverbank with his feet in the cold water.
“I’m scared,” Marek whispered, staring at the bottom of the river. “Seventeen years doesn’t feel like enough time to have really lived. I don’t want to die, Mikhil.”
Mikhil felt his mouth go dry. “Nobody does.”
“It’s not like that, though. It’s not that I’m scared of being dead, like everybody else.” Marek kicked the dirt at the bottom of the river, and then pulled his feet out. “The water is freezing. I’m scared of dying in and of dying itself. I know that if I go, the Creator is still in charge and He will always win in the end, whether I’m here or not.” Marek’s breath caught in a sob, but he did not try to hold his tears back. “In some ways, I want to be dead. I want to be out of this world, out of a place that’s imperfect, a place where you can get hurt inside and out… pain scares me more than anything else, and I want to get away from it, but the only way is by dying.” Marek shook his head, and then wiped his tears away. “But I don’t want to die in pain, like dying in battle would be like. I just want to slip peacefully away, so quickly I don’t even realize I’m dying until I’m gone. I can be brave in front of so many other things, but I can’t stare death in the face without seeing pain.” He paused for a moment, a thought coming to his mind, and then spilling out. “I don’t want do die like my dad!”
“I heard it said once that perfect love casts out fear.” Mikhil said quietly. “And we fear because we do not have perfect love.”
“In a world full of imperfection, perfect love is hard to find.” Marek replied. “I have searched, but I haven’t really ever found it.” He looked at the sun setting just above the canyon wall. “Sometimes I feel the Creator’s love that way. Then I feel like someone really loves me all the time, no matter how afraid or imperfect I am. And then I forget about pain and imperfection, and all I see are perfect golden streets.”
“Maybe before too long, we’ll all be there, walking those streets.”
Marek nodded. They watched the sun set in silence for a few minutes, and then Marek spoke again. “She probably thinks I’m already dead.”
“My mother. I don’t even know if she knows my father died, or how he died, or if either of us are alive any more. I don’t even know if she is alive any more.”
“I miss my family, too. I wonder what they’ve been doing since I left. I left with out them knowing, because I knew they would try to stop me. Now… now I wish they had succeeded in stopping me, because now that I’m here I’m terrified.”
“I don’t want tomorrow to come.”
Mikhil looked puzzled. “Why?” He asked. “There’s still just another day of waiting ahead of us.”
Marek shrugged. “I don’t know. I just have this feeling… that tomorrow is going to be different somehow. I don’t know how, just that it will be different. We have to get ready.”
It was barely light, but the routine of waking early in the barracks woke Marek up before anyone else. He lay there with his eyes open, staring up out of the canyon at the sky. The sun was rising, and colorful clouds streaked across the sky. It was then that Marek realized how much he liked the out doors, and how instead of going to fight with the Miron, he should have stayed home with his mother and become a farmer or a traveling story teller. That would have been fun. Maybe… maybe if I make it out of here alive I can do that. I’d tell stories about Mikhil and me. And to my grandchildren, I’d tell the stories of this battle, of life with the Miron. But most of all, I’d tell them about the Creator and His perfect love that casts out fear. I wish He didn’t cast it out so slowly, though. I’m still scared… oh, I’m so scared. I don’t want to die, I want to live more, and I want to see more blue sky and more seagulls…
Somewhere in the distance a horn blew. Marek blinked a few times, making sure he was fully awake. What was someone doing blowing a horn at this time in the morning? He groaned and rolled over on the hard ground. There it was again. Rubbing his eyes, Marek sat up straight in his bedroll. The rest of the camp was still asleep.
“Mikhil!” He whispered harshly.
Mikhil opened his eyes groggily. “It’s barely light out, Marek, what are you doing up?”
“I heard a horn blow.”
“There, did you hear that?”
“Do you know what it is?”
“It could be more of our troops.”
“Out marching at this time of morning? I don’t think so.”
Marek ran to the pathway that led to the top of the canyon. Mikhil rolled over and went to sleep, too exhausted to follow his friend to the top of the canyon.
At the top of the canyon, Marek surveyed the land, searching for any sign of people. He heard the army before he saw it, the sound of their feet marching on the melting snow. Before a minute had passed, their leader came into view. Almost immediately, Marek knew this was not the captain of a rebel army. He wore all black, like Fàolan’s men, and carried a large, shiny shield. Marek felt his stomach drop in fear, and ran back down into the canyon.
“Wake up! To arms! Hurry!” He shouted. Around him, the men began to groan as they woke up. “We’re being attacked!” Marek ran to where his bow and arrows from near where he had been sleeping, and many others followed his example, buckling on sword belts, strapping on helmets, and pulling on chain mail.
The leaders of the different units began shouting out orders. “Archers! Find the highest spot you can get to, but stay hidden as much as possible! Swords! Let’s move this battle away from the edge of the canyon. Get out and run in an organized fashion! Get the backs of the enemy to the canyon! Pikes! In front of the swords, ready to charge! Move it, men, we have a battle to fight!”
