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The Old Chapel near Matlock Bath

St. John the Baptist Chapel

Chapel of St John the Baptist, Masson hillside

Private chapel, built just before 1900 by the Arts and Crafts inspired architect Sir Guy Dawber. It was never consecrated and is now maintained by the Friends of Friendless Churches and sadly is only open on Heritage open days.

© Copyright Phil Berry and licensed for reuse under this

In October of 1999 I was engaged to be married. At 42 years of age I was acquiring a ready-made family all in one move. Over the years, that family has grown to include nine grandchildren. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

The wedding was planned for November 28, Thanksgiving weekend, but in October I was headed to Europe. For the most part I was going to be traveling with a group of speakers offering revival services to various Methodist churches in England. I was kind of the junior member of the team, but in many ways that made it more fun. Friends told Jody, my wife to be, that I was getting cold feet. Otherwise why would I run off to Europe for three weeks that close to the wedding?

My story isn’t about the portion of the trip that was in England. In the middle of the trip, I was to leave the group, fly to Germany, and speak at a conference there. Then I’d return and join my group. I separated from the group in the town of Matlock, and was left with a day on my own before taking the bus back to London where I would fly out to Frankfurt.

I spent that day walking and looking for spiritual encouragement for the days ahead. I’m not a good traveler. I’m not that good at encountering new situations. I was quite comfortable being the junior member of a substantial team and wasn’t all that happy to be heading off for several days on my own.

I had been told by someone that there was a chapel near Matlock Bath, which is just south of Matlock, and so I walked that way. I was in much better shape in those days! Just looking at the map as I prepared to write this story made me tired. I asked about the chapel a couple of times and nobody seemed to know.

One of the things an American needs to learn about Europe is that “old” doesn’t precisely mean the same thing there. A century or so old is “old” here. I attend the oldest Methodist church in Florida, founded in 1822, in a building constructed in 1908-1910. This is a decently old building around here, but it’s a thing of yesterday by European standards. (I studied a good deal of ancient near eastern history, so I was acquainted with “really old,” but the intermediate level in Europe hadn’t really hit me.)

Finally, as I was following my map back from Matlock Bath toward Matlock, I came across a chapel. In preparing to write this post I looked it up on the map and found a picture. I don’t always trust my memory, but both the location and the appearance of St. John the Baptist’s Chapel in Johns Road match my memory of the place. I’m glad to see that since that time it has been designated a Listed Building.

At the time I couldn’t get in, and it was not in great repair. Again, it appears that some work has been done on it, which is noted in the Wikipedia article linked above. Below the chapel on the road there was some water leaking and running under (I believe) Johns road. The view in the picture with the Wikipedia article is precisely the direction from which I approached. Seeing the water coming from below the closed chapel, I suddenly felt God’s presence. You can call me crazy, but I knelt down and splashed the water on my head and felt incredibly refreshed. In that most unlikely place I had found the encouragement I needed.

For me the chapel was as old as the hills and as new as tomorrow. It may be a thing of yesterday by English standards, but it was worth the walk to me. I don’t suppose it will become a major tourist attraction. But the importance of a place and experience is, in most ways, a matter of perspective.

(This was written for and submitted to the one word at a time blog carnival – old. Unlike what I usually write for the carnival, this story is true, as best as I recall.)

 

The New Ornate Cathedral

“I want an ornate cathedral, one suitable to my rank,” said the Duke.

Pierre Otzmann tried to keep his eyes from wandering around the room, surely a sign of disrespect since he should be listening to his duke, but the walls were covered with paintings of cathedrals, including the great cathedral from the imperial capital. They weren’t very good paintings. Rather, they were the sort of cheap art that one could buy from a tourist stand in the street. They weren’t displayed properly either. They were just sort of slapped up on the wall.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of persons, places, or events to anything in the real world is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012
Henry Neufeld

Otzmann was an architect. He liked order.

The duke cleared his throat ominously.

“Yes, your grace. I understand.”

“You’ll have 30,000 universals to accomplish this. You are the best architect in my duchy. You will not fail me in this commission.” Otzmann’s heart sank. A universal was a small silver coin, the standard for imperial exchange. Just the semi-skilled laborers for the project would cost him around 6,000, and that was if he could get the project done efficiently. With only 24,000 for the artists, materials, and skilled labor? Not a chance!

Again the duke cleared his throat.

“Yes, your grace,” said Otzmann. “I will prepare plans for your approval.” What else could he say?

“You will not,” said the duke. This brought a look of surprise to Otzmann’s face. Very briefly. “What you will do is block off the site of the new cathedral with a high wall. Then you will build this cathedral within that wall. I will not see it until it is completed.” This was a long speech for the duke.

After a long pause, he continued. “I cannot decide what my cathedral should look like. I have seen all the major cathedrals of the realm. I know they are all better than mine. Their appearance brings respect to the rulers who commissioned them. Mine brings me snickers. You will create for me a cathedral of which I can be proud, one that will bring me honor and glory. You are the most talented man I know. You will do this for me. Fail at your peril!” The duke’s look matched his final words.

Otzmann went home to his workshop. He tinkered with paper and drafting tools. He looked at the ceiling and thought. Nothing came to him.

He commissioned the wooden wall that would be high enough to keep the duke from seeing the cathedral as it was being built. He wondered how he would keep the workers from talking, but he decided there would be time enough to worry about that later. Right now they could only talk about an empty city block!

About a week after he had received the commission, Otzmann decided to visit the town’s current cathedral, the one the duke thought was such a disgrace. He had intended to pray, but nothing came to mind, so he just sat in a pew. As he watched a woman came into the sanctuary. He couldn’t tell her age, but she was clearly poor. He knew it was not polite, but he kept watching her. She didn’t seem to notice. She dropped some coins in the offering box. She lit a candle. She knelt down on an old, worn kneeling rail to pray. He had to move a bit to see her face, but as she knelt, her face lit up and it looked like years fell off her. Finally, she got up and left, showing no sign that she had ever noticed Otzmann.

“I don’t know about honor,” thought Otzmann, “but there’s glory for you. That woman’s face shows the real glory of a cathedral. Now if I can just catch that in stone …”

It was still a couple of weeks before Otzmann went to the building site. He threatened all the workers with hanging if they told anyone what was going on. He did so on the authority of the duke. He was certain the duke would back him up. If he asked for another 100 universals, he would doubtless be denied. The neck of one of the workers? No problem!

The workers believed him.

The duke was happy to see work going on. He wondered why there was some work in the new cathedral when he went on one of his rare visits, but he didn’t argue. He had, after all, ordered his most creative subject to accomplish a mission, and people accomplished those missions given them by their duke. Well, or bad things happened to them, that is.

The big day came. The new cathedral was finished. The duke was to be given a tour of the new building before the church took it over and consecrated it.

Otzmann led the duke into the enclosure. The duke had been able to see the a couple of towers toward the front of the cathedral over the wall. They looked pretty plain to him, but he supposed that they would look ornate when connected with the remainder of the building.

