Friday, November 30, 2018

The Quest for the King, Scene 19

(Forgive the brevity of this week's installment; the busyness of the season is catching up with me. Nevertheless, we're approaching the climax of the story, with just a few installments left to go!)

       A cascade of drumbeats broke out over the plains, pounding out the rhythms of the Prince’s return. All across the fields of Arrens they could be heard, from every corner where the supporters of the royal house had pitched their tents. And in the center of those fields stood the great city itself: the walls of Arrens, shining amber in the morning light, and the tall, gleaming citadel at its center. The thick lumber of the doors and drawbridges stood tight against the walls, drawn up and fastened. Along the ramparts, in the spaces between the stone battlements, were the bristling forms of the Steward’s army: thousands of spears, javelins, and arrows, sharpened and ready for the fight.
            Prince Halbrinnon regarded the city with a quiet gaze. Joe didn’t think he looked much like the leader of an army in that moment. He looked like a mother, tense with the danger of seeing one’s child on the verge of a heartbreaking mistake. His eyes showed the soft strain of compassion and disappointment, backed by the fire of a love that seemed to hold everything together.
            “What do we do now?” asked Sim, looking up at the Prince. They had all walked together to the edge of the encampment of his supporters, and from that vantage-point the leaders of the army were all looking out toward the city.
            “Now,” said Sir Mack, “we lay a siege around the city and starve the Steward’s men into submission.”
            Prince Halbrinnon shook his head. “Those men are my men, too,” he said. “And those people in there, my people. I did not come to starve them, but to set them free.”
            “It wouldn’t work anyway,” said Sir Kobi, as the captain of the guard tugged thoughtfully at his chin. “We’d need an army at least twice this size to mount an effective siege. We have a lot of men, it’s true, but Arrens is perhaps the largest city in the world. If we tried to encircle it, we’d be strung out too widely, and the Steward’s men could break through at almost any point.”
            “To say nothing of the fact that the vast majority of your supporters here appear to have fled the city with no armor, no weapons at all,” added Captain Drave. “It would be a stretch to call it an army, save for the troops you brought across the sea yourself, my lord.”
            “Truth be told,” Kobi continued, “the Steward has the stronger hand here. He has the fortress, and he has the larger army. If he knows that we’re lacking in weapons, he’d be well advised to drop one of those drawbridges and send his cavalry out after us.”
            Prince Halbrinnon was silent through the end of this discussion on tactics, his eyes still fixed on the city walls. Then he motioned toward it with a nod of his head.
            “Perhaps your prediction has come true, my friend. The Shepherd Gate is opening.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Photo of the Week

He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day.

- Psalm 91:4-5

Monday, November 26, 2018

Quote of the Week

Truth, Lord: my conscience 
meriteth damnation, 
but no offense equals Thy compassion. 
Spare me therefore; 
because it is not unbefitting Thy justice, 
nor unwonted to Thy mercy, 
nor difficult to Thy power, 
to spare the penitent.
Blot out the number of my crimes, 
renew the multitude of Thy compassions. 
More canst Thou remit, than I commit; 
more canst Thou spare, than I offend. 
However unclean, Thou canst cleanse me;
however blind, enlighten me; 
however weak, restore me; 
yea, though dead, raise me. 
Of what kind soever I am, be it good or bad,
I am ever Thine.

- from the private devotions of Lancelot Andrewes, an Elizabethan-era British clergyman and scholar, and one of the translators of the KJV Bible

Part 2 of the Evangeliad Now Available!

I'm happy to announce that Part 2 of my Evangeliad (Come and See: Jesus Begins His Ministry) is now available in book form. It can be purchased from, as can the book form of Part 1 (To Love and to Save: The Story of the Nativity), which I released last year. Click the pictures below to be taken to the Amazon pages for each book.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A Two-Week Break from Blogging

I'm taking a two-week break from blogging while I produce the second installment of my Evangeliad in book form (available in early December). I'm also plugging away on a self-published re-release of my Hidden Kings trilogy. The normal schedule of blog posts will resume here on Monday, November 26.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Saturday Synaxis

Our God, may we lay hold of thy cross, as of a staff that can stand unshaken when the floods run high. It is this world and not another, this world with all its miseries - its ruin and its sin - that thou hast entered to redeem by thine agony and bloody sweat [...] O holy, merciful, all-forgiving redeemer, teach us more worthily to repent of the terror and horror of our fall, by the memory of that innocent gladness with which we should have gone with thee to the altar of God, to offer there [...] the unshrinking homage of a spotless heart! Amen.

