The Shibboleth and The Sword – Chapter 14

From time immemorial, mankind has always sought to communicate forward to the generations that will follow after.  Ancient caves show pictographs of how the peoples of antiquity live and survived as hunter-gatherers and in agrarian development.  Carvings on ancient stone posts called steles are unearthed bearing a complex structure of symbols and images that we find even now hard to decipher, yet we call these ancient peoples primitive and falsely assume they are unlearned.  Messages from those ancient times have survived the ages because they were carved into stone.  It seems that the writers of antiquity were trying to tell us something that would outlast the test of time, so they chose a medium that represented something that to them would last.  One form of communication that has proven time-resistant through the ages, is communication of values through story.  This usually begins from parent to child and so on, but in the Surface World that practice is breaking down.  There is an impediment to traditional communication, or a speech impediment, if you will.  Despite the myriad forms of new ways in which to communicate, the historical tradition of transferring values from one generation to the next is under assault.  There are competing voices clamoring for attention.  Sights and sounds that dazzle, delight and shock.  Modern generations are losing their ability to hear and seek wisdom from prior generations.  They are told any message the old has to offer the new is faded and out of date and no longer connected to the new norm.  But despite what you might be told, people do not change that much, despite whatever “progress” might be happening around them.  They are losing the answers that past would have already provided them—To equip them to handle the advent of “progress” in their brave new world.  Languages are being lost to antiquity.  Their words no longer easily form on the lips of the modern youth.  Words are being snatched away from their meanings, like a child torn away from their birth family and having their heritage and identity dissolved into society’s modern progressive “System”.  Languages, once lost, are difficult to learn again.  The tongue of one culture, even in modern society, finds difficulty pronouncing the sounds passing as language in another.  This is not because of ignorance, but because the way words are phonetically produced requires mouth and tongue movements that are only perfected by repeated and habitual practice.  We may smile at the Asian learner’s difficulty in perfecting the “L” sound of the Latin alphabet, or the English speaker’s difficulty of approximating the “Ж” sound of the Cyrillic, or the buzzing and rolling “rr” sound of the Latin languages.  These distinctions of the ability or inability to produce such sounds were used to reveal the culture and background of the person to which one is speaking.

In the time of the Judges, as told by the Ancient Text, there was a judge whose name was Jepthath who used this linguistic challenge to root out enemy spies from a neighboring tribe who were seeking entrance into their lands to cause them harm.

“Then the people of Ephraim mobilized an army and crossed over the Jordan River to Zaphon. They sent this message to Jephthah: “Why didn’t you call for us to help you fight against the Ammonites? We are going to burn down your house with you in it!” Jephthah replied, “I summoned you at the beginning of the dispute, but you refused to come! You failed to help us in our struggle against Ammon. So when I realized you weren’t coming, I risked my life and went to battle without you, and the LORD gave me victory over the Ammonites. So why have you now come to fight me?” The people of Ephraim responded, “You men of Gilead are nothing more than fugitives from Ephraim and Manasseh.” So Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead and attacked the men of Ephraim and defeated them. Jephthah captured the shallow crossings of the Jordan River, and whenever a fugitive from Ephraim tried to go back across, the men of Gilead would challenge him. “Are you a member of the tribe of Ephraim?” they would ask. If the man said, “No, I’m not,” they would tell him to say “Shibboleth.” If he was from Ephraim, he would say “Sibboleth,” because people from Ephraim cannot pronounce the word correctly. Then they would take him and kill him at the shallow crossings of the Jordan. In all, 42,000 Ephraimites were killed at that time.” [Judges 12:1-6 NLT]

In this way, the families of the tribe of Gilead, were preserved, because they had a means of revealing the enemy concealed among them.  A test that they could give which would expose the danger in their midst.  There are many tests that can be put to the challenges you face ahead.  I have told you of some of the ways the philosophies work among the cultures here, to prepare you, and equip you to discern attempts to deceive you and lure you in.  The battlefields we have to cross below and ahead are not just those in geographical locations, but of a mental sort as well.  Everyone is new to you here so you may not recognize the enemy who seeks your harm when they walk among you.  The Ancient Text implores us:

“Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil.” [1 Thessalonians 5:20-22 NLT]

To discern good from evil and friend from foe, you must be able to test for its presence.  This is essential for your survival.  Yours and ours together.

