DargonZine 10, Issue 5

A Turn of Faith



The sun shone brightly upon me as I walked the streets of Magnus. The warm light filled my body and drove out the chill of spring. I enjoyed the beautiful morning on my way to the guardhouse, and it was as if Cephas Stevene was walking with me, giving me warmth of conviction.

 

I took it upon myself to visit some of the prisoners and try to bring them into the light of the Stevene. The people who came into the Stevenic temple did so of their own free will and needed little to guide them along the path of the Stevene. They wanted to walk in the Stevene’s Light, but prisoners were different. They neither walked in Stevene’s Light nor wanted to. Bringing them to God looked to be a difficult task, and I wanted more than supplicating devout followers.

 

Not knowing where to start, I chose those prisoners who were sentenced to death. I thought that their souls needed comfort the most. It was these prisoners that would also be the most difficult to bring to Stevene’s Light. But in that aspect, I was wrong. Of the three prisoners I met, all seemed willing to embrace the Stevene. It was as if at the end of their life, they realized that they needed God’s loving embrace.

 

While my visits weren’t officially approved by the church (as my duties did not include them), they weren’t disapproved either. As I approached the guardhouse to visit my fourth prisoner, two guards stopped me.

 

“Another visit?” the first guard asked. “This is the fourth one. What is it you seek to find, priest?”

 

“You have a new prisoner?” I asked the second guard, not wanting to answer his inquiry. “Cephas forgive me,” I prayed silently, “for I know that this guard needs your wisdom, too, but I have only time enough for the prisoner today.” My work at the temple demanded most of my time.

 

“We have three new ones,” the second guard answered.

 

“And all three are to be hanged?”

 

“Well, no …”

 

“I am here to help those whose life is near an end,” I said. “The others can call for aid when they have atoned for their crimes. You have a new prisoner, and I wish to speak with him.” As the guard turned to open the door, I hoped that my speech wouldn’t find its way back to my superiors. That all were deserving of salvation was a tenet of Cephas, but I did not have the time to save them all.

 

“This is getting too routine for my liking,” the first guard said. “But, yes, we do have a new prisoner who is to be hanged tomorrow. Come on, and I’ll show you where he is.”

 

“Thank you,” I replied following the guard. We went through the door to the guardhouse and left the shining sun behind us. There were enough windows to keep the room brightly lit, but the sun could not be seen. I still felt the warmth of the sun coursing through me, though, and silently praised Cephas for that warmth.

 

Going through that room, we went into a back room where the light diminished more. Here, there were shadows throughout where the sun’s light could not reach. Crossing this room, the guard unbolted a door. I looked down those dark stairs, and the scent of mold and darkness wafted up from below. A cold chill ran down my spine and my body shook involuntarily.

 

“It looks so dark down there, today,” I thought. “Cephas be with me,” I muttered aloud as I tried to wrap myself in His warmth.

 

“What was that?” the guard asked.

 

“I said it feels so cold in here today,” I replied, ashamed that I had not told him the truth. “Why does the cold seem to bother me so?” I wondered. The chill of the basement seemed colder than before, and then I realized that the sun had warmed my body so much that I felt the cold more. “But why am I ashamed to say that I prayed to the Stevene for more warmth? Is my faith so weak that the cold of a common room can dispel it?” I had no more time for thoughts as the guard descended the stairs.

 

With the sun blocked by stone and only torches to show the way, I walked down into the cellars. The daylight slowly eroded away to be replaced by the damp, cold earth. Torches were set in the walls to light the cellar, but there were not enough of them to see into all the cells. My warmth was holding against the cold, stone walls, but I could feel the dampness attacking me. It chiseled away at my outer fringes and searched for entry into my body and my soul.

 

“He’s in here,” the guard said, pointing to a cell. I stepped closer to look through the bars and into the cell. My eyes weren’t fully accustomed to the dark, yet, but in the far corner away from much of the light, I thought I saw movement.

 

“Move over here where we can see you,” the guard ordered. There was a swirl of movement as a man stepped into the reflected torchlight. He was tall with long dark hair that hung in the front covering much of his face and shoulders. He wore a ragged shirt and torn pants, but no shoes. His head hung down, and he walked forward as if each step pained him. His body was bent over somewhat as if some large weight were pushing down upon his shoulders. From his movements, I guessed that he was an older man.

 

“This is brother Tyree, a priest of Stevene, and he’s here to talk with you,” the guard told him before turning back to me. “Knock on the door at the top of the stairs when you want out,” he said and then left. I did not watch the guard leave, as my attention was on the prisoner.