The duke had never suffered such a shock in his life as the one he felt when he saw his new, ornate cathedral. It was drab. It was ordinary. It looked like pieces of other buildings around his duchy. He walked into the nave. He looked around the inside. There was stained glass in the windows, yes, but the designs were simple, almost childish. The pews were made of local wood. They were well built, but very ordinary looking. The altar was carved and decorated, yes, but again it was very simple work.

The kneeling rails looked like they must have come from the old cathedral. They were old, smooth, worn.

The duke was coming out of his shock, and becoming enraged. Otzmann thought to himself how much easier it was to think that if he was going to disappoint the duke, he might as well do it thoroughly, when there was no disappointed duke right there working up a good rage.

Then the duke appeared to physically take control of his temper. He turned to Otzmann. “You’re the best architect in my duchy,” he said. “Tell me. Is this the best my duchy can produce?”

“May I have a few moments to tell you about this cathedral first?” asked Otzmann.

Reluctantly the duke nodded.

“You wanted a cathedral to bring you honor and glory, one you could be proud of. You had pictures of the great cathedrals of the empire, and I knew you wanted something like them. So if your anger falls on me once I have explained myself and this building, you know that I did understand.” It was a bold statement. The duke appreciated boldness. In measure. Rarely.

So I asked myself what a cathedral is for, and how it might best be made truly ornate. I got my answer when a woman prayed in the old cathedral.”

“Nonsense!” exclaimed the Duke. “Women pray every day in every cathedral and misbegotten chapel of my duchy. There’s nothing special in that!”

“Perhaps, your grace, you need to look with the eyes of an artist. If I might show you …”

Otzmann led the duke to the outside wall of the church. Do you see these stones? Every one, you can see, has a name inscribed on it.”

“More like ‘scratched’ you mean.”

“Well, some are better at inscribing than others. Each stone comes from a cathedral or a chapel somewhere in your duchy. The stones were chosen by the people and sent here. Each piece of glass was made by a separate glassblower. Well, there weren’t enough for each piece, but every known glassblower in your realm is represented here.

“The designs were each made by the children of a different school in your realm. No artist outside of your duchy contributed anything. The altar was built here in the capital, but then travelled around the country as various people I chose added something to the carvings. The altar cloths and vestments were sewn in some of your smaller villages.”

“How did you keep all this secret?” asked the duke.

Otzmann refrained from noting that the duke could easily miss an earthquake provided it happened more than a block or so from his castle. “I threatened them with death, but in the end, I don’t think that mattered. I think they just wanted to surprise you.”

The duke looked almost thoughtful, a look that nobody could recall  him having before.

“Each piece was prayed over and consecrated in the town or village it came from. I just fitted them into the resulting church.”

“And for this you spent my 30,000 universals?” asked the Duke.

“No,” said Otzmann. “Nobody would accept payment. I haven’t touched your fund. Your people have given you your cathedral.” He wanted to add, “And God gave you such people,” but he didn’t think that would be as well received.

“I don’t know what to think,” said the duke, in a rare moment of sincerity. “I think I will not have you hung. How could I? But I have no idea how to explain this cathedral to my peers.”

I’d tell them they should be fortunate enough to have such an ornate cathedral, thought Otzmann. But he didn’t say it.

((This story was written for and submitted to the one day at a time blog carnival – ornate.)

Find the True Source

In the southeastern portion of the Enzar continent there is a great river, known in Enzar as the Ygulanor, but to local people as the Ig, or perhaps the great Ig. It flows south, and it’s mouth is a major port. For around 4,000 kilometers from its mouth it is navigable. It has its source somewhere in the huge mountain range that splits this portion of the continent. That somewhere is not generally known. Wherein lies our tale.

There was a very wise man who lived along the lower reaches of the Ig. We’ll use the shorter name. Those Enzar are so boring with their long, multi-syllable, unpronounceable names. One day three young men came to the wise man and asked him what they thought was a rather simple question. They all met with him at once, because the very wise man, being wise, only met with people at certain times. Otherwise he would have done nothing but answer questions, which would be no fun. Even wise men have to have fun.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of persons, places, or events to anything in the real world is strictly coincidental.
Copyright © 2012
Henry E. Neufeld

So the three young men found themselves together, and found that they had one question. Surely there would be one answer.

They asked the wise man this: “How should one go about acquiring wisdom?”

The wise man looked at the three young men, and realized they were very different. He didn’t think the answer to the question would be the same for all three. In fact, he was pretty sure the one on his right was never going to attain wisdom at all, and the one in the center was at best a coin toss. But they were unlikely to accept that wisdom might be attained in different ways, and might even take to fighting over different answers.

So after some thought he said, “He who would attain wisdom must first seek the true source of the Ig.” Then he fell silent. He refused to comment further. He made shooing motions with his hands to indicate they were to leave.

The three young men did so.

The first young man, who had been on the wise man’s right, went to the library in the great cosmopolitan city that graced the mouth of the Ig. He found there a book detailing the geography of the river, as far as it was known. In the book it said simply that it was rumored that one explorer had tracked the Ig to its source in the mountains to a point where water spurted out of a large whole in a cliff. This first young man looked at that statement, and decided that the person who wrote the book was very smart, and had written the book many years before, and thus doubtless was correct, or at least correct enough. He put down the book and went on his way. He didn’t feel much wiser, though he did congratulate himself on his wisdom in going no further, and thus saving himself much time, money, and effort.

The second young man, who had been in the center, read the same book, but he wondered if the rumor was true. He wanted to be wise, and so he decided to pursue this question a bit further. He hired a boat, some guards, and a river guide and began to follow the river. Soon he passed the navigable portions but he was determined, and his expedition continued on foot. They had to fight bandits and tribesmen. But after many months of travel and of making what he hoped was the proper choice of various tributaries (and having been wrong a couple of times), he arrived at the great cliff. There was a veritable river of water flowing out of the cliff in what was clearly the source of the Ig.

He was a bit disappointed that he had merely confirmed what he had found in the book, but he also realized that he had learned many skills, including fighting and how to lead people in hard circumstances. He had also found a number of ways in which he could make money from his knowledge of these regions. So he headed back to the big city to put his plans into action. He wasn’t sure he was wiser, but he most certainly was richer. He was fairly sure he was richer than he might ever have managed to become simply by doing business in the city, so he was satisfied.

The third young man read the same book. Having read the book, he also wanted to know whether what the book said was true. So he followed the second young man up the river. He had taken a bit more time on his research, so he actually met the second young man when he was returning from the source.

“You don’t need to go further,” said the second young man to the third. “The source is indeed water flowing from a cliff just as the book said.”

“Thank you!” said the third young man. Then he and his guards and porters made camp for the night, along with the second young man and his guides and porters.

During the night, he kept considering the situation. He couldn’t quite get comfortable.

In the morning he told the second young man, “I think I’ll still go and look at this water coming from a cliff. The wise man said, ‘the true source of the Ig.’”