When I purposed to be part of this journey and answer its call and challenges, I knew I could not do it on my own wisdom.  Some of you have asked, why I use the Ancient Text so much?  Why do I seem to be joined to the past and the words written in another world?  Again the Ancient Text provides me with the answer I must give you in this moment.

“Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written, “THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.” For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.” [1 Corinthians 2:6-13 NASB]

There is a transcendent truth that is being communicated and has gone out for centuries before I was even born or thought of by my parents or their parents.  These ancient truths, some say are out of date.  I would simply have to agree because they are timeless.  Dates have no meaning in the light of Truth.  We have access to One who speaks forth from Eternity.  What measure does time and location present to Him?  He can answer in our moment or provide the answer ahead of us or behind us in our past.  We merely have to be humble enough to seek it and it will come to us like a refreshing breeze on a sweltering summer day.  We are called to be discerning, to expose deception, and to recognize evil when it presents itself in disguise, but to do that you have to know and embrace the truth taught by the Ancient Text.  The words I share with you, if you are ready for the challenges ahead, should not be new to you, but should resonate with the knowledge you already carry from your own personal experiences and study.  The question I pose to you all and myself included is this: How well do you listen to the instructive and experienced voices of the past in your own journey and story?

The Ancient text says this, following the text quoted above:

“But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.” [1 Corinthians 2:14-16 NASB]

Where does your own insight come from?  A timeless source?  Or a finite one?

What attitude does that person providing you with these insights you embrace have towards you?  Are they building you up or tearing you down?  These are questions you and I have to ask ourselves because we are being continually tested moment to moment.

“By what right do you have to test us?” asked Will, the young man now grown more emboldened.

“Who gave you this authority over us that you dare to question our loyalty to the quest?”

“Aren’t you the one who admitted that you have betrayed countless stories?  That you murdered and dismembered many that we will see on this journey?  Aren’t you just the convicted serial killer being forced to reveal the hidden gravesites where you left your victims to rot and be devoured by scavengers?  Why should we trust that you are committed?  How do we know that you are not leading us into a trap of your own?  What right do you have to lecture us on recognizing what is good and right and decent?  Who are you to say whom we should follow, or what we should do?  You, yourself are a hypocrite!  You have more blood on your hands than we do, so you have no right to even speak to us.  Let Begglar lead.  He, at least, lives here and has a stake in this fight.”

I looked over at Begglar and he laughed nervously and raised both hands, palms outward, “Not me, laddie.  I’m fat and old.  That is why I run an Inn.  Or, at least, did so before all this.  I have more skill with a cook spoon than a sword.”

I turned to Will with the others watching.  What I was about to say would gain me no friends and would test the ones I had made already.

“You are correct in what you say of me.”

I could tell he was prepared for many responses, but he wasn’t expecting this.

“As I’ve said before.  I didn’t choose me.  If you have a problem with staying, you are free to go.  Seek your own ease.  If you plan on staying, but want a different guide here, then you will then have to take it up with the One who chose me for the task.  What you do not know is that I do have a stake in this.  I can die in this world and in this conflict.  I am also held accountable for the services I render in leadership.  If one is to lead, he must become the servant of all who would follow.  As a servant of those who choose to follow, I must protect their interests and well-being.  We are a volunteer force in this plane of existence.  We share the journey and the mission.  We succeed when we work together for a common goal.  If there is disharmony, I must protect against it.  United we stand, divided we fall.  It is as simple as that.  If you choose division, those of us who chose unity will have to say goodbye to you.  You may choose to remain and explore here, but you will not do so in our company or share in our provisions.  You must make your own way and join the group that suits you.  If we meet upon a battlefield and you have aligned yourself with the enemy, you will be treated as such by us.  Choose you this day, what cause you will serve: Your own, or that of this shared company?”

