Love Victorious - Part Five
Chapter Fifteen: Pain and Death
Mikhil stopped running when he was out of earshot of Fagan and his fellow soldier.
“Brianna?” He shouted. “Brianna!” Skimming the land, Mikhil searched for Brianna. Then he approached the boulder, and looked around at the other side of it, finding Brianna asleep. He climbed to the top of the boulder and sat there, looking down at Brianna. Ach, she’s grown up so beautifully. I wish I could have been with her then, grown up with her the way Fagan has with Tabitha. I wish I could still love her like I once did, wish she could still love me as she once did. I guess it is partially my fault, but what is done is done, and I cannot change that. He stared at her peaceful face, wondering how she could be so peaceful in at time like this. He tried to imagine her parting words to Fagan, her father… was Brianna always as fearless as she seemed? How could she, a sixteen-year-old maiden, be more fearless than he was? He, he as afraid of death and pain as he was, afraid of being looked down upon, afraid of being ashamed. Brianna? She had no shame. But why? How could she have no shame?
Because she is my child, my beautiful, child. A bright shining light, not caring for power or what others think of her, only what I tell her to do. She is not ashamed of the perfect gifts I have given her.
Brianna woke suddenly, eyes flying open. She looked at the sun. It was beginning to go down. Where was Fagan? How long had she slept? Was the rest of the family safe? She stood, brushing off her dress and stepping out from the boulder.
Mikhil jumped down from his perch and ran in front of her. At first, his hand flew to his sword hilt, but then he stopped and instead took out the whip he always kept next to his sword. Brianna did not even look, up, but turned and ran the other way. Mikhil unwound his whip and it snaked out and wrapped around her ankle as she ran. She fell and at first struggled to get her ankle free, but then stopped as Mikhil drew nearer.
He dropped his helmet beside her on the ground and pulled her to her feet. She turned to look at him as he spoke.
“You’re a hard girl to find.”
Brianna gasped in shock. “Mikhil?”
“Come on, they’re waiting for me.”
“Mikhil, stop it, just let me go.”
“No, I have my orders, and as one of Fàolan’s captains, I fulfill my orders.”
“And you did not have orders on Sunday?”
“I did, I just…”
“Mikhil… what happened to you? You used to be… I used to think some day we would be more than friends.”
“Things changed, Brianna. I learned how to hate; I learned that not all things in the world are bright and beautiful like you are.”
“Mikhil, let me go. Pretend you didn’t find me. You can hide away, too, and things can return to how they once were – you, me, and Fagan.”
“Mikhil, please!” Brianna pleaded.
“Brianna, this hurts me too!” More than you know, Brianna, more than you know…
“Then don’t do it! How can you like what you’ve become?”
“I don’t, Brianna, I don’t, and I never did, but I can’t change things now, it’s too late.”
“Yes you can!” Tears streamed down Brianna’s face, and Mikhil turned away. I don’t want to see her cry! “The Creator takes the brokenhearted and lost lambs just as readily as those who have whole hearts and are found in Him! Mikhil, please!”
“Brianna, Bardan once told me that he had a dream. You were up on a hill. It was dark, and the stars were out. But so was the moon, and in the moonlight he saw you crying. He said I was there, but my back was turned. If only I had known then why the tears were for… I never realized what it meant until now, I never thought… I wish I could change things…”
“Mikhil, you used to be like a brother. Even when you left, there was always some hope in me that you would come back. But not any more, Mikhil. You’ve hardened your heart. I can’t, I just can’t.”
“Turn around,” Mikhil said again. His voice was breaking, and he was straining to keep it level. “Let’s go.” He tied Brianna’s hands behind her back, and then prodded her forward. Brianna moved on blindly, tears clouding her view. Mikhil’s face was masked with insensitiveness, but beneath it, his face was a mix of pain and anger.
Brianna stumbled and fell, finally to weak, tired, and heartsick to get up. Gently, Mikhil picked her up and carried her. The whole time his conscience was struggling over whether or not this was what he should be doing, but duty won out in the end. Fagan saw them coming before Tyrone did. His heart sank, and suddenly his head began reeling with fatigue. The world was spinning around him… and there was Brianna in it all, who he had failed to protect… and they were caught. Caught.. Caught… then he saw who carried Brianna, and he jerked awake.
“NO!” He screamed. “Mikhil, no! No!” His heart and mind were filled with indescribable pain, heartache, and shock.
Adan’s words flashed in his head. I fear he will hurt you and your family even more before things get any better.
Mikhil looked away and ignored Fagan, but Brianna felt a tear fall softly onto her head. Then everything went black.
They reached the castle at dusk. Guards met them at the gate, and took Fagan and Brianna out of Mikhil and Tyrone’s hands. Brianna looked back anxiously at Mikhil. He caught her gaze and the pleading that was deep inside of her eyes. “Please?” She mouthed. He clenched his jaw and looked away. As they walked through the castle grounds, Brianna searched for their house. There it was. The windows were broken and the door was hanging open on its hinges. Where is da?