“Suit yourself,” said the second young man. He had plenty of things to pursue during his own lifetime, however long he managed to live.

So the third young man continued the trek. When he got to the cliff he saw the water coming out of the rock, and he asked himself, “Where does the water come from that is coming out of the cliff?”

He set about climbing the cliff, which was close to 1000 meters high. He nearly fell to his death twice, and two of the guards who were brave enough to go with him actually did fall, at which point two more guards abandoned him as well.

But finally he was at the top of the cliff. Above the cliff there was a dry plateau. Now he truly wondered where the water came from. He travelled for many days across the plateau. He was nearly out of water when he came to the foot of some mountains that were even higher. He found there a tiny stream that came out of the mountain. From it he refilled his water jugs. He tried to follow the stream, but it disappeared into the ground, but that was not nearly enough water to provide the source of the Ig. So he continued to travel along the base of these new mountains. Stream after stream came down to the plain and then disappeared underground.

He followed some of the streams backwards into the mountains, but he soon realized they did not meet there either. Each of the streams had its source in a spring, flowed through the mountains, often having small tributaries of its own, and then the streams disappeared under the dry plateau. Then suddenly it struck him.

There was no true source of the Ig. It was like an explosion of enlightenment in his mind.

Of the three young men, only this third one ever returned to thank the very wise man. There came a day when the very wise man tired of answering questions, and he invited this third young man to take his place.

“I want to be replaced by someone who knows the true source of the Ig,” he said.

Condemned by the Gracious Governor

The storyteller, as usual, seemed to start in the middle of the tale …


When Perd fell on his face in front of the governor, he had little hope. It was his second time to appear in this position, and what hope did he have of getting clemency? He had promised to reform, to learn a skill, and to get a job, but he had done none of those things. It had seemed much easier to steal. What’s more, he thought he had learned a lesson the last time. No, not the lesson he was supposed to learn. He thought he knew how not to get caught.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance between persons, places, things, or events and those in the real world is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012
Henry E. Neufeld

Now he found himself sentenced to death for a large robbery in which he had seriously injured a man with his knife. And here he was again, on his face, in front of the governor.

The governor was known as a gracious man. In fact, he was not required to see every person who was sentenced to death before allowing the sentence to be carried out. He could just sign the death warrants, or even allow a secretary to do it for him. But he disliked seeing people beheaded, and he sought every way to prevent it, especially for people who had been sentenced for something other than murder. The law might allow the sentence for someone who had merely threatened the life of another, or done injury that might have led to death, but the governor didn’t like it.

The governor remembered Perd.

“Your honor commuted a previous sentence of death against this man,” droned the pardons secretary. He continued with the particulars.

When the pardons secretary had finished, the prosecutor spoke. “The defendant Perd has despised your honor’s grace given to him before. He has proven himself unworthy of your mercy. He is a threat to the province which you govern by the king’s leave.” The prosecutor mentioned the king, because he hoped that the governor would be afraid. The prosecutor was known to have connections in the distant capital. It would be impolitic to mention those connections directly, but they crept out through the pauses in the prosecutor’s speech.

The governor motioned to the pardons secretary who turned to Perd and asked in a low tone of voice, “Do you have anything to say for yourself?” He used a low tone of voice because he couldn’t see any reason why anyone should listen to someone with Perd’s record.

From his position with his face on the paving stones, Perd just said, “Mercy, your honor, mercy!” Then he was silent.

The prosecutor smiled. The pardons secretary didn’t smile (he didn’t really know how), but he managed to look satisfied. No sad story to touch the gracious governor’s heart and produce a pardon or even a commutation.

“You beg for mercy,” said the governor, “and mercy you shall have.” Shock swept through the audience chamber. The prosecutor opened his mouth to protest, but then he saw the determined look on the governor’s face.  Connections in the capital were all well and good, but the capital was two weeks journey to the south, and the governor was right here. The prosecutor decided it would be better to be silent. He could include a note in his next letter to friends and family, perhaps starting a rumor that would weaken the governor’s position with his superiors.

“I place before you a choice,” the governor continued, allowing this idea to sink in. “Out in the courtyard there is a headsman, with his axe sharpened. He is quite a good headsman, and will doubtless remove your head efficiently and with minimum pain. Considering that you could be executed by less pleasant methods, you should consider this a good option. On the other hand, I have a friend who is travelling north into the wilderness to search for gold and precious stones. He will probably be travelling for two or more years. He is a skilled man, and I doubt you will escape him. If you should think of escape, or of doing him harm, you should be aware that I give him my blanket permission to kill you, with no questions asked. If you are more of a burden on him than a help, then he can kill you just for that. Should you return from this trip alive, you will be granted my pardon and your freedom.”

The prosecutor had lost his smile when the governor first mentioned mercy, but now he had it back. The look on the pardons secretary’s face had gone from a carefully practiced strict neutrality to one of satisfaction. Perd did not look like the sort of person who could survive one of those trips to the north. The governor was clearly being extraordinarily cruel by providing this choice between two deaths.

The governor looked at Perd, who was too frightened to look up. The mountains immediately to the north were known to be a good source of many precious things, but they were also known to be a place of incredible danger. The explorers and miners who travelled in that area were known to be the toughest and nastiest people anywhere. He could very easily endure months or even years of agony, and still be killed, or die accidentally, before he could return home. A clean beheading almost sounded attractive!

Almost! But not quite. The alternative sentence did keep him alive, and offered some hope, however little. Perd thought, was better than none.

“Your honor, I will go with your friend,” said Perd. He almost thanked the governor for his mercy, but under the circumstances he thought that wouldn’t sound sincere. Nobody could expect him to be thankful for a slow death instead of a fast one.

He was taken in chains to the explorer, name Ka’at. He was left in chains in an unfurnished room overnight. The next morning Ka’at dragged him out into the courtyard where he saw two fully packed mules. Ka’at was in his travelling gear as well. He wondered if he would make the entire journey in chains. Before they went out of the city gates, however, Ka’at took him to a blacksmith’s shop, where the chains were removed, but replaced by a set that would handicap his movement less, but nonetheless make him much slower than Ka’at. The latter looked very fit and quick as well.

So Perd began his march into the mountains still in chains, albeit lighter ones. He was still expected to work and carry a pack. He wanted to be angry because of the pack, but as he started to open his mouth to complain, he realized that the pack Ka’at was carrying himself was substantially larger than his, and heavier even if one considered the weight of the chains. So he thought better of that complaint.

He knew that those who mined gemstones up in these mountains, and often searched for treasure from ancient times, were considered dangerous and uncouth. Ka’at, on the other hand, hardly said a word during the day. In the evening, he would make comments on what Perd had done during the day, and what he should do. He’d always end his comments by saying something like, “You’ve been more of a help than a burden today,” or “You’ve been more of a burden than a help, but I’ll let it pass,” or sometimes “You’ve been about as much trouble as help.”