“And win!” Many men cheered.
Mikhil passed Marek as he ran out of the canyon. “Best wishes, mate.” He said.
Marek nodded. “Gold streets wait.”
“Maybe for now, maybe for later.”
“I wish we had more time to say goodbye.”
“Bye, then. Thanks… for everything.”
“I don’t know your father, Marek, but I’m sure he was a great man from the way you talk about him. You’re going to be just like him.”
“Get going,” Marek said, and pushed Mikhil forward. “I’ll miss you.” And please don’t die, he added to himself.
Many other men ran passed Marek before he left the canyon to find a high point in the boulders and rock formations around the canyon. He’d had his eye on a spot for a while, but he was waiting for the cover of other men before he went. Then Marek ran to it, climbing up it and ducking behind a boulder. He took out an arrow and checked the fletching. Then he fitted it to his bowstring and took a deep breath.
The enemy was just coming into sight. Down below him, the pike men nodded to each other. Saying their last words, Marek thought. Before they run into the arms of death. He slumped back against the boulder, letting his arrow fall to the ground. Creator, I can’t do this, I’m scared. I’m weak. They’re all so much stronger than I am. Why did I even think I could do this? I’m not even a man yet, I’m seventeen!
But who’s the strongest of all? A voice in his mind said.
You are, Creator.
Then trust me, and receive my perfect love that casts out fear.
Marek gulped, then turned back to face the battle. The pike men were charging now. He took aim at the men near the rear of Fàolan’s army, to afraid to risk hitting one of the Miron with his bow. Twang. One arrow was gone, but there were many more still to go. Marek watched as his arrow sped down and hit a man. Pushing aside the dark thoughts that entered his mind, Marek restrung his bow and aimed again. Twang.
Now the swordsmen were charging. Marek tried to find Mikhil as he prepared to shoot another arrow, but there were too many brown-haired soldiers down on the field to distinguish which one was Mikhil. Again and again Marek fired. It was arrow after arrow, mechanically. Fire. Reload. Repeat. Fire. Load. Repeat. Soon there were no more waves of Fàolan’s men coming in, so it was risky to shoot, but Marek knew he must do it anyway.
He didn’t know how much later it was; Marek lost all sense of time during the battle, but he ran out of arrows. There was nothing else to do now but watch. Fàolan’s men were overrunning the field. Black washed out the tans and browns of the Miron. The Miron on the field fought more aggressively when they saw this, however, and many of the enemy were falling as well.
Rocks began falling on the field. Albeit they were small rocks, but suddenly Marek grinned. There were many loose rocks around him. Other archers must have run out of arrows as well, and those other archers were obviously more resourceful than he was. Picking up a rock in each hand, Marek began pitching rocks down onto the enemies on the field. He didn’t have any idea how much it was helping, but at least it gave him something to do. He wondered if Mikhil was still alive. Was he wounded, off to the side of the field, left to die? Had he been killed? If he had, was it quickly? Was his friend suffering? How much blood and how many dead were on the field? Were Fàolan’s men winning, like it looked like from way up high? Would they win out in the end? Would the Miron be crushed and everyone killed?
Would he die, trapped up high behind a boulder?
The sun had risen, and everyone was very aware of the heat that it gave. Fàolan’s men especially suffered from the heat under their chain mail and armor. Most of the Miron had nothing but leather jerkins for protection. Marek moved down closer to the field and kept throwing rocks, but from closer up, he could see that it didn’t do much damage.
Mikhil stumbled on the field. He hadn’t jumped quickly enough, and someone had taken a swipe at his legs and managed to hit him. He had tried to get away to wrap them up somehow, but he had not gotten the change yet, and pressed on in battle. He winced with every step, and struggled to stay on top of things as he slashed and ducked. He thought he saw a face with red hair and freckles somewhere, and caught Marek’s eyes, but then turned away, back into the fray. The sword felt heavy in his arms, and Mikhil wondered if he would have the same fate as Marek’s father, brought home covered in wounds… and dying. Dying. Dying. Wearily, Mikhil swung the sword up to block the attack of an enemy, and then attempted to attack, only to miss. The weight of the sword and inertia of the swing pulled Mikhil to his knees. Pain shot through his head, and he closed his eyes, waiting for death to come.
But there was only darkness.
Marek watched in horror as he saw more and more Miron – people that he knew, a few that had sat by him when his father had died, trying to comfort him as well as their hating hearts could – died. He saw their faces twisted in pain; he saw the blood coming from their mouths and out of their wounds. He saw their hands releasing their weapons as they fell down to the ground and lay there, waiting to be trampled by their enemies – or even their comrades. Marek winced as a splatter of blood hit his cheek. He wiped it away as his stomach lurched.