They trudged on. Adan’s words rang through Fagan’s mind as he saw their house. “Until the cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people… and the Lord removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land…”How Long, oh Lord? Fagan thought, echoing Ahearn’s cries. He felt like tearing away from the soldiers and running to the tree house, then scrambling up the ladder to hide. To hide, and to cry. To beg the Creator to bring redemption and save His people, to hear the cries of His people and come down. Adan, please? How soon is soon? Oh Creator, have mercy!
They were brought before Fàolan, climbing sets of staircases until they reached his throne room. For once he had left his desk and was instead sitting imposingly in his – that is, King Kyle’s – throne. He stood, his black cape falling down as he did, and approached his prisoners. Brianna stepped back toward Fagan as Fàolan came closer. Fagan placed a protective hand on her shoulder, and Brianna drew in a shaky breath.
“I hear tell that the two of you are firm followers of Adan, especially you, Fagan. Is this true?” Fàolan stepped closer, his eyes boring into the two young “criminals” before him.
Brianna nodded weakly, and Fagan met Fàolan’s steady gaze almost defiantly.
“What price would you pay for Him?”
Brianna looked scared, but Fagan still remained silent. All of my life… spent being prepared for this moment, yet somehow I now fail.
Fàolan grabbed Brianna’s arm and pulled her away from Fagan, putting a dagger to her throat and kicking her leg to make her stop struggling.
“NO!” Fagan rushed forward, but was quickly grabbed by guards. He struggled to get free, inching closer to his sister.
“Would you watch your sister die for the Creator?” Fàolan hissed, looking straight at Fagan.
“NO!” Fagan screamed again. “Don’t you dare touch my sister!”
“Ah, so then this young man of bold words is suddenly hit with a decision that he cannot deal with.” Fàolan said, staring at the struggling young man and then glancing back at Brianna. “Then do you deny Adan so that your sister can go free?”
Fagan looked down to the ground, and then glanced around the room. His eyes locked with Brianna’s, and although she was trying to be brave, he could read the fear in her eyes. She shook her head ever so slightly, reading her brother’s thoughts. I cannot just stand here and watch Brianna die! But to deny the Creator? Is that what Adan meant when he said there might be a time when I would have to love the Creator more than my family? Oh Creator, I can’t I just can’t! To watch Brianna die while I can do something I can prevent, to watch my sister, my friend, my companion… to see her in pain because of something I did! “No, no, I can’t!” He cried.
“You can’t have both my boy. Which will it by? Following Adan, or the life of your sister?” Fàolan applied slight pressure on the knife, and Brianna drew in a sharp breath.
Another moment of silence ensued. “Let my sister go,” Fagan said at least. Then he turned away as he watched Brianna’s face turn into a look of shock and surprise. Fàolan released Brianna, and she fell to the ground. “Take them away,” Fàolan said. “Lock them up in separate cells. I will deal with them more later.”
Two guards lifted Brianna from the ground, then dragged her out of the room. She looked back toward Fagan, and a single tear rolled down her cheek. Fagan hung his head.
In his cell, Fagan lay on the floor unmoving after being shoved roughly into it. His hand began to open and close, the skin on his wrist moving slightly under the cold metal chains. He began to think about what had happened.
I made it so Brianna could live, didn’t I? His mind wondered. Though that doesn’t seem quite right. Fàolan won’t keep his promise, and both Brianna and I will die, and I have not protected her from darkness like I promised da!
Bit if Brianna won’t live because of what I did, what was the effect of what I did?
“You denied me,” Fagan heard the voice as clearly as if Adan were sitting beside him. “You valued your family more than me.”
Using a ring in the wall, Fagan pulled himself to his feet, beating his hand against the wall.
No! He screamed, his mind filling with thoughts and whirling about him. He sank down on his knees in exhaustion and desperation. Oh God… oh God, oh God, Oh God… what do I do? I’m so sorry… there’s nothing I can do to overturn what I did… Oh God… Fagan grew a clump of dirt from the floor of the cell and threw it against the wall. It’s hopeless. I’ll die a sinner and never see your face, and I’ll never live with you on the new earth. Oh God, what do I do? I’ve heart you, I’ve heart Brianna… if Adan and my family heard, I’d hurt them too. I’m a hopeless sinner, Creator!
“I take hopeless sinners.”
You take them to everlasting fire.
“I take them under my wing if they will only accept my help.”
I’ve sinned too far, God, fallen too far, there’s no way you can save me now.
Fagan lay still once more, consumed with his thoughts of hopelessness and despair, yet something inside of him seemed to be waiting. Then something in the corner of his cell moved. “Who- who’s there?” He asked.
“It’s me, Connor. Is that you, Fagan?”
Fagan’s face turned red. “Aye, ‘tis me.”
“Oh what a blessing from the Creator!”
Fagan turned away.
“I have been all alone in this cell, and the walls are too thick to talk through. Sometimes we can hear through the doors, but not often. I have been so lonely!”