Since he thought his life depended on it, Perd paid attention, and tried to do the things that made him more of a help than a burden. These things involved habits he had never learned before, such as learning how to cook a meal rather than expecting someone else to do so for him, how to mend and sew, how to care for the mules, and eventually how to hunt. By the time Ka’at gave him a hunting bow, he was so far into the mountains and so uncertain of how one would get home, that the thought of killing his master never occurred to him.

Then came the day when Ka’at removed the chains. He didn’t lecture about it. He just called Perd over, and with a few quick strokes of hammer and chisel, removed the chains. Again, partly because he had no idea where to go, and partly because he was now in the habit of doing the day to day chores, Perd didn’t think seriously of running. When he thought about his situation, he was amazed that he didn’t hate Ka’at. He’d assumed he would hate someone who had the power of life and death over him. Despite his pleas for mercy, deep inside himself he had hated the governor as well. Who was he to have Perd’s life in his hands?

But Ka’at worked hard than Perd could ever manage, even though Perd was finding himself stronger and stronger. He was doing work that only weeks before he had no idea how to do. Now it came easily. And they were finding gems as well. It took a lot of digging, but as the bags on the mules became lighter and lighter as they used up their supplies, they were being filled again with valuable items. Looking at a Ruby that he and Ka’at had just dug up, Perd suddenly realized why such stones commanded such high prices. He knew there was nowhere inside his homeland where one could find them. The trip would pay well, but there were few people who could survive this. He knew that without Ka’at’s knowledge, particularly of the wild animals, they would both have been dead.

Then it happened. It could happen to anyone, no matter how skilled. It had happened to Perd earlier in the trip, and Ka’at had been there to save him. But this time, it was Ka’at who stepped on the wrong stone, which broke off, and in turn loosened others, resulting in a fall. Ka’at ended up hanging over a gorge from a single small tree. He was in Perd’s power.

Instantly, the thought came to Perd’s mind. If he just let Ka’at go, he would be free. He need never return home to where he was known. He could find another place to live. But he rejected the thought instantly. It wasn’t until Ka’at was back on the trail that Perd realized that it hadn’t been his need of a guide to get home that stopped him from just letting Ka’at die. No, he’d suddenly realized that he liked the older man and didn’t want to see him fall. Yes, he’d realized how his sentence could end with Ka’at’s death, but he’d rejected it. It was an odd feeling. He couldn’t recall doing anything for anyone before just because he liked them.

Ka’at, as usual, was quiet. He just nodded his thanks. That evening he said simply, “You were a great help to me today.” Was that a twinkle in his eyes? With Ka’at, who could tell?

The day came when Ka’at and Perd rode back into town. They looked much the worse for wear. To Perd’s surprise, Ka’at led them straight to the palace. To Perd’s even greater surprise, they were admitted to the governor’s private audience chamber. Ka’at walked up to the governor’s desk and spread out the rubies they had found. They had a few other things, but that was more than 90% of the value of what they had brought out of the mountains.

“They’re all there,” said Ka’at, spreading the rubies out on the desk. He divided them up, two thirds in one pile and another third in another.

He looked at Perd and pointed to the smaller pile. “Take them,” he said. Perd knew from their discussions in the mountains that an assistant such as himself, always supposing the man was free and not condemned to work for nothing, would normally get five or ten percent of the take they had helped find. This was a junior partner’s share.

Perd just looked at the stones.

“Take them,” said the governor. “You’ve fulfilled the terms I set.”

 


“Now tell me,” said the storyteller, “Did the governor act graciously? If so, in what way? Which of his actions were actions of grace, and which not? Should he have been known as the gracious governor?”

 

When the Orange Sky Gleamed

“I’m going to tell you a story about the time when the orange sky gleamed,” said the old man.

The children gathered around the fire moved closer. Some of them leaned forward so that they could hear the story. One of the older children wasn’t quite as interested.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance between persons, places, and events and those in the real world are purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012
Henry E. Neufeld

“The sky is blue in the day, and black at night. There are clouds. Sometimes they turn orange in the evening, at sunset. But the sky is never orange and it doesn’t gleam.” He was just into his teens and pretty smart. He wasn’t going to be awed by eerie sounding opening lines to old men’s stories.”On this day, it was orange, and it gleamed,” said the old man. Before the confident kid could interrupt him again, he continued. “We got up in the morning and there was just a bit of orange in the southern sky. It was a bad omen.” The confident kid rolled his eyes.

“The shaman said it was a bad day. ‘When there’s orange in the south, stay under your roof,’ he told us. But the chief wouldn’t listen. He needed to get a caravan going to pick up gold, gems, and various items of bronze, iron, and even steel from the south. The shaman told him again not to go.

“‘How long should I wait?’ asked the chief. ‘Until the orange sky no longer gleams,” said the shaman. But the chief wouldn’t listen, especially when the shaman wouldn’t tell him how long the gleaming would take to go away. So he sent out the caravan anyhow. In fact, he went with it. I begged to go. I was about your age.” He pointed to the confident kid. “I was just as stupid too. But they wouldn’t let me go.

“Days went by. Almost the entire sky to the south turned orange, and it gleamed, sometimes with white, sometimes with various colors, but always with an orange tint. To the north, over the sea, the sky was pretty much clear. It was windy, but the whether was not too bad. Nobody had an explanation for the time when the orange sky gleamed.” The confident kid rolled his eyes again. He wasn’t going to be taken in by the repetition of the eerie phrase.

Other children weren’t so jaded. “What happened?” they asked eagerly, leaning forward to hear the old man’s answer.

“A week went by, and the orange started to fade from the southern sky. But the caravan didn’t come back.” The old man paused for a moment and pretended to be falling asleep. The children started to ask what happened next. They were acquainted with waiting for a caravan to return. It was how their town made its money. But they couldn’t remember a time when a caravan just didn’t return.

“Another week went by and the sky was completely back to normal. But the caravan still didn’t return. The shaman didn’t say ‘I told you so,’ but one could see it on his face. It was really quite obscene to be so happy about a disaster. The chief’s son, who was in charge in his absence still thought the caravan might have been delayed. Maybe the load hadn’t been ready. But after three weeks it was hard to pretend that there wasn’t something terribly wrong.

“So the chief’s son sent out a patrol to look for the caravan. They rode horses, so they moved faster than a caravan. They couldn’t find any sign of the caravan. They did find that the sand dunes looked somewhat different. The men were used to the sands moving about some with the winds, but this was like they were traveling through a different country. Finally they arrived at the foot of the southern mountains where the town was where they usually picked up their loads.”

He paused again and pretended to be falling asleep.

“What did he find there?” asked an eager voice.

“Oh what?” The old man pretended to wake up suddenly.

“What did he find? Did he find the caravan? Did they get back home?”

“So many questions!” said the old man. “Well, no, they didn’t find the caravan. In fact, they didn’t find anything at all.”

“You mean, except the town,” said the confident kid, not sounding quite as confident as he had before.

“No, there was no town there. They could see the mountains rising up from the sand. They had all the landmarks. But where they were there was nothing but sand.”