Was he going to die like them, butchered by Fàolan’s army? Should he turn and run because he was of no more use here? Or should he stay and try to fight? Marek looked around. Where would he run? Where could he go, how could he get out of here? It seemed like everywhere he turned at least one of Fàolan’s men stood, waiting, just waiting, for their next victim to fall onto their swords. Then Marek saw an arrow protruding from the back of one of the Miron. Pushing aside his fears and sick feelings, Marek yanked it out and notched it to his bowstring. His hands felt clammy as he pulled back and aimed.
At least this time, he knew who his arrow had killed; he knew that he had done something to win their freedom – if they succeeded. But that would not happen, not this time, it wouldn’t.
In his mind flashed memories from his childhood. Sitting on his mother’s lap as she read to him, helping his father in the garden… going to the market with his aunt and carrying her baskets… swinging on the rope swing under their oak tree. Those were such good memories of the days when he didn’t even understand death. But then he saw his father, hugging him before that day when he had left and never returned to sweep his young son off his feet and joyfully spin him around.
Is this what the dying think of? Marek wondered. All of the good things that were? All of the good things that could have been? I don’t want to die!
Marek turned and grabbed another arrow. Slashing as he ran, Marek pushed past Fàolan’s men, screaming and shouting as he went. “I don’t want to die!” He heard himself yell, blindly stabbing his arrow into a soldier. “O God, let me live!” He shouted.
He ran on for a ways, but then collapsed near the farthest edge of the canyon. Lying in a motionless heap on the ground, Marek sobbed.
I’m all alone now. There’s no one left. Even Mikhil is gone. They killed them! Why did you let them kill him, Creator? Why did you let him die? What am I going to do now? If I tell a story to my grandchildren… it will be nothing but hate and sadness. How could I bear to tell that, to live with that memory? I want it to go; I want to be free from these memories, these sounds in my head of the dying screaming in pain, of eyes glazed in death, of bloodied hands, of pierced jerkins and helmets… I don’t want this! Free us, Creator, free us!
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear! Now I’m afraid of the past, no longer am I afraid of what’s to come, but I’m terrified of the past. I’m terrified of seeing my father again in my mind’s eye, lying broken, bruised, and wounded on the stretcher. I’m terrified of seeing that last glance of Mikhil’s, knowing he was going to die, telling me that with his eyes.
Oh, it’s so awful… take it away, take it away…
It was not long before news of the battle reached Poná. Fàolan’s men came marching in through the gates triumphantly, and were greeted with cheers by those who lined the streets. Many in the city were not in the streets, though, for those who followed the Creator were in their homes. Fagan watched from the window, peering discreetly out from behind the curtain.
“I wonder if Mikhil is alive,” Brianna thought aloud.
Fagan let the curtain drop and looked down.
“What?” Brianna asked.
“Meet me in the tree house,” Fagan said.
Brianna finished doing her chores and then ran out to the tree fort. She climbed the ladder and found Fagan already waiting there.
“What is it, Fagan?” She asked again.
“Adan asked about Mikhil,” he said, as if that explained everything.
“He was wondering what all of us were so sad about.”
“And what did he say?”
“And then I asked him if Mikhil was one of the lost he was talking about that would return home, or if he would die in darkness.” Fagan paused for a moment.
“What did he say then?”
“He said Mikhil would come home, but not how we wanted him to, and that he would hurt us even more before things got better.”
“What did he mean?”
“I don’t know about the second part… the first is clear enough. He won’t ever be truly home, ‘Na. He’s not dead, but he won’t ever be back, and we won’t ever be Mikhil, Fagan, and Brianna again.”
“But everything’s possible with the Creator, Fagan!”
“I know, Brianna, and it’s not wrong to hope, but just because the Creator CAN do something it doesn’t mean He will or He will in the way we want Him to. From what Adan said I don’t think it will be happening.”
“We can still hope and pray,” Brianna persisted.
“Aye, we can at least do that much.”
“Brianna! Fagan!” Enid called from the house.
Slowly, Fagan and Brianna scrambled down from the tree house and went into the house. Adan greeted them at the door, smiling at Brianna.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” he said to her. “Joy shall be restored to this home, Brianna, Batyah.”
“Thank you, Adan,” she replied quietly.
“Do not weep for your friend Mikhil for long. He is being used for the Creator’s purposes, even though they may not be the way we wish them to be. Take heart, Brianna.”
At dinner that night the conversation turned to an attack someone – rumor said one of the Creator’s followers – had attempted to make on Fàolan.
“There are so many times I feel like I would like to do that myself, but I know that would not be right,” Fagan commented.
“Ah, yes, it would not be right, but why is it not right, Fagan?”
“It is not excellent.”
“Why is it not excellent?”
“The Creator sets up rulers,” Ahearn said.
“And since He has set them up, we must respect and honor and obey them,” Brianna finished.
“Aye,” Adan said.
“But what if we don’t agree with the ruler’s laws?” Brenna asked.
“Then you ask the Creator to have mercy and change hearts, whether the hearts of the ruler or the hearts to he people themselves.”
“So then we are to disobey their laws?”