 

“Do you know who the Stevene was?” I asked as an introduction. When there was no response, I continued, “Cephas Stevene was a man who believed in the inherent goodness of all men. He considered all men as his brothers and loved –” I was interrupted with a snort of derision from the prisoner.

 

“Is something wrong?” I asked. The man’s head was tilted down and his face was still hidden.

 

“What do you know of love?” the prisoner asked in a dry, hoarse voice, head still hung down.

 

“I know that –”

 

“You know nothing, priest!” the prisoner spat as his head came up. “Don’t talk about love!”

 

“What has happened that you do not believe in love?” I asked softly as I saw the prisoner was a young man, not an older adult as he seemed earlier.

 

“It’s not me who doesn’t believe, priest,” he replied. He moved forward to clench the bars. “Not me,” he repeated staring into my eyes.

 

“Forgive me for being presumptuous. I see now that there is someone in your life that you love,” I told him, not looking away from his stare.

 

“Yes, I loved someone once.”

 

“Loved?”

 

“She’s dead. Murdered,” the prisoner sighed and stepped back. Glancing at me, he said, “No, that isn’t why I am here. I would never harm her, but she is part of the reason that I’m here. It’s a sad story, priest. If you will listen, I’ll tell it. If I don’t tell it today, then it will die with me, and no one will know the truth.”

 

“I will listen, just let me get a stool so I may sit.” I turned and grabbed a stool. As I sat on the stool, it wobbled. Not wanting to fall off, I was forced to move the stool until it was firm beneath me. Looking up at the prisoner, I saw that he hadn’t moved. Before I could spur him on, he began speaking.

 

“I’m a farmer’s son. If things were different, I would be a farmer right now. A farmer in a very small village south of here.

 

“I met Tess –”

 

***

 

“Tess?” I interrupted.

 

“The woman I loved. Her name was Te’senth, but I called her Tess. I met her one day while I was hunting in the forest near our village. I got as close to a deer as I could and was just about to shoot it with an arrow. I pulled the bowstring back to my cheek …

 

***

 

The string touched my cheek as I aimed the arrow at the deer. Concentrating on the deer, I didn’t notice, or hear, the figure step beside me.

 

“You’ll miss,” came a soft voice in my ear. I jumped in surprise, let the string go, and watched as the arrow flew up into the air.

 

“What –” I screamed turning to the figure. My words were stuck in my throat as I caught sight of the woman beside me. She was tall, somewhat skinny, and beautiful with long black hair hanging down in waves around her head to below her shoulders. Her eyes were dark and glinted with mischief.

 

“Told you. I’m never wrong, you know,” she said and her voice had a melodic quality about it. She stepped back, smiled, and looked into my eyes. I tried to say something, but couldn’t find any words. When I did, it was one syllable questions.

 

“Who?” I stammered.

 

“Now, if I told you that, what fun would it be?” she said impishly.

 

“Huh?”

 

“A conversation works better when both people are participating fully.”

 

I stared at her, not knowing what to say.

 

“If I go away and come back giving you plenty of warning, do you think you’ll be able to say something intelligent? Or are you always this way?” she asked. I didn’t know who this woman was, but there she was, standing in front of me making fun of me. When I regained some composure, I was mad.

 

“That was my supper you let get away!”

 

“Is food all that you can think of?”

 

“Is … ah …” I stuttered. She was getting the better of me and I hadn’t a clue as to who she was. “No, it isn’t, but strangling unknown women who sneak up on me does cross my mind at times.”

 

“I’m Te’senth. So you can just put that thought out of your mind, now,” she said giggling. The sun shone through the trees and onto her as she laughed. Like I said, she was tall and skinny, but not so that you’d think that she was frail. When she moved, she had smooth graceful movements. I watched her stand there laughing while the sun highlighted her figure. It was then that my anger left, and I stared at her.

 

Thinking about how I must have looked when she spooked me, I couldn’t help but laugh. “I wonder where my arrow went?” I asked.

 

“As high as you jumped, it’s probably in the tree tops,” she replied, and we laughed together.

 

“You looked so concentrated, I couldn’t help myself,” she told me. “I do hope that you won’t go hungry tonight. If so, I will pick some plants for you to eat.”

 

“No, we have enough food, but fresh meat was too tempting today. Where did you come from?”

 

“My village is that way,” she said pointing.

 

“No, I meant when you startled me. Was I that concentrated?”

 

“Yes, that’s why I couldn’t resist. You walked right by me and didn’t even notice me.”