The confident kid made a dismissive motion with his hand, got up, and walked away. The other kids were horrified. They demanded another story, claiming they couldn’t possibly go to sleep now.

The confident kid grew up, and he never forgot the story. He became a caravan merchant himself. New towns had grown up at the northern edge of the mountains. They bought things from the miners in the mountains as they always had. Caravans from the northern coastal towns came and carried them across the strip of desert land between the mountains and the coast and then sold them to trading ships. The winds rearranged the sand a bit, but not so much that one couldn’t find one’s way.

Then one day the confident kid sat down around another campfire and heard another story. It was an old man from the mountains. He also told about the time when the orange sky gleamed. His story was a bit different. The gleaming started to the east and built quickly. He described a bit of fire in the sky to the south as well

“What did everyone do?” asked the young man who had once been the confident kid.

“Oh, nothing in particular. We just stayed inside for a few days mostly,” said the old man. Then he paused, expectantly. But the confident young man wasn’t going to ask. Finally he couldn’t resist. He had to finish his story. “After the sky cleared we took our next load north to the town at the base of the mountains, but the town was gone.”

The confident young man was startled. He thought it had been an old man’s tale, but here was another tale to match. He wasn’t sure it was the same town even, but the stories matched so closely.

It took him some weeks to find someone who knew where that town at the base of the mountains had been. The current town was in an oasis which had a spring. It was entirely a new town. The elder who finally admitted to remembering where the old town had been could only tell him it was no more than a mile or so off to the east of the new one.

“But the town is lost, young man,” he said. “There’s no reason to worry about it. It’s buried in the sand.”

That was precisely what the young man thought. “Who owns that land?” he asked the elder.

“Owns a piece of the desert?” said the old man slowly. “Well, nobody.”

“So the confident young man went back to the coast to hire some men. Nobody was very interested in his plan, but he was able to find enough people who needed the work. He took them back to the place where the village had disappeared, and set them to digging. It required a month of digging.

The townspeople were delighted with all the money they were paid for food and water for the men digging in the desert. It never occurred to them to question the motives of the crazy man from the coast. But after a month he found what he wanted. There was the town, and there was the bodies of people, hidden in houses and covered in sand. He found even more than he expected. Though there was no way he could identify the people involved, he could tell there had been a caravan in town, and their cargo was well preserved under the sand.

The confident kid who had grown up into the confident young man became quite a rich man. But he never told the townspeople what he had found. His workers were more than happy to share the wealth and head for home.

Every few months after he returned home he would go to the great campfire in the town square and tell children a story. It was often the story of when the orange sky gleamed. And then he’d tell them the moral of the story. “Pay attention to the stories your elders tell. They might just have something important in them to help you grow up and become rich.”

(This story was written for and submitted to the one word at a time blog carnival – orange.)

There was a new town by the stream near the base of the mountain

Ephesians 2 Haiku

One of the features of my Sunday School class is that we try to respond to the lesson of the day in the form of art, poetry, and stories. So what does one do with Ephesians 2 in terms of art?

I like to experiment, so I read up on Haiku (English forms) and decided to give it a try. I’ve read a bit of Haiku before, but I’ve never tried to write it that I recall.

So here’s my two attempts related to Ephesians 2.

Dying in the cold
Distant life-light given free
Being turns to meet

Dry growth failing, dead
Confusion to infusion
Fusion makes conclusion

Here are my more exegetical notes on the chapter Ephesians 2: The Radical Nature of the Gospel

Her Sincere Belief

“This morning, as I was praying and asking God to show me his will for me today, I heard his voice.” Mrs. Olenco’s* voice had a penetrating quality even though it wasn’t really very loud. It was a determined kind of sound. Those who liked the lady said she radiated sincerity. Others had less complimentary terms.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of anything in this story to anything in the real world is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012
Henry E. Neufeld

The church board fell silent. The issue was the building of a new recreation center at the church. The finance chair had already reported that they didn’t think the church was in a position to pay for the project or to borrow money and keep up the payments. Several program coordinators had discussed how much the project might benefit the church. The young pastor had asked whether this was the best way in which they could use the church’s resources. Were there other places they could accomplish the same things? Were there other needs that were greater?

But now they faced the problem. How did one respond to Mrs. Olenco? She never left any room to maneuver. What she heard from the Lord was unambiguous and final. So it was with great misgivings that the chair asked her the question.

“What did the Lord tell you?”

He didn’t like the question. He wanted to say something like, “What do you believe you heard from the Lord?” But that would lead to arguments and recriminations. You see, Mrs. Olenco didn’t think she heard from the Lord. She heard from the Lord. She would say so with complete and utter sincerity. When anyone questioned her she was hurt.

“The Lord said unto me, ‘Ye shall build me an house, a place where my children can play and be joyful. A place that will glorify me. A place where the children of my family can learn and grow. Ye shall build it. I shall supply!’ saith the Lord Almighty.”

It was mercifully short for once, but then the message was fairly simple.

“I am sure the Lord can and will supply,” said the pastor. Mrs. Olenco smiled and nodded. The young man was coming along nicely. “But,” he contined, “I still wonder if this is the right way to build this church. We have many other needs, and diminishing funds.” The young man was uncertain and the look on his face and the tone of his voice showed it.

“All these years I’ve served this church! All the times I’ve heard these messages from the Lord telling us how to build his kingdom here in this community! But I know I must endure questioning. All God’s prophets have endured questioning. A simple messenger such as myself cannot expect to escape if the holy prophets didn’t. But it’s hard, very hard, young man. I can only imagine that some of the doubters of the church have influenced you. ‘Heed not the words of the faithless, the doubters, those swayed by merely human knowledge,’ saith the Lord.”

Silence reigned in the room again. Nobody wanted to face her tremendous sincerity. And she was sincere. She truly meant every word. Anyone listening could tell that was the case.

It was a voice vote. Not one person raised their voice to say “no.” The church would proceed to build the new center.

*****

Six months later the church board met again. This time they were to listen to a report of the finance and the building committee. There was a simple problem. The building they hoped to build would cost nearly one and a half times what had been planned originally. The bank was unwilling to loan the funds to the church.

“While I was praying this morning, the Lord spoke to me. He said, ‘There are those who do not believe in my provision. They shall be exposed when they stand in the way of my work.’” As she said it she looked directly at the chair of the finance committee and at the pastor. Everybody knew what she was saying. Everybody wondered how to respond.

The finance committee chair looked abashed. He was indeed an opponent of the project. Further he knew that he would have denied the loan had he been in the position of the loan officer of their bank. But he didn’t know what to do in the face of Mrs. Olenco’s clearly sincere belief that God had spoken to her. It was a choice between impossibilities: facing to that incredibly deep and sincere spirituality and finding some way to make this project move forward. He couldn’t see a way to do anything.