“Only when their laws go against the higher law of the Creator.”
“How much longer will it be before we are free from Fàolan?”
“Not long, Brenna, not long.”
“What will it be like?” Grady asked.
Nigel laughed. “It will be good, very good.”
“Will we have to meet in secret anymore?” Keelin wondered.
“No, we will be free to worship as we please.”
Brianna smiled happily at that thought. Free. None of them, from twenty-year-old Fagan to baby Aina, had ever known a life free from Fàolan’s rule.
“Who will be king, I wonder.” Ahearn said.
“If the poison Fàolan put into King Kyle’s heart can be removed, mayhap Kyle will re-claim his throne,” Fagan speculated.
“But if not, the search for a new king must begin,” Nigel continued. “We would be honored, Adan, if you took the throne and ruled Cathonys. You would be the wisest, most Creator-exalting ruler in all of the history of Edaled.”
“Thank you, I am honored at your request, but I cannot accept. When I finish my father’s business, I must leave Poná.”
“Will you ever come back?” Fagan asked.
“Not until death has been overcome and the final battle has been fought and won by the Creator.”
“That will be a while, I wager,” Nigel said.
“Only the Creator knows the day or the hour.”
“He likes to keep us on our toes,” Enid commented.
“But all the while He is in control, remember that, my love,” Nigel reminded gently.
“Aye. Whatever happens, He is behind it all.”
Chapter Eight: Hate and Betrayal
The band of men moved slowly through the forests of Cathonys. There were only fourteen of them, but all were wounded and had had very little to eat over the past two weeks. They alone were the survivors of the Miron, at least that they knew of. Mikhil wished he knew whether or not Marek had lived, but there was no way for him to find that out. The wounds on his legs he had washed with snow and wrapped with strips cut from his shirt, but apart from that, he could do nothing to heal them. The other survivors had similar wounds, but none were mortal wounds such as deep blows to the head or chest wounds. One man had lost a hand, another was missing an ear. Most were just exhausted and had numerous cuts on their legs and arms. After the battle, they had found each other when all had quieted down and made for the forests, following the stream from the canyon up to the mountains. Now that they were somewhat rested they stopped and made camp to talk about what to do next.
“We’re not safe in Cathonys, that’s for sure.”
“Aye. Byshan is the closest kingdom to where we are now,” one man, Patrik, said, scribbling a map quickly in the snow.
“Could we stop at a village for food?” Mikhil asked, looking through the pack of food they had gathered from the packs of the Miron. There was not much in there, definitely not enough for fourteen men for five days.
“Nay, that is too dangerous. Those loyal to Fàolan would turn us in for much money, and then we would suffer much more than we would from hunger.”
“Aye, we’ll at least have some freedom in Byshan.”
“You’re forgetting the mountain pass. It would be folly to try to go around or over it in this winter weather, we’d all die of the cold if we didn’t slip down the rocky side and kill ourselves that way. But we can’t go through the mountain pass in our right minds, we would be killed that way as well, it is too well guarded by Fàolan’s men.”
“I don’t think we are in our right minds,” Kirk, the man missing a hand,” said.
“Especially not Ernest, missing his ear there.”
“So we need food. Water is not a problem with all of the snow, but we need food.”
“We could steal it from Fàolan’s men at the mountain pass.”
“And get killed.”
“Or we could forage in the forest.”
“And get killed by a bear.”
“Or we could do nothing.”
“And get killed by hunger.”
“Stop it, Kirk; we don’t need your pessimism right now.”
“Alright, just trying to do what my da always said – expect the worst, hope for the best.”
“Let’s first decide where we want to go.”
Many men said home, but they knew they could not safely go home.
“Be realistic, men!”
“Then we’ll go to Byshan, at least hope and plan to go to Byshan.”
“So we go over the mountains or through the mountain pass, and if we survive that we have to sneak past the border or hope that the guards at the border are kind.”
“The mountain pass is the border.”
“It will be days until we reach Byshan. Two days until we get into the mountains, and half a day until we reach the pass. Then we’ll have to wait for the cover of darkness so that we can have a fair chance of surviving through the pass.”
“Where will we get food?” Mikhil asked again.
“You’re persistent there, Mikhil. We have what we salvaged from people’s packs after the battle, and there will be water on the mountain, er, that is, snowy water.”
“Aye, I’ll be sick and tired of water, stale bread, and jerky by the time we get to a place where we can get a real meal,” one man complained.
Mikhil dumped the contents of the food bag onto the ground. “Aye, and like that’s going to sustain fourteen grown men for three days. I don’t think so.” He said angrily.
“Well, you have a choice,” Patrik said. “You can turn yourself into Fàolan and get good food for a few days – hopefully – and then die for sure, or you can stay with us to live on crumbs for another week and have a chance to live. It’s really up to you.”
Mikhil picked up a handful of icy snow and threw it against a tree. “These are such dark days, when it becomes so desperate for freedom fighters that to find good food you must turn yourself into the enemy.”