“I … I’m afraid I won’t be much of a comfort right now, Connor.”
“Maybe I can comfort you, Fagan.”
“I don’t know where my da is when I need him… or Adan, or Brianna,” Fagan said. “I’m a hopeless sinner, I’ve betrayed the Creator and my family… oh, I hate myself right now, Connor!”
Connor scooted closer to Fagan and put a chained hand on his friend’s knee.
“Da told me to protect Brianna, and I tried, but I got confused on what was protecting her and what was protecting my faith and what might have killed her… I’ve denied the Creator, Connor, denied him!”
“What do you mean?”
“Fàolan was there, holding a knife to Brianna’s throat and asked if I wanted my sister’s life or the Creator. I was so scared, so terrified, I told him to let Brianna go… I shouldn’t have, now we’re both going to die anyway, at least I am, because he wants me dead because of what I’ve been saying in the market place. I’m scared to die now, because I don’t know what’s going to happen to me when I die.”
“Have you asked the Creator to forgive you?”
“I fear it is too hopeless for that!”
“Don’t fall into Daron’s traps, Fagan!” Connor cautioned. “Don’t ever do that! The Creator took our fathers, he took Nathan back. Fagan, He will most assuredly take you back. Take heart!”
Fagan nodded. “Thank you, Connor.” Fagan bowed his head and began praying, and Connor’s hand slipped off his knee. Footsteps echoed through corridor between the cells, and Connor got to his feet and moved toward the bars of the cell door. Fagan looked up.
“What is it?”
“Yesterday Mikhil came down here. I think he was seeing who all was here, but I’m not sure. We talked.”
“I haven’t really talked to him except trying to get him to come to his senses. I think Brianna talked to him, yesterday. He and another soldier chased us up on the mountains, and Mikhil chased after Brianna when she escaped. They were gone a long time, so Brianna must have talked to him. All I did was tell him to get his hands off of her.”
Connor nodded sadly. “He has hurt us all.”
“Aye. Long ago, I talked to Adan about it, and he said that Mikhil would come back, but not in the ways that we hoped he would, and that he would hurt us all much more before he returned. I hope that he will not hurt us any more.”
“I don’t see how he could. It would be a grievous and deep hurt indeed…” Connor stopped as people passed their cell, going to the dungeon – a term here meaning ‘a dark room, cold, and damp, with no place for light to get through, and a heavy, wood door with no windows.’ Two guards carried a soldier between them.
Fagan stood and ran next to Connor. Suddenly Connor turned away from the cell door. “It’s Mikhil,” he whispered.
“The one being taken away, going down. Rumors are that Kyle is down there. It’s only for the worst prisoners. They come up here before execution only.”
“So that’s why I’m up here and not down there, I guess.”
“But what would Mikhil have done?”
“Maybe Fàolan decided he was done with Mikhil, had used him for everything.”
“That’s awful… so awful.”
“Aye, it is. Some things we will never understand.”
“The Creator have mercy on our land.”
Connor was silent. “But maybe now Mikhil is seeing the consequences. I hope that maybe…”
Fagan shook his head. “I don’t think so, Connor. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I don’t think he’s ever coming home.” And he was the one who captured Brianna and me.
The door to the dungeon slammed shut. Inside, Mikhil pounded the door.
“What have I done?” he shouted.
As the guard turned the key to lock the door, he laughed. “Fàolan’s done with ye, lad, and when he’s done with ye, he’s done with ye for good.”
“But I did all that he asked, and he said…”
The guard put his keys back on his belt and walked away.
Connor’s shoulders shook and he dropped to his knees, sobbing. Fagan knelt next to him and put an arm around his friend’s shoulders, and they cried together, remembering their friend and brother.
Brianna spent the night in a cold, damp cell like Fagan’s. Everywhere there was pain -her feet hurt from running, and her heart hurt from Fagan.
At the thought of him, her heart skipped a beat. How could he have denied Adan? And Fàolan would most likely not keep his promise. Eventually he would kill them both, and Fagan would die without being reconciled to the Creator. The words of the Creator’s Law came to Brianna’s mind – “If we deny Him, He will deny us.”
Tears began to fall from Brianna’s eyes, tears of grief for the falling away of her brother. Sobs racked her body, and her breathing became unsteady. Oh Adan… I wish you were here with me now. I’m so alone down here, so cold, so tired… I’m afraid.
“Have no fear, I am always with you… you have no need to fear what men can do to you, my child.”
As if someone were right there holding her, Brianna felt warmth and love surround her. She felt joy, yet she was still afraid for Fagan. Then she realized that there was someone right there holding her.
But what of Fagan, God?
“He is in my power. My will is at work in him and you have no need to fear.”
“Brianna, Batyah…” A quiet voice beside her said.
“Elonya?” Brianna asked. A squirrel scuttled down onto Brianna’s lap. “Hello, Elonya.”
“Hello, Brianna. I wish I could say ‘welcome’ to you like I would in my home and help you settle in.”