Finally the young pastor spoke. “There is sincerity,” he said, “and there is manipulation.” The room fell into a silence that could be felt. Not even Mrs. Olenco was making a sound. “I too prayed this morning, but I didn’t hear a voice. I simply was filled with a calm conviction that this project was the wrong thing at this time and that it was my duty to make that clear.”

His voice wasn’t penetrating. It was even weak. The people in the room could feel his reluctance to say what he was saying.

“I’d rather not have to say this, but I have to do it. I will not support continuation of this project. I do not believe it’s God’s will. Mrs. Olenco,” he said, turning to face her. “I would rather have said this somewhere else, but I had hoped that with the failure of your previous plans you would let wisdom prevail. I believe you are sincere, but I also believe you are sincerely wrong. That shouldn’t be such a major issue. All of us have been wrong many times and will be wrong many times in the future. Despite your obvious deep faith and sincerity, this is one of your times to be wrong.”

This time there were no tears from Mrs. Olenco. She was angry. “If you won’t accept God’s message, then I will have to leave you to your own devices. I shake the dust off my shoes.” She reached toward her shoes but came nowhere near. “I’m leaving,” she said.

She hesitated, clearly expecting someone to tell her to stop. But for the first time in 20 years the church board was unwilling to listen. Nobody moved to stop her.

Then they took a new vote on the recreation center project.

*****


* I want to emphasize that my use of a woman as the manipulative speaker in this story has nothing to do with gender. I have experience in real life of both men and women who manipulate church politics through claiming God’s authority for their ideas. I also do not deny the possibility of hearing the voice of God, but everybody must exercise discernment. I discuss this in my post The Advantages of Stoning False Prophets.)

(This story was written for and submitted to the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival – Sincere.)

Christian Carnival – September 2012

Introductory Ramblings

AKA pursuing rabbits through the brambles …

As I write and edit this post, it appears that GoDaddy serviced web sites are down, and a member of Anonymous is claiming credit for causing the problem. There were a couple of posts I couldn’t access, and I believe that was due to this problem.

This is my first time hosting the Christian Carnival since it went monthly, and I’m impressed with the quality of submissions. I give you all a “great notes” award for actually telling something about your posts in the notes! That was great. I just had to confirm that your post is about what you said it was and that it was within the date range, and off we went.

And speaking of dates, Posts should have been just from August, but I let a couple of out of date posts go through because they were so good, and besides, people are still getting used to this monthly thing, right? So it’s a one time indulgence, and you don’t even have to pay John Tetzel, nor must anyone post 95 theses to make me stop. Speaking of which, what’s with 95 theses? Loquacious fellow, this Luther, methinks!

Unlike me, who never strays from the topic.

At all.

In any case, I will throw around the odd award [noted in brackets] and then I’ll add a few posts from around the blogosphere. While I do feel that we might recategorize these posts (and my spell checker doesn’t like “recategorize”), I’m going to (mostly) leave yours where you put them, even if I create new categories.

So on with the posts!

(Putting an incomplete sentence, or better fragment, on a line by itself, as in “at all” is a literary device, not an error.)

Apologetics

Danny Kofke offered How Much Money Should The Tooth Fairy Pay? at One Money Design
Notes: How much do you think the tooth fairy should pay and how can you explain the difference in the amounts she leaves different households. This is never an easy conversation with your kids! [Papa's critical information award!]

Luther Wesley offered Friendship with the World is a Siren Song at LivingNGrace
Notes: I want to follow…it looks so easy and my legs are so weary. My heart is heavy and my soul burdened with the trials and cares of this world. My failings, both past and present, play like a never-ending High Def screen show with the rumble of surround sound filling my ears. These sins…..these chains that so easily beset me are cumbersome…dragging me down to the depths of despair. The song, the allure of the Broad Path, and Friendship with the World bids me come…..and my knees buckle under the weight…..

Chris Gehrz offered Mister Rogers: “An Offering of Love” at The Pietist Schoolman
Notes: Yes, that Mr. Rogers — sharing his profoundly Christian vision of how “you can be an agent of what’s good and not have to be terribly direct about it.”

Maryann Spikes offered JC Lamont’s “Prophecy of the Heir” on the problem of judgment at Ichthus77
Notes: My absolute favorite thing about “Prophecy of the Heir” is how Lamont unapologetically, yet with the prowess of an apologist, answers the problem of the harshness of judgment.

Rob Kuban offered Should Churches Borrow Money? at One Money Design
Notes:  Churches shouldn’t over extend so much that they have trouble paying operating costs and carrying out God’s ministry.  Churches, like you and I, need to make sure they are good stewards of God’s resources.

Tom Gilson offered The Professor Who Thought He Knew Bigotry When He Saw It at Thinking Christian
Notes: A University of Central Florida prof sent an email to 500 students claiming it is bigotry for Christians to proclaim ours is the “most valid” religion. The email has gone viral, and yet it still appears the prof doesn’t recognize his own self-contradictions. [Finding the nutty professor award!]

I will nominate (and promptly accept) Allan Bevere’s post Science and the Eschatological Challenge to Theology (Part 4) (no less). Allan is a major force in United Methodist blogging and gets pretty deep on some of his theological material.

Devotional

Dan Chesney offered God Think Man Think at getlifegroup.com
Notes: God thinks very differently than we do, and the more we understand this the more successful we are at living a vital Christian life. [Christianity is not for the fainthearted? This gets the "a bunch of people will be disappointed and they should be" award!]

Maurice Kande offered Make a start with little things at The Dreamcatcher
Notes: This post aims at teaching people to value the little things in life. Understanding that everything started small becomes a defining moment for those who have hard time starting to live their Divine Purpose.

Josh Wiley submitted 22 Quotes About The Cross by Daryl Evans at What Christians Want To Know
Notes: This article was sobering to write as I again wrestle with the amazing gift of Jesus being the sacrifice for me willingly on a cross over 2000 years ago. I hope these quotes move you to thank God today for Jesus.
Gbenga Owotoki offered Celebrate Your Marriage Union at Gbenga Owotoki – Impart for Impact
Notes: Marriage is honorable. You should be thankful you are married and had remained so. Many had gone that way and never enjoyed the ride. For some, it resulted in their demise. But eh! You made it. You may argue, you may sometimes find the marriage voyage turbulent but in all of your challenges, you are still together. You should celebrate this. Your once-in-a-year wedding anniversary is not enough. Find reason to spend more time together in a celebratory mode. When you do this often, it helps to keep the bond of love intact.

Krista Manchuck offered Unleash the Beast at Run For Your Life
Notes: Being a Christian is about more than going to church a couple of times a week and reading your Bible. It is about living out Biblical principles in every area of our lives. As a Christian and as a runner, the Lord has taught me a lot about Him through the discipline of running. This post talks about how who God has made us on the inside effects who we are on the outside.

Josh Wiley submitted Apostle Paul Biography and Timeline by David Peach at What Christians Want To Know
Notes: We are first introduced to Paul when he was Saul of Tarsus. He was standing over the first Christian martyr Stephen looking on as Stephen was stoned to death. From this gruesome introduction to the completion of his missionary journeys Paul has become a champion and hero in the Christian faith.