“These are dark days for more reasons that that, Mikhil.”
“Aye, I know. And it’s not like we did much to help that.”
“We killed some soldiers, anyhow.”
“Aye, but what else?”
“Caused more trouble for the townspeople, cut off some food supplies, got wounded ourselves, and made many women and children fatherless…”
“Thank you, Kirk.”
“Do you think we made the wrong decision, then?”
“No, we just forgot to weight the consequences if we lost.”
“And if we had done that, would we have done differently?”
“Aye, I think so.”
“Then let us all learn from this, and maybe we will be better men and change the course of history for the better in the future.”
“It’s late, let’s get to sleep. Kirk, you have the first watch tonight, then Mikhil, then Patrik, and I will wake us up at dawn.”
“Good night,” Mikhil said to everyone, and then he unrolled his bedroll and lay down to sleep, shivering in the cold night air.
The days meshed, all a jumble of marching, changing bandages, foraging for food, and strategizing. They planned to approach the pass from the side, not coming directly head on so they were less likely to be sighted. Then they would look for overhangs they could hide under as they journeyed through. Their pace slowed even more as they went higher up into the mountains; going uphill in the mountains was difficult, especially with so many wounded. For the most part, they trudged on in silence, each in too much pain and focusing too hard to speak to each other. Around the campfire at night, they would discuss their survival, and that was all.
The afternoon before they entered the pass, they made camp early at the side of the pass so they could not be seen.
“Should we send someone to look at the pass and figure out the best way to go through it?” Kirk asked.
“Aye, a scout. That would be wise.”
“But who will go?”
“We could draw sticks…”
“If we had sticks to draw.”
“What about using rocks? Number the rocks, and he who picks the biggest rock will go.”
“Aye. Everyman find a rock.”
Quickly, they all found small rocks and lined them up on the snow in random order.
“Pick a number between one and fourteen,”
Everyone chose a number and picked the rock that was that many places from the left. Patrik chose number nine, and his rock was the biggest. On his way out of the camp, he turned and waved, then walked off.
An hour later, he returned.
“It can be done,” he said. “We can leave and nightfall and I will lead you through it.”
They rested until dusk, taking naps or just lying on their bedrolls on the snow.
Then the band set out, walking slowly, each with his own fears and memories flashing through there heads. Thoughts similar to the ones he had had before the battle went through Mikhil’s head, only now in addition to remembering his family’s faces, he saw Brianna and Fagan.
Brianna, Fagan, and me, he remembered.
In his mind’s eye, he saw Brianna dancing, her red hair swirling out behind her, her brown eyes lit up with pleasure. And there was Fagan on the other side of her, clapping while she spun, now taking her hands and spinning with her. Then he saw Eliana, running up to him as he returned from working in the fields. He picked her up and spun her around, hearing her laughter in his head. She must be all grown up now. And all of the boys taller than me. Fagan will be finding a wife soon… if things ever change, he’ll be a schoolteacher, just like he always wanted. And me? I’ll be dead. I won’t ever marry Brianna, won’t ever be a father, and won’t ever be a farmer like my parents. Maybe I should have listened to everyone and not joined the Miron. But there’s no turning back now, no turning back…
Suddenly there was a shout, pulling everyone out of his thoughts. An arrow hissed through the air, and then Kirk was dead, with an arrow in his chest. The band went berserk, everyone rushing for the end of the pass. They were surrounded by soldiers and fighting wildly, blindly. But where was Patrik? Peter turned and saw him. He was standing to the side, sword still in its sheath. That traitor! Peter thought. His lip curled back in anger and he tried to run to Patrik, only to find a sword through his belly. All around him, Mikhil saw his comrades falling dead upon the snow. Each time he heard one cry out in pain, he wondered if it would be him next.
I’ll make sure it isn’t! He thought defiantly, pushing his way through the soldiers, slashing and dodging. Then he ran.
Like a coward, he ran.
He didn’t stop until his legs hurt so badly that he collapsed and blacked out, lying cold and motionless in the snow, as if he were dead.
When he woke, his stomach growled hungrily so badly that it hurt. Wearily, Mikhil opened his eyes. Grabbing a handful of snow, he stuffed it into his mouth, and then stretched out on the cold snow as if begging it for strength. A sharp pain in his side brought his hand to his side. It was sticky and wet with blood. I must have been cut by one of their swords and not realized it. Mikhil groaned. He lay there unmoving for a while. As he rested, he gained some strength, and by late afternoon, he struggled to his feet. Weakly placing one foot after the other, Mikhil stumbled onward, hand to his side. He tripped and fell, crying out in pain from his leg and side wounds. He winced as he struggled back onto his feet, pushing his shaggy brown hair out of his eyes. Blood already stained the ground beneath him. He sat back down and rolled up his leggings to look at his legs. He let the hard mask of callousness he had built up slip from his face, his mouth twisting in disgust as he stared at the ugly mess his legs had become.