Brianna tried to smile at Elonya’s kind words. “Thank you. I don’t think Fagan and I will be here long.”
“Ah, so Fagan is here, too.”
“Aye.” Brianna sniffled.
“Why do you cry?”
“I fear for Fagan, Elonya. He was trying to protect me, but in doing so denied the Creator. It hurts inside, Elonya. There’s so much building up – First Mikhil and now Fagan… and now maybe Da is dead, killed by Fàolan’s men, and our family is split up traveling to Dlani… it’s just so overwhelming.”
“You are strong, Brianna, and the Creator’s love is still stronger. Have no fear for Fagan. He has not left the shadow of the Creator’s wings.”
Brianna leaned her head against Elonya’s shoulder and rested there, her eyes closed and her heart finally at rest and comforted. “Thank you, Elonya.” Finally, she slept, and it was peaceful sleep, the first she had had in months.
Brianna did not hear the quiet footfalls outside her cell, and jumped when someone spoke.
“Are you afraid, little one?”
Brianna looked up. It was Fàolan. Behind him stood Fagan, hands bound behind his back. She shook her head, and Fagan saw the stains of tears running down her cheeks. He lowered his eyes, knowing why she had been crying. He knew that inside she was afraid, yet he felt that she was more serene than he was.
A soldier stepped out from behind Fàolan and unlocked the cell door, entering and pulling Brianna to her feet, then tying her hands and shoving her out of the cell. Brianna looked back at Elonya, who nodded to Brianna. “The Creator go with you and give you peace and a heart of courage,” Elonya whispered.
Brianna cast a questioning glance at Fagan, who shrugged.
What’s going on? She thought. Then she looked at Fàolan. He’s afraid. He knows something that we don’t, and it makes him afraid. I wonder what it is. Guards tied Brianna’s hands, and they moved on.
They went up, up, up many flights of stairs until they finally stumbled out into the sunlight of midmorning. Brianna recognized where they were as the castle courtyard, and she shuddered when she saw what was waiting. Two wooden X’s had been placed in the center of the courtyard, and Brianna knew these to be what they used to kill criminals sometimes – painful devices that slowed death down to sometimes a day or more, and always lasted more than a few hours. Fagan had noticed, too, for his pace had slowed. As they reached the crosses, Fàolan halted and commanded their hands unbound. Two more soldiers took hold of Brianna’s arms and dragged her over to the cross, beginning to prepare her for execution.
But then something strange happened.
The castle drawbridge opened, and in came two figures: one Brianna instantly recognized as Nigel, her father. The other was cloaked and hooded, and from the shadow the hood cast, Brianna could not tell who it was. Nigel approached Fàolan.
“I beg you, sir, let my children go. This is no way to wage war, executing children.”
“You have something you can do about it?” Fàolan asked.
“Yes, but let my daughter go first.”
Fàolan nodded, and the soldiers let Brianna go. She ran to Nigel, clinging to her father’s side. “Oh, daddy, I’m so glad you’re alive…” She kissed his cheek. “I love you, da.”
“Now, what is the price you will pay for her freedom?”
Nigel unbuckled his sword belt, letting it fall to the ground. “Take me instead.”
Brianna held more tightly to Nigel. “Daddy, no!” She whispered.
He looked down at his daughter, taking her hand. “Someone must die, Brianna. I would not let it be you, my daughter. What I have to do, I will do.” Tears forming in her eyes, Brianna could only nod dumbly.
Then she spoke. “But what about Fagan?”
“He will be seen to,” Nigel replied.
Soldiers tore Brianna from her father, and she fell to ground in tears and lay still there. Nigel was nailed to the cross, then they began to lead Fagan toward the second cross when suddenly the stranger stepped up, letting his hood fall away.
“What are you going to do with him?” He asked. Fagan turned at the sound of the voice and drew back, almost afraid. It was Adan.
“The same as I did to his father.”
“No, you won’t. You know the words that are written, Fàolan.”
“Yes, and they are only a prophecy. Not all prophecies come true!”
“They do when my Father reigns! And I have not come to fulfill a prophecy, but a promise my Father gave long ago!” Adan replied. “The blood of a traitor is on me. I will take his place.”
“No!” Fagan shouted. “Adan, no! You don’t know what I’ve done!”
Adan only nodded.
Barely noticeable except to Adan, Fàolan sighed, but agreed. “Let the boy go with his sister.” Then glee crossed his face. Killing their leader? That would surely be a way to silence them forever!
Fagan hesitated when they let him go, and as Adan approached the cross, Fagan looked back at him, and then bent down to pick up the still form of Brianna. Tears overwhelmed him as he left the castle. Just outside the drawbridge, it became too much for him, and Fagan stumbled and fell down onto his knees, leaning over Brianna. His heart was filled with so much emotion, so much he couldn’t explain. Adan had died for him, a traitor. Someone who had turned away from the teachings he had followed so closely for a little over a year, then turned his back on it all in an instant. And not just for him, but Adan died in his place – the two were completely different in Fagan’s mind, and the second and true fact of Adan dying in his place meant so much more. He was free. He rocked Brianna back and forth as he sobbed, crying for his freedom, for Adan, for his father, for the sacrifice of love they had both made… but Adan especially… to die for a traitor? To die for someone so full of rotten sin that he had spent the night wallowing in agony?