Shannon Christman submitted The Simple Gospel by Ridge Burns at Ridge’s Blog
Notes: ” . . . we need to go back to determine what the essence of our faith is. What is it that we need to believe?”

Benjamin Williams offered Yes, Really, The Armor of God at The Form of a Servant
Notes: If you’re anything like me, when you read Paul’s command to put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:11) you immediately want to know what it is that constitutes the armor of God and how it is that we might put it on. Anything to stand up to the schemes of the devil would be welcome; it’s no surprise to anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time that there is a constant battle against the spiritual forces of evil.

I submitted my wife Jody Neufeld’s post Heart Check from Jody’s Devotionals.
Notes: How do we really think about others? How do we respond to those who are different? Can they tell that we are welcoming?

Other

Stephanie offered 3 Ways To Parent the Way God Has Called Us To Parent at The Christian Housewife
Notes: “How many times have we, as mothers, been subjected to a thoughtless comment or even a look from another person that leaves us feeling like we are complete failures at parenting? Unfortunately, all too often, people are too quick to throw out their opinions and thoughts on how we are choosing to parent and this can often leave us questioning our abilities in the role God has put us in.

So, how can we remain confident in the choices we’re making as moms while still remaining teachable when the time comes? It’s a delicate balance, that’s for sure, but one that is very important to maintain. We certainly want to learn from others, but we need to guard our hearts to make sure that only the truth is penetrating our views on child rearing. The enemy’s lies can quickly ruin the good work we’re doing. Sometimes one person’s “helpful advice” can be misconstrued as an attack on us. Pretty soon thoughts of inadequacy and failure settle into our minds and our hearts and those feelings can wreak havoc on our self-worth.

So, here are 3 ways that I believe we can be sure we’re parenting the way God has called us to parent.”…..

Chris Price offered The World of Historical Revisionism Turned Upside Down at American Church History
Notes: Christians frequently complain of revisionist history that attempts to relegate the founding fathers to the background. What about those that attempt to revise history to make even the most unorthodox religious thinkers among the founders into orthodox Christians?

James Nakamura offered That Punky Kid In The Youth Group: Ode To My Hero Jeremy Powers at Nakadude – Knowing the Extraordinary from an ordinary’s perspective.
Notes: Remember that rough, loud, crazy kid in the youth group? The one that was in the youth group that I led is one my personal heroes. I know that when Christ sees him, He smiles at his reckless passion to live. My hope is we all continue to live from the heart.

Shannon Christman submitted Running Late by Kristen Cain at InFaith’s Mission Blog
Notes: Kristen Cain was reminded of God’s abilities when she ran late for a ministry meeting.

Bob MacDonald offered Muttering and perishing, a thought on Psalm 1 and 2 at Dust
Notes: the consequences of the mutterings we listen to

Carl Ayers offered Jesus’ Pronouncements on Divorce and Remarriage, 2 of 2 at Theological Pursuit
Notes: This post is a continuation of an ongoing series on how the bible views divorce and remarriage. This is the second post of 2 specifically on what Jesus (or better, the gospel accounts of Jesus) have to say about the matter. Wasn’t Jesus very strict? We find that Jesus was both more and less strict than we often see it. [This gets an award for complexity. But it's an important and complex topic!]

Dan Navin offered Love at Pursued By God
Extract: The love I focused on in the former paragraph was one that was often closely tied to my same sex attractions. This love lied, manipulated and deceived the object of my affection into lowering his defenses. It was a love that sought comfort through sex as repayment for my good deeds and loving actions. It was a love that always saw the end game as being conquest through sex. And when the goal was attained, the “love” often revealed itself to be little more than lust or excitement which came from pursuing the challenge.

I’m offering my own post Silly Who from The Jevlir Caravansary.
Notes: I wrote this story for the one-word-at-a-time blog carnival. You can find links to the carnival in the post. The word for the carnival was “silly.” I like to look for various ways to use it and to do it in a short story.

 Politics

Paul Kuritz submitted Voting in Two Kingdoms by Paul Kuritz at Paul Kuritz. Opinions
Notes: How does a Christian think about voting in this election?

I’m adding Rachel Held Evans with her post God and Our Political Platforms.
How important is the presence of the word “God” in our political platforms? What does it mean?

And for a very different view of the same topic, I submit (and accept forthwith) The Truth in an Unscripted Moment by Elgin Hushbeck, Jr.

Moving in yet another direction, Bob Cornwall of Ponderings on a Faith Journey believes God has a preferential option for the poor in God’s Preferential Option.

I have a bunch more links available, but I have to stop somewhere.

Don’t forget to submit posts for next months carnival to be hosted at American Church History on October 3, 2012. You can submit your posts through the submission form.

If any hosts are interested, I created a spreadsheet for OpenOffice Calc. You can download the submissions and it will create the basic links and formatting. Doubtless it could be improved a good deal if someone wants to take the time.

If I missed something, comment, and if it fits the criteria, I’ll promote it into the post and you get your link.

Christian Carnival Coming Tomorrow

I will post the Christian Carnival for September 9 on September 10. I kind of used today as a submission deadline. I’ll accept submissions until midnight tonight.

There are still not that many. Get your submission in!

Silly Who

Karl’s Story

Karl was pleased that his daughter Ellen spent so much time out in the woods. That way he wouldn’t have to be embarrassed by the silly things she did. He knew he should watch her more carefully, but he had never been able to bring himself to actually do it. If he tried to control her, things just got crazy.

Ellen couldn’t speak and many thought she couldn’t hear either. She just made incomprehensible sounds. The reason some people thought she really could hear was that she had an uncanny ability to notice what was going on around her. Those who depended on the fact that she couldn’t hear and tried to play tricks on her generally were unpleasantly surprised. Her practical jokes were usually embarrassing and sometimes painful, but never fatal.

This is a work of fiction. All persons, places, and events are products of my imagination.
Copyright © 2012
Henry E. Neufeld

Still, she behaved so strangely when she was in town. She’d spend time down at the shrine just looking at the inscriptions on the walls. She’d sit for hours just watching people on the street. She was nosy. She showed up at places she didn’t belong. She never did any chores. In fact, Karl thought, she was completely useless as a person and he quite frankly admitted to himself and to his neighbors that he resented the cost of feeding her. But he was much too responsible, and though he’d deny it, gentle of a man to actually do her real harm, and so he just let her run wild.

But he was delighted that she mostly ran wild far out in the woods. There were plenty of dangers out there, but at least he could pretend they weren’t his problem.

This arrangement worked well until one day Ellen came into town and went straight to the village headman. She got his attention and then began drawing in the dirt with a stick. Her father, who had followed her to try to keep her out of trouble—well, let’s be honest, to keep himself out of trouble by keeping her from bothering people—thought that what she was drawing looked hauntingly familiar, but he wasn’t sure why. The village headman had no idea, however, and he roughly pushed Ellen to the ground, told Karl to “control his daughter” and stalked off.