- Henry Scott Holland

Friday, November 09, 2018

The Quest for the King, Scene 18

            The sun shone down on the fields of Arrens with blazing glory the next day, and the children awoke to a world cast in emerald splendor. The long green grass beyond the river whispered in calm serenity, and the boughs of the trees overhead murmured a soft reply. Choruses of birdsong flowed around them like rivulets from the stream, sprung from a thousand cheery sparrows and finches who clung to the bending grass-stems as they sang. But amid all the beauty of that moment, the sight of the Prince standing at the edge of the wood commanded the center of their attention. He stood tall and still at the mouth of the West-wood highway, his traveling-cloak tinged with dust but his royal helmet shining with brilliant luster. His gaze, sharp and focused, traced over the lines of the walls far ahead of them: the battlements of Arrens, where the banner of the Steward now flew.
            Then suddenly, he broke his meditation and spoke: “Squires, knights, commanders! We march!”
            Out burst the royal army from beneath the shade of the forest’s edge, out to the banks of the swift-running stream. The Steward’s men had made repairs to the floodgates and closed them, so the water was easily forded. Joe remembered with a smile the drama of their earlier crossing, with Mack’s heroic burst of strength to stem the flood long enough for them to make it across. They slung their shoes over their shoulders and let the cool water wash over their feet as they made the crossing, and then they were up the far bank and in plain sight of the city walls.
            “They know we’re coming,” said Sir Kobi, casting a keen eye toward the city. “The gates are shut and the watch is set.”
            “And I believe we’ve been spotted by others,” Mack added, nodding toward a great sea of tents thrown up against the foothills to the northwest of the city. From this wild arrangement of colored cloth and makeshift huts poured a stream of people, rushing down toward their position.
            “Arms at ready!” one of the prince’s commanders shouted back to the soldiers of his column.
            “No, stand down,” said Halbrinnon. “These are not enemies.”
            The soldiers fingered the hilts of their swords nervously, but obeyed. They watched as the mass of people poured out of the encampment and came running down through the fields toward them. As they drew nearer, it quickly became clear that the Prince had been right. This was not an army coming out to meet them: no, these were ordinary men and women, young and old, the residents of the city, who ran with joyful haste to fall at Prince Halbrinnon’s feet. There were thousands there, their eyes bright and their faces beaming as they drew up to the Prince’s column.
            “My lord!” said the man at the fore, gasping for breath as he knelt down in the grass. “My lord, we heard you were coming! We are with you, O Prince! Let us join you in retaking your throne!”
            Halbrinnon looked at them with calm intensity. “Do you know what it means to follow me?” he asked.
            “If it means laying down everything we are and everything we have to render you service, then, behold: it is already done!”
            “Well spoken,” smiled the Prince. “Come and join this company of friends!”

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Photo of the Week

Full of kindness and compassion,
Slow to anger, vast in love,
Thou art good to all creation;
All Thy works Thy goodness prove.

- Verse 3 of "God My King, Thy Might Confessing," Hymn #191 from The Augustine Hymn Book, 1866

Monday, November 05, 2018

Quote of the Week

"It is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and good people who have learned the great secret of life. They have found a joy and a wisdom which is a thousand times better than any of the pleasures of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are Christians…and I am one of them."

- Cyprian of Carthage, an early church father

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Saturday Synaxis

Almighty God, maker of all things, thou hast placed thy creatures necessary for our use in diverse lands: grant that all peoples and nations, needing one another, may be knit together in one bond of mutual service, to share their diverse riches; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