Why? Why oh why? Oh, Adan… why did you do that? Why did you take my place? I am so unworthy…
Suddenly it was clear in his head. He loves me that much? Fagan questioned. He died for me because he loved me? I know that’s why dad died for Brianna… but that’s different, he’s our dad, and he’s raised us, but Adan, last year he was basically a stranger, and now he’s dying for a traitor?
“Not a traitor. Someone reconciled through the blood Adan paid to free you… he freed you from sin, not just Fàolan.”
Even though I’m so dirty inside? Even though I’m a worthless lump of human flesh?
“Because you’re so dirty… Adan’s blood has washed you clean.”
Oh, it almost cannot be… I cannot believe it, yet… I know it in my heart to be true; I know it in my heart that I am free… that I am truly FREE!
Thunder boomed over head, and Fagan stood, happy for rain and joyful even though Adan had died… because oh! He understood the price, he understood the reason… Adan had gone willingly like a perfect lamb going to the slaughter. Yet his death had brought so much more than that of a lamb would.
Fagan began walking, still carrying Brianna. She seemed to have fainted when Nigel had been led to the cross, yet now it seemed like she was stirring, if even just slightly. There was peace written all over her face, though, and Fagan knew that the Creator had blessed her with great peace as well.
Chapter Sixteen: Dlani
Enid, Aina, Grady, and Ness reached Dlani at dusk on the second day of their travels.
“Mama, my feet hurt,” Ness complained, stretching her feet as they passed through the gates.
“We will find a place to stay soon, Ness, and then you can rest your feet.”
“Will we have to go farther after this, mama?” Grady asked.
“I hope not, oh, I hope not. We will at least be able to stay here for a few days, until the rest of the family gets here.” Oh Creator, protect my children! Protect Nigel! “Grady, take Ness’s hand,” Enid said as they entered the city.
Brianna and Fagan journeyed on through the night. When he had become too tired to carry Brianna any further, Fagan stopped and they hid in the woods until Brianna woke. They began to move on as the sun was setting. Fagan’s heart was heavy, burdened and breaking. He wondered if since Adan was their miracle, he could do miracles, if he could bring Nigel back to life. But Adan was dying – dead – too. And Brianna? What did she remember? Would it lie this heavily on her heart if she remembered what had happened? Should he remind her?
Brianna shivered in the cold night air, and then looked around. “Where’s da?” She asked suddenly.
“You don’t remember?”
“No… I don’t. All I remember was sunlight, and I saw da, and then I don’t remember anything. Where’d he go?”
Oh, Brianna, it hurts to tell you this.
Brianna sensed his hesitation. “What happened?” She demanded.
“Da… da… Brianna, da died in your place.”
Brianna shook her head. “No, Fagan, no, no…” She looked up at Fagan. “But how did you…?”
“Adan came behind da… he paid for my ransom, Brianna. That’s the only reason I’m here with you now. He did it to set me, someone who betrayed him, free.”
“He forgives, just like his Father, Fagan.”
“And oh, how I thank him every day for His grace!”
“What are we going to tell mama?” Brianna asked.
“First we’ll have to get to Dlani. We can think of what we’ll tell her on the way there,” Fagan replied grimly. “It will break her heart.”
They walked on in silence, the darkness encircling them. The silence seemed to speak volumes though, volumes of sorrow. It seemed to Fagan and Brianna that there was death all around them. Eliana, Adan, Nigel… people running and hiding… Fagan thought also of Mikhil - would he sit in the dungeon, forgotten, forever? Would he die there, alone and despairing?
Will this terror ever end? How can Fàolan be defeated when the only one able to defeat him has been defeated?
Patience, my Child, patience. Wait upon Me.
Wait upon you? How much longer will we have to wait? Haven’t we waited long enough?
Three days passed slowly by. Ness spent all of her time staring out of the window of the house they were staying at. Enid anxiously busied herself around the house, and Tabitha often came over to help Enid. As she worked, Enid glanced out onto the busy street whenever she got the chance.
“When will they come?” She asked aloud.
“Soon,” Tabitha said, taking Aina into her arms and rocking her back and forth.
“What if they were taken prisoner?”
“We have a Creator who protects His children. We don’t need to worry.”
“Mama, mama…” Ness shouted suddenly.
“Ness, don’t shout, dear.”
“But mama!” Ness persisted.
“What is it, Ness?”
Someone knocked at the door.
“That, Mama!” Almost bouncing, Ness ran behind her mother as Enid rushed toward the door, and Grady and Ness ran behind her and clung to her skirts, anxiously waiting for their mother to open the front door. Tabitha moved to the window and looked out, trying to see who was at the door. A gasp escaped her lips as the door opened. First came a curly black head, followed by a red one, and three smaller ones around them.