Those traitors! He screamed inwardly. ”Traitors!” He shouted again, but this time aloud. His voice was lost in the open plain, swept away by the wind. He staggered to his feet, and then broke into a run, at first slipping on the slick, wet snow. His mind wandered back to happy times, not even four years ago – laughing with Fagan and Brianna… sweet Brianna… oh, she probably hated him now, after he’d run off with the Miron in his anger at Fàolan. It had gotten him nowhere, now he could see that. Fagan had been right – it was not the Creator’s will for them to defeat Fàolan by violence. Marek was probably dead, like everyone else. Dead or gone, run away in fear and cowardice. Sighing, Mikhil remembered a warm fire in this home during the winter. There was singing and dancing – he, his father and brothers, dancing with his mother and Eliana. Connor sat drumming out a beat on the table, and the rest of them sang loudly and vigorously. Scooping up a handful of snow, Mikhil threw it against the ground, pleased with the way it shattered.
Shattering like his warm and happy memories had when they were trapped in the pass. He hadn’t had any “warm and happy,” memories since before he had left home. And he would never have any more, not with Fàolan around, not when he would be hunted like an animal if he went home.
No! I won’t think of that any more! Anyone who says the followers of the Creator have love is wrong! Was it love when Patrik scouted ahead and told them we were coming? I barely escaped with my life, and everyone else LOST theirs! Fàolan shows more love for his men than that – they stuck together when everything else fell apart in the battle two weeks ago. Did I have anyone to fight by my side?
At least Fàolan promises power – real power, more than just defeating someone. I could help him – a lot. I know the secrets of the Creator’s followers, the secrets of what Miron remain.
Ha. I’ll show them.
Mikhil smiled at his thoughts. He would be powerful. No longer would his taller younger brothers look down upon him, no longer would he be chided for imperfection and forgetfulness.
And what of everything he had been taught of the Creator?
Mikhil spat on the snow.
It was a lie – no one could live by what the Creator said, not in this world, none of His followers ever did what they said they believed to be true.
But Marek? What of Marek? He loved, and he was strong! Fagan was like that, too. And Brianna. But Marek feared. And only cowards fear.
Deep back in his mind, Mikhil though he might have heard his father speaking, but it was so faint he wasn’t sure. “True courage is going forward even when you fear, not never being afraid.”
Now, Fàolan! At least he keeps his promises. And his men don’t fear. They are strong with something stronger than love – they are brave.
Mikhil grinned and ran harder. A small nagging tugged at his mind, but he ignored it, pushing it away.
Funny, my leg doesn’t hurt any more.
But if Mikhil had searched deeper inside himself, he would have found the hate and brokenness that had overrun his heart. He would have acknowledged that nagging that he had known, albeit unconsciously known, that it was his conscience. And maybe if that had happened, there would have been hope for him to return home. But he didn’t, and there wasn’t, only hatred, a false hatred spewing from a heart so twisted that it numbed the pain.
I will go to Fàolan. And I will be loyal, I won’t betray my comrades and stab them in the back like Patrik did, like Patrik who made this mess, like Patrik who told Fàolan’s men we were coming.
I will go to Fàolan and make them pay!
Eliana fidgeted. Her father had been speaking for over an hour now on the follies of fighting against Fàolan. How many times have we been over this, da? She wondered. You, Fagan’s da, Adan… in our home, with others in the market, in the homes of others, at the meetings… And, Da, how can you speak of it when your own son was there? - wait, was that something new?
“If we fight them, we are not showing them love like the Creator has told us to do. It is showing them that we hate them, which does not portray us in a good light and does not glorify the Creator. Let people say we are afraid! We know in our hearts that that is not true! We know that true courage is going on even when we are afraid. Living under Fàolan’s rule scares me more than anything else! I would rather die fighting for my freedom and go to be with the Creator than live under Fàolan’s rule. But I don’t, for two reasons – the first is that I do not believe that the Creator wants us to fight in these circumstances. Yes, Fàolan has made us outlaws, but until he comes after my family, I will not put my hand to my sword, especially not just in anger because we are suppressed somewhat. I can still feed my family, can still provide and support them. I will do that as well as I can while I have life in me. That has not been taken away from me yet, and I will not fight yet.” He paused. “Secondly is that it takes more boldness, more courage, more love, to stand firm in my faith and trust the Creator for what He will do rather than taking it into my own hands. It is a more excellent way; it teaches more people the ways of the Creator, it saves more lives. Let us chose to take the harder path, even though it is less traveled and we will be persecuted for it.” He held up the law. “And even when the darkness comes, remember that we have a lamp, the strongest light in all of Edaled, to guide our feet.”
Adan stood. “Chris is right!” He said. “We have the greatest light. What a pity if we keep it all to ourselves and do not share it! Let us not be suppressed – yes, we have to meet far into the woods. But can we not, while we have life and breath and words stand up in public and preach love?” He pointed to Bardan. “We have one in our midst who does that! But the people do not believe him, because he sings in riddles! There are those among us who can make it clear. Let us make it clear – this is a people that has been in darkness too long and who needs a way out. Let us show them the path home!”
