Thursday, May 05, 2016

A Flame in the Night, Chapter 35

Copyright Matthew Burden, 2001
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Dawn was only just beginning to show signs of lightening on the horizon when Hannah arose.  The air had grown much colder, and her breath formed puffs of steam as she rose and smoothed down her ruffled hair.   Since she heard no sound of motion from the adjoining chamber, she stretched and sat down next to the window to wait for her friends to rise.
As she watched the sun climb the eastern edge of the world with wondrous fascination, her thoughts turned once again to that Mighty Maker of All, the One who had painted that very sunrise for her.  
“My father believed…” she whispered into the cool air, her eyes dancing over the display of fiery orange and gold.  How many times had she watched as her father had knelt and prayed in simple faith?  He had been a man who had loved the Torah, and who sought to live by it no matter what others did to him.
And in that instant, she knew what she had to do.  The flame of his life had been snuffed out by the hands of evil men, but his devotion to his God could never be allowed to die.  No matter what the cost, she knew she had to keep that fire alive in her soul.  And as she knelt beside that little window, her heart swelled with a flood of joy that overcame her.  Despite all that she had come through, despite all of the tribulations she had faced, she could feel that there was still something wondrous awaiting her.  It was a feeling beyond words, the touch of a celestial refrain being played within her heart.
Her life was coming to a climax, and she could sense its approach.  The thought of it made her tremble with the thrill and the terror of the moment.  It was something new, something different—and it would cost her everything she had held dear.
~ ~ ~
Justin arose early as well, his eyes burning with an inner fire.  It was the day of reckoning he had been waiting for, and now that it was upon him, he had made a vow to face it with all the courage he could muster.  The other three men still slumbered on their straw mattresses, snoring gently in the chill room.
He buckled his sword around his waist, its familiar weight comforting him, adding to his sense of strength.  But as he drew his shoulders square, he could hear the gentle whisper of his anam cara: The weapons of man are nothing, Justin.  Keep strong with the armor that will never fail.  
 The thought came just as a slap in the face might, and it humbled him greatly, bringing him to his knees.  Prayer, he knew, would he avail him better than a sword that day.
~ ~ ~
Hannah was the only member of the group in high spirits that day; the others were caught up in a mood of somber reflection.  The sky remained overcast, as if carrying a foreboding of evil.  As they walked, Edward could not help but wonder at the change that had come over Hannah, and he moved close beside her.
“Today is the day,” she said with evident relief, “today I will see my uncle again.”
Edward could not help but smile.  “It is wonderful.  The Lord works in mighty ways if we allow Him to use us.”
She turned, casting a curious smile in his direction.  “Yes, He does, doesn’t He?”  She laughed, the sound of music to her companions.  Then her gaze grew serious. “I must speak to you Edward....This past year has been a terrible one for me, for several reasons.  Ever since the death of my mother, I've felt as if I was living as a stranger, hated, in a foreign world.  You cannot imagine how lonely that can be.
“But it was not all so very bad,” she said, a glimmer of hope returning to her voice.  “These times have brought with them blessings that have strengthened me more than I will ever know.  From the pain of my mother’s death, I have Samuel.  And from my father’s death, I have you.”
Edward blushed, not knowing what to say.
“Edward,” she spoke softly, “I have been thinking a great deal of all that you have done for me.  When the entire world was forsaking the Jews, despising us for merely being who we are, you and your friends were able to love us enough to die for us.  You have sacrificed your own life, your own plans, to help me.  You have loved me enough to try to save my soul—and the only way I can understand that kind of love is through your Christ.”
He could not help but look up at that, his expression filled with surprise.
“It’s true,” she continued, the full smile returning to her face.  “My father loved God and Torah with all his heart—but I do not believe that he would have laid down his life for an Englishman.  He had only experienced hatred from them all his life.  But then I met you--a man who is able to love without thought of race or pain or hatred or anything else.”
“It is not a love that I found on my own,” he said.
“I know.  Your Christ has put this love inside you.  And I'm glad that he did, Edward.  It has given me joy again.”
“You can have that joy and that love in your own soul, Hannah.  All you need do is surrender up yourself and believe.”
Hannah smiled weakly.  “Surrender.  In all the trials I have gone through, my one thought was to survive by holding on, never surrendering.  And now, to grasp that one true prize I have been led to, I must let it all go.  It is a strange paradox.”