 

“I couldn’t have done that. I would have noticed someone as beautiful as you.”

 

“Do you really think I’m beautiful?” she asked, a smile returning to her face.

 

“Yes,” I told her.

 

“No one has ever told me that I’m beautiful. I don’t even know your name.”

 

“Huh? Oh, my name is Mal,” I said.

 

“I have to go, now,” she said.

 

“What? Why?”

 

“There you go again with those one word sentences. I have to get back to my village. I shouldn’t have stayed away this long. I will meet you here again, if you wish.”

 

“Meet me here? Again?” I asked full of hope.

 

“Yes, if you promise to practice speaking in full sentences,” she replied smiling. “In three days, I will meet you here.”

 

“Three days it is,” I told her.

 

“The morning of the third day,” she said as she ran away from me into the forest. “I’ll give you fair warning, next time,” she yelled as she disappeared from sight. She was quick and nimble as she ran through the forest. It was as if the forest was her home, and she was running from room to room. I should have guessed what village she was from then, but my head was fuzzy from her presence. It wasn’t until later that I learned who she was, and she never stopped amazing me. Never. Each time that we met and every time that we were together, she showed me something new — something that I never knew existed.

 

***

 

“What were the things that she showed you?” I asked curiously.

 

“Ah, priest, the most amazing thing she showed me was her love for *me*. It filled my soul and warmed my being even on the coldest nights. Have you known a love like that, priest?”

 

I was about to answer, but the warmth that had filled my body seemed to have mostly disappeared; replaced with a cold, damp chill that flourished in the cellar. The chill had crept into me as I had sat listening, and I hadn’t noticed it until now. “Why is my warmth not holding fast?” I thought. I wondered if my love for Cephas Stevene and his teachings could be that weak?

 

“And did you meet her again?” I asked wanting to change the subject.

 

“Yes, I did. But before that …

 

***

 

I walked home in a daze. A wonderful daze, but a daze nonetheless. I told my family about her when I got home. It was hard not to when my mother noticed a difference in my attitude. She questioned me until the truth came out.

 

It was a small village; word spread, and the teasing started. It came from my brothers first, then from my friends, and finally from some of the girls that were around my age. We had a small village, but it didn’t lack for children and young adults.

 

The most teasing that I got was from Nell. I didn’t understand at the time why she teased me so. Nell and I had grown up together. Where one of us went, the other followed. I thought we had a great friendship, and I couldn’t understand why she had become so mean to me. Now, as I look back at it, I think she loved me. But I didn’t see that then because I could only think about Tess.

 

I met Tess three days later, and then three days later, and three days later again. I know it was like that, because I always wondered about it. Three days between each visit and three visits — something seemed magical about it, but everything about Tess seemed that way. Each time we met, she showed me something wonderful. The forest holds enormous beauty if you know where to look, and she knew.

 

The first of the three visits happened on a foggy morning. I nearly got myself lost getting to the same place, but I found it. She was there waiting for me, and together we walked through the forest. I don’t know where we went, except that I followed her. When we stopped, it was atop a hill in a what I guessed was a clearing.

 

“It’s too foggy to see anything,” I said impatiently.

 

“Shush and listen,” she told me. I did, but couldn’t hear anything at first. When I did hear something, it began as a distant thump and got louder quickly. The thumping changed to a whoosh as a large bird came through the fog. It was an eagle and it flew right past our heads in a slow, lazy way.

 

The fog had hid it until it was right upon us, and when it finally came into view, it seemed unreal. Almost like it was an ancient monster come to plague us. It seemed huge as it soared past us! And close! I believe I could have reached out and touched it. But I didn’t, and it flew on by into the fog.

 

“There’s two of them, here,” Tess said. “They are mates and their nest is close by. They fly here in the mornings looking for food.”

 

“Amazing,” I said as the eagle made a second pass by us, only a little farther away. The fog was lifting slowly. “Not many people have seen them, have they?”

 

“No, not many. But even fewer have seen what waits for us when the fog lifts.”

 

“What? You have already stolen my heart, are you going to blind me with wonders as well?”

 

“Stolen your heart, have I? I thought I had what was freely given. Do you mean to tell me that I am a lowly thief in the forest?”

 

“No, I … um, what I meant is that I … I love you.”