“Mama!” Fagan said, a grin spreading across his face as he ran into his mother’s arms. Brianna, Ahearn, Brenna, Nell, and Keelin followed, and smiles and laughter filled the room.
“Oh, Fagan! How did you get here?”
“Mama, I love you!”
“I’m so glad you’re all safe.”
“Are we all together now?” Keelin started counting people as he looked around the room. “There’s mama, and Aina, and…”
“I love being a part of this family!” Nell shouted, squeezed in the middle of everyone.
“Are we safe here?” Brenna wanted to know.
“How long ago did you get here?” Ahearn asked.
Brianna sighed happily. “I missed you so much, Mama!”
“I missed you too, all of you!” Enid replied, hugging everyone.
Tabitha stood to the side, holding Aina and smiling. Thank you, Creator. Thank you for families… thank you for love… thank you for bringing this family all back together safely. … and thank you for Fagan.
Fagan turned and saw Tabitha, and he stopped and smiled at her. She smiled in return and then looked back at the joyful reunion. Thank you, Creator, for bringing them together. Thank you.
That night, Tabitha, Brianna, and Fagan sat out on the front porch of the house. Fagan looked up at the stars, and remembered the night with Adan – the last time he had really looked at the stars.
“I wonder… I wonder where Da and Adan are.” He said. Brianna looked down quietly.
“Let’s not talk about that now, Fagan.” She looked pleadingly at her brother. “Please?”
“It needs to be talked about, Brianna. And we need to tell mama sometime.”
Tabitha looked at Fagan and raised her eyebrows in silent question.
Fagan took a deep breath. “It does need to be talked about,” he repeated. “Fàolan was going to execute Brianna and me. But just as he was about to… da and Adan came into the courtyard. And Da told Fàolan to let Brianna go. He did, but wanted something in return.” Fagan looked away, leaving Tabitha’s eyes wide and staring at him. “And then Adan came up. And said he wanted to take my place.” Fagan blinked back tears as he spoke, and his voice shook. But he bit his lip and went on. “Fàolan was so excited, like a little boy with a new toy.”
“He was killing who he thought to be his nemesis.”
“Aye. But how do we tell mama… about Da, I mean.”
“Fagan, Adan knew what he was doing. Fàolan won’t get the final victory. Daron and his servants never prevail because the Creator is so much stronger!” Tabitha said. “I can’t tell you what will happen, but whatever Adan did was the Creator’s will, and we don’t have to worry. I can’t say there will be a miracle and your da and Adan will come alive and suddenly Adan will save the whole world…”
“Adan said many times that he wouldn’t save us from Daron, only Fàolan. But the battle that would be fought wouldn’t just take care of Fàolan. Somehow it would condemn Daron for now – the battle would be won, but things would still continue like this for some time.” Brianna interrupted excitedly.
“How can he conquer Fàolan if he’s dead?” Fagan asked. He glanced up at the stars again, as if he would find an answer there.
“I don’t know, Fagan, I don’t know. I just know that Adan’s going to win.” Tabitha said determinedly.
“How do we tell mama?” Fagan repeated, now looking at Brianna.
Tabitha shook her head. “She won’t take it well at all. You should have seen her before you, Ahearn, Nell, and Keelin got here. Every day, it was constantly looking out the window. She didn’t say your names, but always said ‘the rest of the family,’ as if it hurt too much to use your names. ‘When will they get here?’ I heard her murmur a lot, and then she’d halfheartedly do her work. It hurt so much to see her hurting like that.”
“I don’t want to have to tell her, but I don’t want her to hear it from some stranger.”
“Either you or me will have to tell her sometime.” Brianna said, somewhat glumly.
“Not yet, though. We just got back. Not yet.”
“I need to go,” Tabitha said, standing up. “Ma and da will be wondering where I am. I’ll be praying for you.” Fagan and Brianna stood, too, and Brianna gave Tabitha a hug.
“Thank you, Tabitha.”
“Goodbye, Fagan, goodbye, Brianna!”
“Bye, Tabitha!” Fagan and Brianna replied together, waving as Tabitha started walking home. “Wait, Tabitha!” Fagan shouted and ran down to her. “It’s not safe out here at night. Let me walk you home.”
“Thank you, Fagan.” Tabitha said. Both were silent as they started walking.
“Are you happy here?” Fagan asked.
Tabitha looked down sadly. “I miss Poná. I miss our farm, and all of the open spaces. Dlani… even though it’s so small, it’s so enclosed and tightly packed. It’s grown in the past few weeks, with so many of the Creator’s followers flowing in. It’s bursting at the seams.”
“Maybe some day we’ll go back to Poná.”
Tabitha smiled. “Maybe. Or maybe we’ll go somewhere else. I’ve always wanted to go to Ladylan.”
Fagan glanced sideways at Tabitha. “Then we’ll go to Ladylan, someday.”