“The Kingdom of God thrives on paradox, Hannah.  Surely you’ve seen it by now.  We take on a weakness that gives us strength; we surrender to win the victory.  This is why the world cannot understand it.”
She nodded.  “And yet I think I do understand."
“The Spirit of the Lord is drawing you, Hannah,” Edward smiled, the words coming to him quickly.  “He is preparing your heart to receive Him.”
She nodded.  “I know.  But allow me a few more minutes, Edward.  With this step, I feel as if I'll be walking away from everything I used to hold dear, from everything that my people have upheld over the ages.”
Edward smiled.  “You will not be walking away from it, Hannah.  You have found the true center of the faith of your fathers, and you are only taking hold of the fulfillment of that promise.  Do not wait too long."
She smiled and squeezed his hand lightly. "I won't. I promise."
~ ~ ~
The prison was a small building when seen from ground level, because most of the massive structure was built in the form of subterranean dungeons.  They approached this facility as they had the prison of London, and were again greeted by a guard.  This man was small and wiry, with a mustache of iron gray that drooped down over his mouth.
“What is it you want?” he asked, yawning at the end of the question.
“We understand that some prisoners from London were sent here a few days ago,” Justin said.  “We would like to speak to one of them.”
“Why?” he drawled.
“We are preparing to free him by paying a bail sum.  His name is Eleazer, a Jew.”
“Oh,” the man’s eyes opened wider.  “This prisoner I know.  Quite unruly.  They say he’s gone mad.  We had to put him in his own cell because of his attacks on the other prisoners.”
Hannah shook her head.  “No, you must be mistaken.  Let me in, I have to speak to him.”
The guard regarded her with unhidden contempt, then turned his attention back to Justin.  “I could allow you to see him…” he cleared his throat loudly.
The knight rolled his eyes, drawing forth a golden coin from his belt.  “Will this be sufficient?”
“Aye, that would do well,” the man’s eyes gleamed as he grabbed the coin from Justin’s hand and turned to unlock the door.  He led them down two dark stairwells before coming at last to a heavy oaken door.  He took a large key from a ring on his belt and slowly ground it in the lock until a satisfying click was heard.  The guard remained at the open door, thrusting a torch into Justin’s hand as he led his friend’s into the darkened chamber.
“If he tries to attack you,” the guard said quickly, watching as Oswald, the last of the group, stepped through the door, “don’t hesitate to hurt him.”
As soon as all five were in the chamber, the guard quickly slammed the door shut and locked it again.  His footsteps could be heard rushing back up the stairs.
“Why is he leaving us?” Hannah wondered aloud, her voice echoing in the dark chamber.
“We have been betrayed,” Justin responded, his voice cold and level.  “The Templars must have found out who we were seeking, and devised this trap.”
Edward ran to the door, pressing his weight against it in vain.  “How do you know it's the Templars?”
Justin sighed.  “I thought it might be.  Don’t you remember?  The guard in London said that the prisoners had been moved to this prison, near a Templar preceptory.  No doubt the order to move them came from the Templars as well.”
As Justin’s voice fell away into the still of the chamber, another voice, much weaker, came from a distant corner.  “Hello?”
“Uncle?” Hannah replied, her breath catching in her throat.  “Uncle is that you?”
“Hannah!” a startled response came.  “Hannah, have you returned?  You must leave—it’s a trap.”
She sighed, rushing over to the source of the voice.  “We know.  We’ve been locked down here.”
“Then it’s too late.”  The voice echoed with hollow despair.   
As Justin moved nearer with the torch, light fell across the emaciated face of the Jew.  During the weeks he had spent in the prison, ten years or more had been added to his face.  His eyes glistened with tears of weariness, his beard hanging tangled and unkempt from his chin.
“No, Uncle,” Hannah protested, kneeling before him. “No, it’s not too late. We’re here now, and we can save you.”
He smiled gently.  “I am glad you are here, little one, but now we are all prisoners together.”  His sigh echoed in the dank chamber.  “In truth, I did not believe I would ever see you again.  I almost hoped that you would take my advice and not involve yourself in these matters.”
She wiped away a tear, a timbre of determination returning to her voice.  “I have seen enough death not to cower when it faces me, Uncle.  It was what I had to do.”