- Anonymous prayer from the 16th century

Friday, November 02, 2018

The Quest for the King, Scene 17

           Sim noticed the next occurrence, as they passed through the rocky hills of Bor-Takan. He had kept a sharp outlook along the way, knowing that the wildmen were out there somewhere. He felt fairly confident that they wouldn’t dare attack so massive an army, but he was still a little nervous about seeing them again.
            His watchful eyes caught them soon enough. Just after dawn on their second day in the hills, he thought something was moving up in the rocks on the slopes above them. He looked up quickly, but all he saw were craggy boulders and scrubby plants. But then, a few minutes later, the same sensation: a hint of motion at the edges of his sight, and the unmistakable sense that someone was watching them. He looked up again, and this time he was sure he noticed a quick black flash as a shadowy figure slipped behind a gnarled, barren tree.
            “There’s someone up there,” he announced, and Mack and Kobi cast their glances up onto the hillside.
            “Wildmen, no doubt,” Mack growled. “Better for them if they hide.”
            “I certainly don’t care to see them again,” Kobi agreed.
            But then Prince Halbrinnon stopped in his tracks. He raised an arm, and the column behind him halted as well. As the dust from their march thickened the air all around them, they watched and they listened for any more sounds from the slopes above.
            “Come out!” Halbrinnon commanded in a loud voice. Then the children heard him say something else, in the exact same tone and inflection, and they knew he must be speaking in the language of the wildmen.
            For a moment, there was nothing. Then slowly, hesitantly, a single, tattered figure emerged from behind a boulder. It slid and scrabbled haltingly down the hillside until it came to stand, hunched over, in a cloud of dust before the prince.
            Then another one appeared, from closer by—so close that it startled the children—and then another and another, coming out from behind rocks and trees all over the slopes. When the haze of their descent had lifted a bit, the children could see more than thirty of the wildmen gathered there, standing in a ragged assembly before the prince. They were raw-boned and muscular, and their eyes shifted untrustingly between the royal leader and his vast company.
            The prince spoke out again, but this time his voice was not as loud nor as fierce as his earlier command. The wildmen tilted their heads, listening. His words filled the clearing air, and the dust settled as the sound of his voice rolled over it. From his lips the wildmen’s language, which before had seemed a rustic, backward thing, suddenly took on a grace and power it had never borne before. The syllables danced with the lightness of sunshine on the high hills, and when the words dipped down into the rougher, lower registers they became not echoes of savagery, but of strength and dignity.
            The wildmen watched him closely, their gazes fixed on him alone now. Then, hesitantly at first, the ones in front began to kneel. One after another dropped to their knees, their heads bowed in humble respect.
            Then Halbrinnon laughed. Not the laugh of a victor over the vanquished, but the laugh of an old friend filled with delight at finding his long-lost companions. The wildmen smiled—an expression the children never expected to see on those faces, but which fit them surprisingly well—and then began to laugh too. At the prince’s invitation, in answer to his beckoning arms, the wildmen stood up. They were standing straighter now, hunched no more, and then turned so that the column could continue its march.
            “They will come with us,” said the prince.
            “Them, my lord?” Kobi asked. “Can we trust them?”
            Halbrinnon looked at the captain of the guard, a smile at the corners of his mouth. “The question is, do you trust me?”
            “Always, my lord.”
            “Then believe me when I say: they are with us now.”
            Kobi bowed his head in submission, and the march went on. The wildmen fell into step with the rest of the army, just behind Prince Halbrinnon and the rest of the leaders. Even when they came to the edge of the hills and passed under the great, spreading boughs of the old forest, the wildmen marched in stride with the rest.
            On and on the company went, down the ancient road running east to Arrens. Every now and then they saw signs of the Steward’s hold on the land—a troop of guards here or there that took flight quickly upon spying the army—but for the most part they were walking amid the wilderness. And with every step they took, it became ever clearer that the wilderness knew who the true king was.
            Joe kept a lookout for wolves as they walked; he remembered with painful poignancy the night they endured the wolf-pack’s assault. He kept one hand on the hilt of the dagger that Sir Mack had given him that night.
            Sure enough, as dusk began to settle over the quiet woods, a single, lingering howl carried through the trees. Then Joe saw one gray flash, then another, on both sides of the roadway. The wolves had found them.
            He was about to pull out his dagger when he heard the prince’s voice: “Don’t be afraid.”
            They kept walking, and Joe kept spotting more and more gray shadows darting through the bracken alongside. But the more that he watched them, the more he came to realize that the wolves weren’t threatening them. They weren’t howling, weren’t making feints and snapping as they had done on their first meeting. They were jogging alongside, quietly and stealthily, as was their wont, but they were simply paralleling the road. The longer Joe watched them, the more it seemed to him that the wolves were accompanying their march, almost as if they too had made the decision to join the prince’s army.
            That night, as they camped in the fringes of the forest, just beyond the plains of Arrens, the stillness of the woods covered them like a blanket. And forming a faithful guard on every side, looking outward with watchful eyes, were the wolves of the ancient West-wood.