“Here,” Tabitha said. “We’re staying at this house. Thank you, Fagan.”
“My pleasure, Tabitha. Do you mind if I come in with you? I want to talk to your father briefly.”
“No, please, do.”
Fagan followed Tabitha inside. Iwan welcomed Fagan in.
“You’re here! Your mother was very worried about you.”
“I know,” Fagan said.
“Is your father back?”
“No.” Fagan stumbled over his words. “Da… he…”
“Fàolan took him?”
“Does Enid know?”
“No, that’s why I wanted to talk to you. I don’t know how to tell her, and I don’t want to, but I know I should.”
Fagan explained the events of the days in Poná after Iwan and his family had left.
Iwan wiped his hand across his forehead. “Oh, such devastation in these days! And Adan gone, too.”
“Your daughter is full of hope, Iwan. She knows that Adan was doing his Father’s will, and that Daron will never prevail.”
“Aye, but death. Adan would have to overturn death to win this battle.”
“Do you not think that’s possible?”
“Anything is possible with the Creator, Fagan, if it’s His will.”
“Would that mean that no one would ever die? Would all of the dead come alive?”
“I wish I had the answers… but I don’t.”
Fagan was quiet.
“Fagan, whether your father is alive or dead, whether the Creator does a miracle and raises him from the dead or not, know that I can be like a father to you and your siblings. I cannot replace Nigel. I could never even attempt to. But I can love and guide you, Brianna, Ahearn, Brenna, Nell, Ness, Grady, Keelin, and Aina.”
“Thank you, Iwan.”
“And break it gently to your mother.”
Fagan left Iwan’s house, arms crossed on his chest and deep in thought. The wind played with his curls, and the dark streets seemed peaceful late in the evening. He could see the lights of the docks in the distance, and on his way home walked along the water line.
Oh, Creator, have mercy on your Children. We are crying, weeping, mourning. We want to go home. We want to see Your glory… lead us home; lead us to your presence… Oh, Adan, why did you do what you did? How has it stopped Daron? How has it stopped Fàolan? We need you here! We need your wisdom, your guidance! And da? I miss you, da. I don’t want to tell mama what happened. It would hurt her. It hurts me to think about it! I love you, mama.
Brianna stood up from the stairs to the porch when she saw Fagan approaching. She ran to him, and he put his arm around her shoulders and they walked back to the house together in silence.
Before they walked into the house, Fagan stopped with a hand on the doorknob. “Brianna, I’m trusting the Creator. We don’t need to worry.”
“Whatever might happen, He’s got us under His wing. And He has da under His wing to, whether he’s dead or alive. And Mikhil.”
Brianna tried to smile at Fagan, but it was too hard. Instead, tears rolled down her cheeks. “I still can’t help but worry, Fagan! Especially for Da and for Mikhil!”
“Keep your mind on the Creator, Brianna. ‘For Thou will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed Thee.’” Fagan pushed open the door and held it open as Brianna walked in. Enid had fallen asleep on the couch, and Brenna was sleeping in the chair next to Enid. Fagan picked Brenna up and carried her to the bedrooms, and Brianna gently put a blanket over Enid.
“Goodnight, mama.” She whispered, and then sat down by the window, watching the stars twinkle and the moonlight glint off the snowy streets and rooftops. As she looked at the moon, she thought of the sun behind it, and the new day its dawning would bring. What will tomorrow bring?
Sunlight streamed in through the window. Enid blinked her eyes sleepily, letting the light seep in through her eyelids. Something felt different. Opening her eyes all the way, Enid stared up at the ceiling. Nothing looked as if it had changed. But there was something different. Not outside, but inside. It was peaceful. In the early morning light, the people of Dlani quietly went about their business – opening booths for the market, getting water from the well, greeting each other as they passed their neighbors on the paths. Sailors down at the docks carried barrels and trunks to ships, preparing to embark on voyages to far-off places like Stargonia and Aquis. Fishermen set out to sea after rising early to prepare their nets. Waves crashed against the sandy beach and the rocks that guarded the town from storms. Shouting and laughing rang in the streets and houses. Children working alongside of their parents sang and danced as they did their chores. Seagulls cawed in the background, and horses neighed as they pulled their carts through the streets. “Make way, make way,” the cart drivers shouted. Nothing is different! Enid thought again. But what changed? She pushed the blanket off her and sat up on the couch. Nigel is still gone. The children are all here now, but what of Nigel? Where is he, where is my love? Enid pictured him in her head, his smile capturing her affection as it had on the day they met, the day he asked her to marry him, the day they were married. Her mind took her through millions of beautiful memories she had shared with Nigel. In my heart, there’s an ache for him. Enid looked out of the window again. But I don’t fear for him any more. He’s in the Creator’s hands. Footsteps sounded on the wooden floor, and then she heard the soft patter of stocking feet across the ground. The cushion of the couch next to her sank in as Fagan sat down and put his arm around her.