As I used the term “we” I realized that this term could very easily come to represent a much smaller group from this moment forward.

They all remained quiet.  Thinking over what I had said.

A man in the back of the crowd muttered, “I don’t have time for this nonsense.  I’m going back.  Keep your little quest, or whatever it is.  I’ve too many responsibilities back in the Surface World to spend any more time following this whatever it is,” and with that he turned to go, trudging back up the hill towards the crest in the direction of the Inn.

He turned and looked down on us when he had gone about fifty paces.  He addressed Begglar, ignoring me, but looked meaningfully at the rest of the company.

“You said we could help ourselves to a libation when we were back at the Inn, didn’t you?”

Begglar nodded, “Aye, I did, sir.”

The man, somber-faced looked hard at me, and then nodded and tipped his forehead to Begglar, “Good.  I think I could use one before the journey back.  Any of you others are welcome to join me.”

Turning his back on us again, he continued up the hill road to the Inn.

Two or three others followed him, but the rest remained.

The woman, with whom I had spoken before, asked me, “Why do you seem to be driving and showing us away?  Don’t you want our help on this quest?”

“This quest is not about me.  But it is something I must do…feel called to do.  There is a place called Excavatia.  All you have is my word on it.  It is real.  But we will have to dig through these tunnels of experience, tragedy and struggle to get there.  There are armies being drawn together ahead of us.  If they meet on a shared plain, under the current climate of suspicion of each other, that ground will quickly become a battlefield that will escalate into the war that has been steadily brewing for the last few years.  Xarmnian, Capitalian or not, we will all get swept into it.”

“What are you saying?  You’re afraid for us?”

“I am worried.  I do wonder if you all would be safer going back.  Pretending that nothing was happening here, going about your lives with no thoughts of this elsewhere.  Just because I have the calling to go, does not mean that I have the right to put you all at risk.”

“I don’t remember being forced here,” and she turned to her companions and our company at large.

“Do any of you remember Mr. O’Brian, compelling any of you to come?  Do any of you remember him saying that this would be safe and easy?”

The response was mixed, but by and large in the affirmative though not coordinated enough for me to be certain of what I heard.

The woman turned and folded her arms and nodded as if her point had been clearly made.

“See.  We are all in agreement, save those who left.  We are here because of our own choices.  Quit doubting yourself and us.  It is not fair of you to do so.”

I looked at her seriously and the sober faces around her, nodding in agreement.

I couldn’t help it.  I chuckled to myself.

“Well, if you put it that way, I certainly want to be fair and not rude to you all.  In the service of fairness, I suppose I do not have any other choice, now do I?”

 

“No, you really don’t,” she said with an impish grin.  “You spoke of Gideon, Mr. O’Brian.  Are you planning on having us all drink from the river to narrow our company down a bit?”

 

“Ha. Ha,” I said, “Good reference.  Did you know that the particular account of Gideon was the original group of 300 warriors in 1194 B.C., long before the 300 Spartans in September or August of 480 B.C. (714 years later) fought in the Battle of Thermopylae against the Persians?  Gideon’s group of warriors were the ‘Original 300’.”

The Ancient Text says this:

“The LORD said to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel would become boastful, saying, ‘My own power has delivered me.’ “Now therefore come, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is afraid and trembling, let him return and depart from Mount Gilead.'” So 22,000 people returned, but 10,000 remained. Then the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many; bring them down to the water and I will test them for you there. Therefore it shall be that he of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go with you; but everyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.” So he brought the people down to the water. And the LORD said to Gideon, “You shall separate everyone who laps the water with his tongue as a dog laps, as well as everyone who kneels to drink.” Now the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was 300 men; but all the rest of the people kneeled to drink water. The LORD said to Gideon, “I will deliver you with the 300 men who lapped and will give the Midianites into your hands; so let all the other people go, each man to his home.” So the 300 men took the people’s provisions and their trumpets into their hands. And Gideon sent all the other men of Israel, each to his tent, but retained the 300 men; and the camp of Midian was below him in the valley. … Now the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the sons of the east were lying in the valley as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as numerous as the sand on the seashore.” [Judges 7:2-8, 12 NASB]