 

“And I, you,” she replied. “Now, be quiet. The fog is lifting and we must be still.” I stared at her while the fog lifted. I looked at each line on her face, each twist of her hair, each breath she took until she pointed in front of us. I moved my gaze slowly to look in the direction she was pointing. At first, I saw nothing, but when a breeze blew more of the fog away, I saw it. A large stag stood grazing in front of us. It was larger than any stag that I had ever seen. I started to count the pointed tines on its antlers, but kept losing the count.

 

“It is a Great One,” she whispered. The stag lifted its head and looked at us. Not just looked in our direction, but it was as if it was looking us over — judging us. I could see an intelligence in its eyes.

 

“He is beautiful,” I whispered to Tess. The stag snorted as if it heard me.

 

“Yes, he is, but he gets upset when you tell him,” she replied and the stag bounded away.

 

That was but the least of the wonders that she showed me. I will not tell of the other two for they are special to me, and to her. It was after the third morning that she started to visit me in my village.

 

***

 

“You kept meeting her? Even after the three times?” I asked confused.

 

“Yes. Those three mornings were a test, I think. Her way of testing me, or her village’s way. I don’t know. At that point, I would have done anything for her.” Mal said as he grabbed the bars of his cell. “Anything.” His hands squeezed the bars tighter and his eyes widened. The torchlight reflected off of his face and there was a wild glint in his eyes. He relaxed, let go of the bars, and turned around. “She was my life,” he said. “And I miss her.”

 

“When she came to my village to see me, I knew that I wanted to be with her the rest of my life. But when she came to the village …

 

***

 

That was when the trouble really started. Nell hated having her in the village with me. Rumors about Tess made their rounds — ‘Tess is a forest spirit’, ‘She bewitches me’, and ‘She charms everyone into thinking she is harmless’ were a few. I knew that Nell had started them, but there was nothing I could do to stop them. I tried, and the more I tried, the more Nell became spiteful toward me.

 

I pulled her aside one day, and made sure we were alone. I confronted Nell about the rumors, but she denied everything. I asked her why she was doing this, and she stared at me. Had your Stevene been there, priest, things might have turned out different. But he wasn’t, and he didn’t care about our lives. He just didn’t care.

 

Nell started to say something to me, and I saw a tear form in her eye. I didn’t know any better, priest, or I would have known from her look that she loved me. But I didn’t know, and I asked her why again. She clamped her mouth shut and her tear ran down her cheek. She wiped it away with a quick brush of her hand, and then yelled that she hated Tess. That she’d say whatever she wanted to about Tess. I told her to stop, and that if she didn’t, then we would no longer be friends. She turned red in rage and started to say something. Instead, she clamped her mouth shut, turned, and ran away.

 

The rumors never seemed to bother Tess. She came to the village to visit me and that is what she did. She seemed above all the petty lies, and I loved her even more for it.

 

One day while we were walking in the woods, I gathered my courage for a single question. The most important question of my life.

 

“Tess?” I began hesitantly.

 

“Yes, Mal,” she replied and stopped walking. She turned to me and said, “You have a question for me, don’t you? An important one.”

 

“Will you be my wife,” I blurted out, knowing my courage would not last.

 

“Do you love me, Mal?” she asked.

 

“Yes, I love you.”

 

“I love you, too, Mal. And I knew that this day would come. Before I give you my answer, I would like to show you my village, my home, and my family. Will you come?”

 

“I would follow you anywhere,” I promised her. She laughed, grabbed my hand, and we walked deeper into the forest. It became darker as the trees blocked the sun, and we walked even deeper into the forest. I had never been in this part of it before, but the trees were old — very old. She stopped before an ancient oak.

 

“You must promise to never tell anyone what you will see beyond,” she said.

 

“I promise,” I replied. I would promise her anything that she desired.

 

***

 

It was beyond that oak that I fully realized who she was. I should have known before, but my love blinded me to it. I will not break the promise that I made to her, but I will tell you this. She was an Eelail; a Dopkalfar. If she had not been holding my hand, I would have run. It was both beautiful and frightening, the sights beyond that ancient oak.

 

By the Stevene you hold holy, priest! It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. She stood beside me throughout it all. And throughout it all, my love for her grew stronger.

 

The end result of that encounter was that they would tolerate me. Not because I was special, but because they respected Te’senth and her wishes. We would be husband and wife by my laws, but not by theirs. No, there was no changing their minds on that point.

 

Many things went on while I was there, but I did not understand much of it. Tess translated what was needed when it was needed. I spoke only when asked a question, and I think that may have earned me some respect.

 

And Tess — Tess was bright and lively and glowing. I watched her as she spoke. Well, it was more like singing, to me, but she was beautiful. And when we left, I looked at her in a new light. One filled with wonder and awe.