Nigel stood, and Enid and Fagan by him. “We will declare His love,” Nigel said, and Brianna stood next to him. “What use is it to hold on to great news and keep it to ourselves? What good is it to call ourselves followers of the Creator and yet we do not declare whom we follow? Those who follow Fàolan tell the world, saying ‘Fàolan is on our side! We fight for him!’ Why cannot we do the same?”
More families stood. Tabitha stood first of her family, and Eliana ran to her father, grabbing his hand and standing tall next to him.
He picked her up. “Yes, Eliana, we can do this,” Chris said, reading her wordless look. “We can stand for the Creator; for we know that nothing can separate us from Him or His love! Fàolan may have us arrested; he may have us killed. Even though there are few of us, we will be even fewer if we die without spreading His love.”
Mikhil approached the village cautiously, worried that if he went to the wrong place he would be caught - and killed. He sighed. His feet hurt, and even worse, his legs throbbed with pain. He was tired from the loss of blood he had received from his side wound. He had not wanted to take another bandage from his shirt, because then the rags they had become would barely be enough to keep him warm, even with his jerkin over it. Besides, leather scratching against bare skin was not comfortable.
He walked up to the first house he saw. In some ways, he wanted to be caught, that way he could get a ride to Fàolan without having to walk all of the way back to Poná. But he also knew that the soldiers might not believe him and he might not be allowed to live at all, not even all of the way to Poná. But maybe, just maybe, they would want to take him to Fàolan, even if it were just to have him there to have him killed so that he could be an example to other rebels who might want to rise up against Fàolan. He would have to see, though. He had already knocked, so now it was too late to change his mind. He hoped the soldiers and whoever lived inside the house would be merciful. Maybe they would have a horse so that even if he didn't get a lift from Fàolan’s soldiers he still wouldn’t have to walk all of the way back "home." And once back in Poná, what would he do? He couldn't bear to stop at home, for they would ask what he was doing and it would break their hearts. As hateful as he had become, Mikhil could not bring himself to do that. He could not do that to them, he could not tell them that he had left the Creator's ways, they would only force him to stay at home and try to teach him the Creator's ways again, he knew they would do that and that he could not escape from it. Maybe someday he would see them again, after this all ended and things were at peace in Edaled again, if that were ever to happen. At least he was on the right side now, the winning side, not the losing side.
The door opened.
"May I help you?" A man said.
"I’m looking for food. I escaped from the battle and have not had much to eat for the past three weeks - I have lived basically on snow and what little I can forage in the winters..." Mikhil fell against the door, too weak to stand any longer.
"Come in, sir, my wife and I will feed you and help you."
Mikhil did not hear the man; he had fallen into darkness again, slumped against the door posts. The man helped him into the house and laid him on the couch in the front room, calling his wife.
"What is it, John?" She asked.
"It's a man who escaped from the battle. It looks as if he were on the side of the freedom fighters. Fàolan would not have left one of his soldiers dressed so poorly, and he would have gone straight to Fàolan instead of stopping at a village if he were on Fàolan’s side. He is wounded badly, it looks as if his legs have been cut and that he has a side cut as well, from the looks of the blood on his body. He's lost a lot of blood and fell unconscious on our doorstep."
"Are we going to help him?"
"Of course we are, Ruth. Why wouldn't we help him? He came to us, didn't he?"
"But you know the punishment Fàolan has sent out for aiding one of the freedom fighters!"
"Aye, I know! But are we going to forsake the ways that we have been trained up in? These are no times to bow to a lesser law when we live to a higher standard!"
"You mean the Creator. I wonder if He still cares and hears our cries sometimes, it seems as if He really loved us He would come."
"Ruth, look at what freedoms we still have left. Look at how the gatherings at our meetings grow each week! He does love us, He is only teaching us to wait upon Him and to trust Him."
"Go make some broth. I will take off his jerkin and cut his leggings so we can see his wounds. It does not look as if they have been properly dressed.”
Mikhil woke an hour later to hear the bustle of a home. At first, he thought he was back at his house, but then as he opened his eyes, he saw a young boy, maybe five years old, staring at him.
"Jonathan, come away," Ruth called.
"He's awake, mama," Jonathan said, standing up and running to his mother.
"Is he, now?" She took a ladle from a pot of soup on the table and dished some of it up into a trencher. She took it over to Mikhil and handed it to him, and then helped him sit up.
"You know the punishment for taking in a freedom fighter," Mikhil said, weakly.
"Aye, we do, but there is a higher law we follow, not Fàolan’s."
"Ye follow the Creator?"
"Aye, we do. Do you?"
"I did... once. But those times have gone now. I have seen things that make me think and believe that the way of Fàolan is better than that."
"But ye fought with the freedom fighters, did you not?"