Gideon began his quest with 32,000 warriors, and systematically reduced them down to 300 through a series of tests.  The Master wanted only those who were committed, so he had Gideon send those with fear and lack of commitment to the cause of the fight, home.  The 10,000 that remained he divided among the kneelers and the lappers.  Now think about that for a moment.  If your face is down in the water, what can you see ahead of you?  Not much but your own reflection in the shimmering pool.  But if you kneel, you are still scanning the horizon and watchful for the threat ahead, as you bring your hand from the water up to your mouth.  The kneelers had a sense of the danger ahead.  The lappers were concerned only with the fact that they were thirsty and attended to their own needs.  This said a lot about the two kinds of people in Gideon’s marshaled force of warriors.  If you were in command, and were as fearful as Gideon was, which group would you pick to go to battle with?  The kneelers or the lappers?  Well, guess what?  The Master chose to send Gideon to battle with the self-centered lappers.  Doesn’t seem to make sense does it?  But The Master was doing something with Gideon, that we might miss if we’re not careful.  He was stripping Gideon’s trust in everything else away from him, so that victory over the Midianites and Amalekites, appearing in the valley ahead like a swarm of locusts, “numerous as sand on a seashore” could be gained in no other way except by Divine help.  I have quoted it before, but it bears repeating.

“Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” [1 Thessalonians 5:24 NASB]

One other thing that The Master did, which further demolished any confidence Gideon might have had in the 300 lappers who remained with him to bring about a victory against overwhelming odds.  He was told to give each of them a trumpet and a clay pot placed over a torch.  Each of you has a torch.  The Ancient Text says:

“When the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers, they held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands for blowing, and cried, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!”” [Judges 7:20 NASB]

One of the young boys in the company, seeming to be in some measure of distress, raised his hand, and I nodded to him to ask his question.

“But  Mr. O’Brian, sir.  I don’t know how to play a trumpet.”

Begglar laughed a big-throated belly laugh that shook his whole body.  The others nervously smiled at me and looked about in puzzled amusement.

“Don’t worry, laddie.  We’re fresh out of trumpets, fifes and piccolos.  But if ye have a mind ta try me bag pipes, ye’ll find those need a might fixin’ as well.  Honk like a goose, they do.  Ha, ha, ha!”

Another spoke up, “For one who agreed not to insult us, you are certainly not off on the right foot.  Are you saying we are lappers?”

“Not at all.  Not at all,” I assured the speaker, a teen-aged male, not far from boyhood and just on the cusp of being a man.

“I am merely trying to point out that when you are called to do something you believe is beyond your own ability, consider whether or not the task to which you are called is within the scope and ability of the One who calls you to it.  If so, you can be confident that it will be in His power that you will find your success, if you choose to follow that call.  Like the lappers, did not make the best kind of warrior, so it is that God does not require the skill of one over another to accomplish what He calls you to do and will do through you.  As I have said, I am ill-equipped for this quest, but that does not limit the One who called me to it.  Understand?”

He shrugged and then stepped back into the company.

There is a reason I told you of the warrior tests.  It is not necessarily to see who is the bravest or most competent to continue the quest, but for another reason entirely.

There is one other customer that was not mentioned in “The Shopkeeper and Collector” story.  It was not mentioned for a reason, because we could not give this kind a warning of what we are about to do.

That other kind of person is the villain, the thief that often does not come into your shop under the bells of the door, but flees from your shop under the sirens at the back of it.  Running away from it with the precious items you protected from other customers as The Collector.

I do not want to alarm you unduly, but both Begglar and I have suspected something for some time now.  We value you all on this journey.  Especially those who wish to remain here with us to accomplish what we’ve set out to do.  There is a simple question that Begglar will need to ask each of you, before we give you the arms and battle gear we are about to equip you with.