His eyes shone with a brightness that his cracked lips could not reflect in their weak smile.  “Then you were able to sell the robe?” he asked hopefully.  He noticed her frightened glance, so he continued.  “It is not for want of the money that I ask, Hannah.  Many powerful men would be swayed to evil ends to have that relic in their hands.  I do not want you to be hurt.”
She sighed.  “It is the robe that has made us prisoners together, for this is what the Templars have sought all along.”
“Yes,” Justin replied, joining the conversation.  “The Templars know that many good Christian men would follow a leader who held such a holy relic.  They want to ensure against any such dangers.  They are a poison to the body of Christ.”
The Jew nodded solemnly.  “But they are powerful, are they not?”
“Quite powerful, to a fearful extent.”
“And they have pursued you all the way?”
Justin nodded.  “Ever since we left York, we have had Druids, Templars, and Saxon outlaws after us with dreams of taking the robe.”
“Then you still have it?”
“Yes.  David of Northampton was dead,” Justin replied.  “So we were hoping that we might find a worthy protector here in London, and in so doing also find a way to release you.”
Eleazer narrowed his eyes suspiciously.  “Why would you wish to help me—a Jew?  In all the years I have lived in England, I have been a member of the most hated, blasphemous race ever, or so they tell me.”
Justin smiled.  “The love of Christ washes away all such prejudices, my friend.”
Eleazer still retained an air of cautiousness when speaking to the strangers, but he was comforted by the fact that Hannah seemed to trust them.  After about an hour of quiet speech among the group, they began to settle down from the shock of being trapped.  Oswald and Alfred positioned them near the doorway, in case any opportunity to escape was provided.  Hannah sat down next to her uncle, and Justin remained standing, his back pressed against the cold stone wall.
Edward was pacing back and forth in the center of the cell, as if measuring off its breadth with his strides.  After a few minutes of walking back and forth in silence, he paused and smile brightly.   
“This reminds me of one of the stories I used to copy.”  All eyes turned to him, so he continued to speak, his tone animated.  “When I was in Lindisfarne, I worked in the scriptorium every day and copied the texts of the Scriptures from one parchment onto another.  One of the stories told of an adventure of Saint Paul.”
“Tell us,” Hannah urged, even though Eleazer frowned sourly at the suggestion.
“Paul and his companion Silas were ministering in the city of Philippi,” he began, his feet carrying him once again in the pattern of pacing.  “They healed a fortune-telling girl of a demon that was in her, and her masters became very angry at Paul and Silas.  They were dragged before the magistrates of the city, who ordered the two apostles to be beaten and thrown into prison.  Well, after a severe flogging, they were taken and shackled in the inner cell of the prison.
“Around midnight,” Edward continued, “they were still awake, praying and singing hymns of praise to God.”
Eleazer harrumphed loudly.  “A likely fable! If any man was flogged and put in chains for the sake of Christ, he would not be so foolish as to praise the very cause of his suffering.”
Edward smiled.  “When the Spirit of God enters a believer, Eleazer, it changes that man in ways that cannot possibly be imagined.  It gives him strength to render praise and thanks even in the darkest of times.  Think about it.  If he dies, he will go to heaven to be with our blessed Lord.  And if he remains alive, he still has a chance to go and share the wonderful grace of our Master.  As a Christian, the best is always yet to come.  No matter what.”
Eleazer did not respond, but merely glared at him sullenly.
“Go on,” Justin said with a grin.  “The story’s not finished.”
“No, it’s not.  As the voices of Paul and Silas filled the prison, an earthquake came up suddenly.  It shook the prison with such awesome force that the very walls of that stronghold came down around Paul and Silas.  Because of this mighty miracle of faith, even the jail-master and his family was converted.”
Alfred smiled.  “A good story indeed, Ed. If only we had the power of the apostles.”
Justin smiled.  “Who's to say we don't? It wasn't their power, after all, it was Christ's. Let's pray for a miracle.”
The five friends knelt in a tight circle near the center of the cell, their hands joined together, while Eleazar stood watching from his shackles. Their prayers were simple, humble, and sincere. They knew that, whatever happened, their fate was sealed by the hand of the One who cared for them as His own children.  Whether it was in the hard road of martyrdom or the chance to live longer for Him, they knew they would follow His path until the end. And as their own hymn of praise shook the walls of the dark cell, they could feel His calm assurance cover them like a flood.  
At that instant, they heard a key grinding in the lock.  The heavy door creaked open, and twelve cloaked forms rushed into the chamber.