"Aye, I did, and saw how little they cared for each other. Each was fighting his own personal battle, except for me and one other. Most claimed they had ‘debts to pay,’ with Fàolan, and that they would not rest until they were free from his rule and had avenged themselves or were dead. It looks as if they got the latter, for as far as I know, only fourteen including myself survived the battle, and everyone else died. Twelve of the thirteen that survived were killed by treachery in the mountain pass into Byshan, because the thirteenth betrayed us. Now I am on my way to Fàolan. Perhaps I can help him and tell him what I know and then I can help him win and he will give me power."
"I don’t think you are thinking straight, lad. Drink this soup, and once you have drunk I will get my husband and he will see to your wounds again. You may stay here until you are better, if you wish."
"Thank you, but once I have regained my strength I must be going."
"There is no need to hurry for our sake."
Jonathan sat down at the foot of the couch and watched Mikhil eat.
"Why do you look as if you hate?" Jonathan asked.
"Because I do hate," Mikhil said.
"Because of what people have done to me. I trusted them and they broke that trust. They tried to tell me things but that's all it was, just words. My family, even. When I thought I would do something they did not want me to do, they did not restrain me, only stopped me with words."
"You didn’t obey, that's why."
Mikhil was silent.
"How did you get cut?"
Mikhil looked down at his legs, for the first time seeing that his leggings had been cut and his wounds properly dressed. A thought of gratitude pushed through his head, and the thought that maybe, just maybe there were some followers of the Creator who actually truly cared and loved, more than just words and into actions - like Fagan and his family. Why hadn't he listened, he wondered again.
"I was fighting and I didn’t jump fast enough when I saw a sword coming at my legs. It did not go too deep, though, because I fell over and the sword could not continue very far hitting me, but just got air."
"Did it hurt?"
"Very much, and they still hurt. But then I didn’t feel it as much because I blacked out."
"What's it like to black out?"
"It's very dark, but you don't realize that because it's like you're asleep, but you don't want to be asleep."
"I wish I could sleep longer, I don't think I could ever not want to be asleep."
"You’ll understand more when you're older. There are times when you shouldn’t sleep."
"Like papa not sleeping sometimes because he has to think or he has to pray?"
"No, more important than that - not sleeping because if you sleep you might never wake up because you were killed in your sleep."
"Oh, like that."
Jonathan watched Mikhil drink the soup quietly.
The front door opened and John came in with a cold gust of wind. He carried some dried herbs in his hands. "I went to the apothecary and got some of the herbs we need for the lad," he said. Seeing Mikhil was awake, he turned to Mikhil and nodded. "Hello. Glad to see you're awake. How are your legs feeling?"
"They hurt, but it's more as if they sting now," he replied.
"That's good. I dressed them some, but not enough yet. They’re badly infected. It’s good you stopped here, because much longer like that and they would have had to have been amputated." He kissed Ruth, then Jonathan came running to give his father a hug. "Welcome to our home, by the way. I am John, and this is my wife Ruth and son Jonathan."
"I am Mikhil." Mikhil said. "Thank you. I know what this could cost you if you were found out."
"It’s worth it - besides, you needed help and seemed like one who is on the same side as us."
"Was on the same side as you," Mikhil corrected. "Since then I have learned otherwise."
John raised an eyebrow and nodded. "I see. Well, maybe while you are here we can lead you back to the truth."
"Nay, ‘tis too late for that, I have made my decision. I have been hurt too badly by followers of the Creator to follow the Creator any more. I’ve decided that I will go to Fàolan and get power and become one of his captains. I could really help him, you know, because of what I've seen."
"I understand the feel of a need for power in a young man. But be careful, Mikhil, because what you are doing is not right. How can you betray those you love?"
"Because I was betrayed by people who followed the Creator."
"There are those who claim to follow the Creator but who do not, just like there are those who claim to follow Fàolan only so they will not get into trouble. Oh, how the darkness needs to be lifted from their eyes."
"I appreciate your concern, sir, but I will not be moved on this subject. I have made up my mind, and I will carry it through and make them pay!"
John nodded and turned away to talk to Ruth. Mikhil heard snatches of their conversation, but tired of talk of the Creator and instead closed his eyes to get some sleep.
"Is it safe to have him in our house?" John asked Ruth.
"I do not think he will harm us. He has not fallen so far yet. There is sill some love left in him; Daron has not sucked it all out of him yet. Let us pray he never does."
"Aye. The Creator will have a hard heart to change, but He has changed harder hearts," John said.
Ruth smiled, knowing John was thinking of himself. Long ago, as a boy, John had run away from home with similar motives to Mikhil's. He had returned home, though before two weeks had finished, because he had had enough discretion to see that Fàolan was full of lies. However, Mikhil had been blinded so that he could not clearly see that these things he was chasing after did not reflect what was good. He thought they did, but in truth they did not, rather they only reflected Daron and the motives of an evil and fallen heart that refused to turn back.