 

***

 

“Are you saying that the legends are true?” I asked incredulously. “There really are Eelail?”

 

“Yes!” Mal said turning around. “The legends are true. Most of them, anyway. They were Dopkalfar, and if they exist, why can’t the Ljosalfar exist also?

 

I didn’t see much of their village or how they lived, but I did see them. They can almost pass as one of us. They are a bit taller, though; a little skinnier with darker hair and dark eyes, too.”

 

“But the legends say that no one has ever seen a Dopkalfar and lived. The Dopkalfar hate humans,” I replied.

 

“If it wasn’t for Tess,” Mal said, “they would have killed me. They *do* exist! Not only that, but my heart belonged to one. I was going to marry her. When I returned home, I didn’t tell my parents about her being an Eelail, but I did tell them …

 

***

 

That I had asked her to marry me and she had said yes. They were not happy at the idea as they had heard the many rumors, too. I tried to explain to them how wonderful she was, but they wouldn’t listen. They gave consent, but mostly because they knew they couldn’t stop it. It was a long night for me as I couldn’t sleep. Sometime late in the night, I managed to drift off. It didn’t do much good, because the town bell suddenly rang out. Jumping out of bed, I ran outside to see the bright flames of fire burning a neighbor’s house. The villagers were moving to put out the fire. There was a line of people extending from the town well to the burning house. Buckets of water were passed quickly from person to person, but it was in vain. The house burned brightly and the fire would not be quenched. It burned through the rest of the night and, by morning, was finally sated.

 

Five people died in the fire — Amil, his wife Gail, and their three children. The last of the flames had just been put out when Tess arrived.

 

“There’s the witch!” Nell shouted as she pointed to Tess. “She is the cause of the fire; showing up to ensure her evil deeds were done!”

 

“Stop!” I yelled. “That is not true.”

 

“I told you,” Nell said to the gathered crowd. “I told you she was evil! Five are dead because you wouldn’t listen. She is a witch and a demon’s daughter!”

 

Tess stood and did not utter a word. I don’t know why, but she remained calm and quiet. I think the villagers took this for a sign of guilt as their mutterings started to support Nell’s lies.

 

“What are you doing?” I screamed. “Tess did not do this!” Their mutterings became louder as Nell continued to spout lies. I tried to tell them; I really did. When they moved to grab Tess, I fought to hold them back. But there were too many of them. I couldn’t believe that the people who I grew up with — people who I knew and trusted at one time people who lived with me — became an angry mob, intent on taking my love’s life. I fought, I clawed, I bit, and I raged; but it was useless.

 

They took her. It was when they put the post in the ground on the ashes of the burned house that I realized what they intended. I pleaded and begged them not to do this. My own father turned his back to me as Tess was tied to the post. She never uttered a word as they tied her there. Even when Nell spit in her face, she merely blinked.

 

I was bound and held in place as they lit a fire around her. She looked at me as the fire was lit. I couldn’t look away and watched as the flames started to engulf her.

 

***

 

“They burned her?” I blurted.

 

“Yes,” Mal sighed. “They took her, tied her, and burned her. I watched as the flames ate her piece by piece. As the wind picked up and stoked the fire,” Mal’s voice began to crack, “As the fire burned away my love both inside and out. But that wasn’t enough — the wind carried the stench of it to me. It lay around me as I watched her burn and heard her screams.

 

“Where was Cephas Stevene then, priest!” Mal screamed as he grabbed the bars and tried to shake them loose. “Where was his God! Where was this love you proclaim! *Where!*” Mal shouted at me.

 

“I … I don’t know,” I said feeling the chill seep deeper into my body. “Cephas,” I prayed silently. “Oh, Cephas, how could you allow this to happen? And why do you not drive this cold from me? Warm my soul! Drive away this cold!”

 

“She never stopped burning and …

 

***

 

That sight was forever scarred into my mind; her screams still echo in my head; the scent still lingers in my nose. After the fire was gone, they untied me and left me there on the ground. I got up, left the village, and didn’t look back. I had no family now, for the people in that village were as strangers to me. Walking in the woods, I knew what I had to do and feared it. I had to tell her family what happened. I knew that they would surely blame me and kill me, but life was not worth much to me now.