Karl tried to grab Ellen. The last thing he needed was to get in trouble with the headman. But Ellen was too fast and she disappeared into the woods. Karl chose the path of least resistance. He could always hope she would disappear again into the woods. He forgot entirely about the hauntingly familiar figures Ellen had drawn in the dirt.

Karl couldn’t read. Neither could the headman. In fact, nobody in the village could read. To them the figures on the walls of the village shrine were just strange religious symbols. They knew the shrine was very old, but nobody really cared. One just went there to offer sacrifices to the gods, though nobody knew why. They were sure the figures had sacred power, but they had no idea what they were, or what they were supposed to depict.

In the woods around there were ruins of other buildings, but nobody knew much about them either. They were just part of the landscape. Ellen had once led her father to one of those ruined buildings outside the village. She tried to point out things on the wall to him. He’d told her she was very silly, and that there was no point wasting his time.

In fact, Karl thought whoever had built the stone buildings must have been pretty silly themselves. Why go to that much work for shelter when a few tree branches and some woven grass would do just as well. It was probably right that his silly daughter spent her time in all those silly piles of rock. He had left her there and returned to the village, never noticing her look of disappointment.

For several days nobody saw Ellen at all. Karl was so pleased not to have to deal with her that he didn’t really get that worried about what might have happened to her. Surely she’d reappear in time.

Ellen’s Story

Ellen ran quickly through the woods to one of her caches of supplies. She had a hunting bow and a knife there, really all she needed to survive. She didn’t understand the problem. Did they imagine she would like about a thing like that? She was sure she had the symbols right. Why hadn’t they gotten her message. Over the 20 years of her life she had tried many things, including trying to move her lips the way other people did, but she’d always thought that when she drew the symbols people would understand her. But they didn’t.

Silly villagers, she thought. And silly me. Why didn’t I realize they never used the symbols themselves?

She ran through the woods for hours. Through the river gorge to the north ran a major trade route. At this point it didn’t belong to any country, king, or noble. It was considered wilderness. The caravans traveled with guards. Ellen had observed them many times before. She knew there were scraggly and poor caravans whose guards were dangerous themselves. She had barely escaped from contact with some of them before. But there were others whose clothes were rich. She had practiced writing the symbols she saw on the walls. It was with a caravan guard that she had finally made the connection between the symbols, the pictures, and events in her life.

So now she went looking for a caravan and the guards. She’d have to pick one carefully, because she didn’t want to be captured and enslaved. But with the right caravan, she might get the guards to come and help her deal with what she had found in the woods. It would be good for them too.

It was a full days travel on foot to the cliffs above the caravan road. Horses could make it much faster. When she arrived at the place where she usually climbed down the cliffs she found that the path was held. She should have thought of this. The people she had found near her own village would be planning to raid caravans, and this was the one place one could get down to the road easily. It would be impossible to sneak down the cliff where she had planned to.

There were other places to climb, but she had never done so. She moved perhaps a mile further along the road, going downstream. She knew from the guards that they were near where the canyon came to an end and the road moved into territory owned by a king and patrolled by his troops. She felt her first true fear as she faced the cliff. She hadn’t been afraid when she found the bandits. She hadn’t been afraid when her father had tried to catch her. She hadn’t even been afraid when she saw the path blocked. She had never climbed down a cliff like this.

She very nearly didn’t make it. Several times she came close to falling, and there wouldn’t be any second chances. She was so tired when she reached the bottom of the cliff that she couldn’t do anything but just lie there and try to recover. And then she fell asleep.

She was wakened by a man in armor. He was poking her with a stick. She jumped up and tried to reach her weapons, but he knocked her to the ground. It was the first time she had been caught asleep by an enemy, and this guard clearly proved to be an enemy.

It was lucky for her that the caravan was moving. These were the sort of merchants and guards who would not treat a girl in their midst well at all. But since they were moving they didn’t have time to do anything except throw her into a cage. She was not the only person in there. Apparently this caravan included slaves in its cargo.

The other women in the cage tried to talk to her, but she couldn’t hear them, and she could get nothing from the movement of their lips. She tried drawing symbols on the floor of the cage, but they just thought she was crazy and moved to the other end of the cage. Ellen thought if they got together they could break out of the cage. Prepared, she was sure she could break away from these guards. But the silly women weren’t cooperating.

Finally she scratched symbols for “ambush ahead” into the floor of the cage as carefully as she could. One of the guards looked at the symbols, but the silly man either couldn’t read or didn’t care what some girl had to say.

So the caravan was completely surprised by the ambush. The other women huddled at the back end of their cage, but Ellen watched carefully for any opportunity. The opportunity came when one of the guards was hit by an arrow and fell against the bars of the cage. Ellen was able to grab his dagger and cut the ropes that held the door. In a moment she was outside and grabbing a bow. It was heavier than her hunting bow, but she was able to pull it, and she started to shoot, while carefully and frequently checking behind her.

She moved slowly toward the cliff and she used her arrows against the attackers since it was clear that they had the advantage. She found these warriors much easier to hit than the game she had hunted in the forest, and most of them were not that well armored. If she had given her full effort, she might well have made the difference for them between victory and defeat. As it was, she killed the last of the attackers just after he had killed the last of the caravan guards.

What was left was a small number of the merchants and their servants, none of them armed. They huddled together and waited to see what this apparition from the forest would do to them. Silly people! Some of them didn’t even realize she was the girl who had been captured just an hour or so earlier.

She tried to release the women from the cage, but they were afraid to move as well. Silly women! They didn’t know who to trust even though she hadn’t given them any reason to fear her that she could see.

She tried to get the caravan folks to understand that they could go ahead and get moving, but they didn’t get the idea. So she sat on a ledge just above the road and watched them. She hoped another caravan would come along. She still wanted to talk to some real guards, and she knew that there were more bandits than had been involved in the attack.

It was past noon before anyone more showed up and it was a small patrol of guards. She had no idea where from. The lady who led the guards tried to motion her to come down off her ledge, but she kept her bow in hand and motioned for the guard to come to her.

When the lady came up to the ledge she tried to talk, but of course Ellen couldn’t understand her. Ellen motioned as though she wanted to write, and the lady produced a pencil and some paper. It was nice to deal with someone who didn’t just think she was silly! She slowly wrote down the basics about the ambush and then she drew a map showing where the bandits had their large camp.

After that things were easy. The guards hunted the bandits, and they were very skilled. They also released the women and promised to escort them back to town. They arrested the caravan merchants because they had taken the women from their town.

When it was all done, they returned to Ellen’s village. Ellen wrote a question for everyone. “Why is everyone so silly?” she asked. “The villagers ignore me, the caravan guards ignore my warning, the women think I’m dangerous. I think I hate these villagers.”

“Things look silly when you don’t understand them,” said the lady. “What’s really silly is when you won’t learn.”

(This story was written for and submitted to the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival – Silly.)