We shall have to ask each of you in turn and privately from all of the rest, because this question requires your honest answers with no copying or overhearing another’s response.  For those of you willing to go forward, we ask that you follow Begglar one by one into that grove just yonder.

For those of you who feel that this quest is not for you, the others are still within sight if you wish to follow them up the hill road there back to the Inn.  We won’t judge or condemn you.  As the young lady says, I have not compelled or forced you to follow me, and I will not do so now, but if you are willing to follow you should know that I will ask you to do somethings along the way that may seem odd to you.  That is merely something a leader must do to coordinate and delegate the tasks of the quest.  So, if you are willing please line up and when called follow into that grove yonder.  The sky is beginning to gray, so we may not have much time.

They aligned themselves in a sort of meandering line pointed towards a copse of darkened trees which formed a sort of oval shape into a darkening sky.  Daybreak had seemed to come only a few hours ago, and it was odd that a gray dusk should be descending upon us so early and so shortly down the trail.  At this rate, the sky would darken soon, and shadow would build up to the mountain peaks in the distance.

Whatever catch release Begglar had pulled within the granary storehouse should have unlatched the hidden weapons cache, but where was it to be found, and why did Begglar insist that our company be led through the copse and grove, before seeking the cache.  There could be no other reason except to bewilder and confuse the enemy walking among us.

One by one, my fellow companions walked towards the grove and met Begglar under the shadows of the bare trees.  Something gleamed in the distance between the two silhouettes as Begglar asked his private and mysterious question, waited for the answer, and then, satisfied, directed each person to proceed on to an area just out of my line of sight to wait until the testing was over.

When it came my turn at last, I met Begglar under the trees, beneath the light of a gibbous moon.

Very pointedly, he asked me the following question.

“O’Brian, I’ve know ye for most of yer life.  You’ve been a faithful chronicler of this land and the truths and lies in it.  You know what their facing ahead, same as I.  But as I’ve asked all the others that are here, so it tis that I’m askin’ you.”

And here he took a breath, and stared hard at me.

What are ye thankful for?

Of course, that would be the most logical question to ask.  And brilliant it was too.

This was our form of Shibboleth Test.  It works almost every time in the Sub-World, and I nearly suspect it may work the same way in the Surface World as well.  Everyone has lots to say about what they don’t like, but fewer and fewer take the time to say what they are grateful for.  Gratitude is becoming a lost language, in the age of protests and angry demonstrations.

Xarmnian enemies here are incapable of expressing gratitude.  They live under the illusion of resentful entitlement.  They expect everyone’s love.  They expect to be compensated.  They expect to be enriched at everyone else’s expense.  They believe anyone who has what they do not, achieved it through privilege or theft and disenfranchisement.  Therefore, a Xarmnian, whose mind has been taken over by that mentality, will struggle to come up with anything that they are thankful for.

If you expect everything, then you will be grateful for nothing.  No one owes you anything.  You and I walk under the dispensation of the Master’s grace, whether we acknowledge it or not.  For He holds the worlds that exist together under His will.  He owes us nothing, yet He gave us everything.  Your fellow travel owes you nothing.  Be grateful when they choose to show you mercy and recognize that every gift of that mercy comes to you undeserved.  That is my mindset.  You do not own me loyalty, or friendship, or the time you have taken out of your lives to travel here with me.  These things I receive from you as a mercy and a gift.  I am not entitled or deserving of them…but I am grateful for it.

A humble, grateful person will understand that every good gift they are given, was provided to them apart from their merit.  In the courtroom of life, we come not as the plaintiff, but the guilty defendant, and all we have left to us is to plead for the mercy of the court.

For everything in which you feel entitled, those things you become incapable of also being grateful for and appreciative of.  In a culture growing more ungrateful and unappreciative of what sacrifices were made for that provision, the more closer that culture will be drawn into the state in which the very stones will cry out.