 

I searched for bells looking for the place Tess had taken me. As the sun started to set, I finally found it. It was only by the Eelails’ wishes did I find them, and for the second time in my life, I entered their village. For a second time, I vowed never to talk about what was beyond that ancient oak. What I can tell you was the outcome of my visit. One of the Eelail translated for me. They knew that Te’senth was dead, for they had heard her death screams. I did not understand what that meant and did not have the courage to ask. What they didn’t know was how or why, and they turned to me for that. I told them the whole story and spared them nothing. Part of my soul died with Tess and I wanted to die — only I hoped it was a quicker death than Tess’.

 

They didn’t kill me, nor did they torture me. They never hurt me at all, except for the fact that they told me their plans. They intended to attack the village, kill all the people there — men, women, and children — and burn it. Even though I had never intended to see my family again, it was like a cold slap of winter water learning that they were going to be murdered.

 

The Eelail didn’t bind me; they knew there was nothing I could do to stop them. Instead, they took me with them. I don’t know why. Maybe a twisted vision of vengeance in their minds, maybe to punish me in their way, but I could think of maybes all day and I still wouldn’t know. What I knew, and saw, was the attack on my village. I watched as they swiftly and methodically slew everyone there. I saw my family die.

 

After everything was over, I ran away. I wanted to get as far away from there as I could. I hoped that the further I ran, the further the memories would be. I ran to the next town. Distance wasn’t helping, so I found an inn and tried to drown my sorrows in cheap ale.

 

Bells later, and I don’t remember how many, Nell walked into that inn. It was like seeing a demon come to life to punish me for all eternity. I don’t know how she escaped the massacre at our village, priest. I had thought everyone dead. But there she stood, healthy and whole, yelling at me.

 

“You twisted, evil, gutless man!” she yelled. “You killed every one of them! You killed my mother, my father, my sisters, my brothers, and every one else! You’re –”

 

I don’t know what happened then — I lost control and before I realized it, I slit her throat. Blood poured out everywhere. I watched her eyes open wide and then she fell onto the floor. Her blood was all over me and I stood there in shock. I looked down at the bloody knife in my hand and got sick. Vomit and the knife hit the floor.

 

When the guards arrived, I was still standing there in her blood and my vomit. Everyone heard what she said. I was sent here for the King’s justice.

 

***

 

“You didn’t tell anyone about the Eelail, did you?” I asked.

 

“No. I couldn’t. Most people believed I was in league with bandits who raided and burned the village. I was even accused of being a Beinison.”

 

“Yes, I remember hearing something of a search for bandits who raided a village in Arvalia. That was about you, then. Your sentencing would have been less severe had you told them your tale,” I stated.

 

“You think they would have believed me? They wouldn’t, and would have laughed at any mention of Eelail. Tell me, do *you* believe me?”

 

His question went to my very soul and the cold flooded through with it driving away the last of my warmth. Chills ran through my spine and limbs. The stool that I sat on seemed a cold and lifeless thing that was draining my soul away. My warmth had left me. “Cephas!” I pleaded silently. “Guide me! Help me!” Before I could answer, Mal turned away from me.

 

“I promised Tess that I would follow her anywhere,” he said, “and I will. I’ll be hanged soon and follow Tess to where she went. I want to die. There is nothing in this world here for me, now. The woman I loved was murdered, my village turned on me, my family was murdered. And for all that I saw, priest; for all that I watched being destroyed in front of me, you would think that I would have learned something. But I didn’t — I also murdered. Now, I have nothing left.”

 

“I am sorry,” I said as I stood. The cold sapped my strength, and I suddenly wanted out. I wanted to see the light of the sun. I wanted to feel its warmth. “Where are you Cephas?” I screamed silently. “Why have you left me here in this dark, cold room? Why did you bring me here to hear this?” I made for the door with my faith and my questions trembling in my mind.

 

“You didn’t answer.”

 

“Answer what?” I asked turning around.

 

“Do you believe me?”

 

“Stevene help me,” I prayed silently. “I don’t know,” I said honestly, and then hurried up the stairs.

 

***

 

I watched Mal’s hanging. My unwavering devotion to the Stevene was shaken. My solid faith changed to questions and doubts; things I would have to confront if I wanted to turn my faith back around. Why was he not with me when I was in the cellar with Mal. Why do I still feel the cold in my soul from that place? Cephas had wandered the kingdom helping people — all kinds of people. Even after he was murdered, he came back from the dead to help those who doubted him. He was the Stevene.

 

I watched Mal being led to the rope. He didn’t utter a word as it was placed around his neck. As he fell, the rope tightened, and there was a loud crack. A crack that shook within me, also.

 

“Cephas be with him,” I thought trying to shake the coldness within me. “Cephas be with me,” I whispered as I turned to leave.

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