“I love you, mama,” he said.
Enid let her head fall onto her son’s shoulder. “I love you more, Fagan.”
Fagan smiled at the way they used to argue over who loved whom more. The whole family could go on for hours. “No, mama, I love you morest.”
Now Enid smiled. Her eyes twinkled. “No, the Creator loves me morest.”
They were quiet, each pondering different memories.
“Mama,” Fagan said suddenly, his voice cracking painfully.
Enid peered deep down into her son’s eyes. “Yes?”
“Mama… da… he… oh, mama, it was awful and yet so beautiful at the same time.”
“What do you mean, Fagan?”
“Da rescued Brianna. Fàolan was about to kill her, but Da came and took her place. And then Adan came… he died instead of me. That’s the only reason we’re here today.”
“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”
“I didn’t want to break your heart.”
“Thank you, Fagan. It seems so strange that the ones whose hearts I used to protect are now protecting me… thank you.”
“I love you, mama.”
“I know, Fagan. I know.” Enid whispered. She sighed. “Your father loved you all very much. However, he would not want us to mourn. He died for love, for the love of his children. There is no greater way to show one’s love, Fagan, but to lay down your life for the ones you love. Your father did that for his daughter, and one day you will have to be prepared to lay down your life for your wife.”
“Do you think I should wait longer to talk to Iwan about Tabitha again?”
“This morning I woke up with peace, with the wisdom that whatever happens the Creator is completely in control and we are under His wing. I know that this is a tumultuous time. But we have peace in the Creator. Would you and Tabitha be able to settle down here?”
“I don’t know. Tabitha wants to go to Ladylan, at least sometime. I think getting away from Cathonys would be good, but I don’t know if I’m ready to leave yet. There is so much work to do here, and so many loose ends, questions that still need answers. The Creator hasn’t finished with Cathonys yet, mama. The people here still need to hear about Him. Things will change, but they haven’t changed yet.” He looked out of the window, at the people of Dlani, so many of who were lost in Daron’s traps. “I don’t know if I’m to leave yet.”
“Give it a few more days, Fagan. Think about it and pray about it. I’ll be praying for you, too.”
“Thank you, mama.”
Enid glanced outside at the sun. “It’s time to get your siblings up.”
A hollow, hard cough sounded in the dungeon, followed by the rattling of chains and a weak groan.
“Oh, it’s so cold…” someone moaned. “So cold down here. I want to be warm…” Listlessly, he rolled over. Feverish chills racked his body, and then he lay still, too weary to move. I’m going to die down here, aren’t I? I’ll die cold, alone, and forgotten. Is this what my life has led to? This is not what I could have been! Oh, Fagan, Fagan… mama, papa, Eliana, Brianna… forgive me for not listening! Now it’s too late, too late to turn back.
Mikhil heard voices and he paused in his thoughts to listen.
“Aye, they’re dead. I checked on them this morning. Fàolan said we’re to bury them now, after we check on the prisoners.”
No… Brianna and Fagan… no…I can’t believe Fàolan actually executed them!
“Are we supposed to look in on the solitary cell down there, too?”
“Only to see if the prisoner is dead.”
Mikhil gathered all of his strength and moved against the wooden door of his cell, thumping it. “I need warmth…” he said, his voice trailing off into nothingness.
“Well too bad, you’re not getting any,” one of the men said angrily, then turned back to his companion. “Fàolan seems to have been in high spirits though. Thinks he got the leader of the followers of the Creator.”
“Kill the head, kill the body,” the other man muttered.
“Aye. I think his is a little annoyed that he wasn’t able to make an example of the boy, though.”
They’re still alive! But then who died? “I’m still here!” He shouted.
Mikhil only heard a few more words of their conversation, though, for they continued down the hallway of cells, and he was alone once more.
Alone to die.
“They won’t come for you,” a weak voice in the corner said. Mikhil jumped. He had no idea that some one else was in the dungeon with him.
“Hello?” He whispered.
“You can try as long as you want, they won’t come for you,” The man repeated.
“Who are you?”
“I’m the king.”
“The king is dead.”
“Nay, he is not. Fàolan only tells his men that when they question his authority. Though most who do so never live to see another sunrise.” The King coughed. “I’ve been down here for years now; I don’t even know how long it’s been.”
“It was 106 that life got really hard, and everything seemed contrary to the Creator’s law.” Mikhil gasped for air. He was getting so weak…
“What year is it now?
“So it’s been twenty long years, then… what a liar that Fàolan is. I wish now that I know… ach; I’d give him a piece of my mind. The Creator has been at work in my heart long and hard since I was thrown down here. I now see the folly that the good man Nigel warned me of.”
“Maybe you’ll live to see the day…” Mikhil coughed again, this time so hard that he fell to the ground dizzily and hit his head. Darkness enveloped him, and as he lost consciousness, Mikhil felt life slip through his fingers. When the Creator triumphs, and love reigns once more. He thought, finishing the sentence in his head. It’s too late for me… Too late…