That gleam in the distance that I saw flash slightly ever so often was the shining blade of a sword embedded into the ground at the end of the copse.  The sword had a red sash, that flapped in the breeze that reminded me of a bloodline.  The hilt of the sword was a burnished gold forming a golden cross.  The red sash though symbolic of a stream of shed blood from Immanuel’s vein, was also a lifeline.  The wielder or the sword was intended to wrap the sash around his or her forearm and bind it there, so that the sword would never be lost in battle.  It would be fixed to the hand and arm that bore it forth.  That is why the sash was traditionally called The Bloodline.

Seeing it, and my trusted friend standing there, I freely told him all I was thankful for.  Perhaps more than he wanted to hear.

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The Namesake – Chapter 13

“Know the enemy and know yourself and in a hundred battles you will never be defeated.”  Sun Tzu – The Art of War.

Sage words from a very effective military strategist in the historical days of the Surface World.  Preparation for engaging the enemy here in the mid-worlds must begin always with knowledge of the self and knowledge of the opponent.  We must be able to call things by what they are evidenced to be.  As Begglar mentioned we may have a Xarmnian spy in our company of travelers or one of the very Monsters we have been earnestly seeking to avoid.  There are some things we should overlook and some things we should not.  A rush to judgment or an unwarranted accusation could cause more harm than good and breed distrust which would defeat our cause and our mission altogether.  I had anticipated a conflict with the enemies, and I say that in the plural because they are many here, and thankfully not necessarily unified in motivation, but the effect of their separately motivated hostilities would achieve essentially the same objectives:

Divide and Conquer.

Here in the Sub-World, you have to be very careful what or who it is that you call by their name.  Sometimes doing so summons what or whoever it is you are speaking of.  Sometimes it evokes a certain gravitas and weight giving those things a kind of permanence here.  It is much like on the web above in the Surface World.  What you post, text or display there becomes a record that, try as you might, you cannot expunge.  Today’s vented anger will live forever on a cataloged timeline of the life in which the one who gave it place will regret later.  The same can be said of memory, though thankfully people do forget over time those things you wish they didn’t judge you by…unless they give those things power by anchoring resentment around them.  Those things will never be forgotten unless dementia mercifully pulls them away in ages to come.  Forgiveness is a wonderful, magical thing if asked for.  It is one of those good things that are summoned by saying the word or its equivalent with sincerely to someone else.  Not with every person….not with those who have placed the anchor of bitterness there at the point in time of the offense, but with most people.  Most people find it hard to move forward with their own lives if they remained chained to the bitterness of an event in someone else’s past.  One thing I have had to learn over time is that when I recognize the level to which I have been and have received forgiveness for my own offenses, I then have a hard time holding onto the anchor chains of bitterness I may harbor against other in their timelines of existence.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying that everyone should just let others run over them at will and piously suffer those abuses in silence.  I see no basis for that in the Ancient Texts, nor do I advocate for it here.  An offense that is worth considering as a candidate for forgiveness most often comes as a singular event or very few times over the course of interaction.  The offender may be unaware of it.  They may just blunder into it.

Think of it this way, if you will.

The Shop Keeper and The Collector – Story #5 [Part I]

Say you own a fine china shop which contains very ornate and finely crafted figurines that you have had brought into your shop from places all over the world.  A prospective customer comes into your shop and the chimes or bell over the doorway tingles announcing their entry.  What do you as the shopkeeper typically say?  “Hello, welcome to WalMart.”  [Uh…no!]

Let’s start again.  You own a figurine and china shop of valuable items that you have gathered from all over the world.  [Last I checked, WalMart does not sell Fine China so let’s let that one go, all right?]

Your store is precious to you.  It is your business and livelihood.  You rely on customers to come into it and peruse your special merchandise and pay a fair price for those things they appreciate enough to want to take home.  There are some very high priced and expensive and rare items that you keep locked up in glass cabinets that are anchored to the floor.  The last thing you really want in your shop is a blunder.  You know and appreciate the value of the items here.  They may not.  But let’s face it.  Every prospective customer has the quality of blunderer within them.  You are faced with a quandary.  Close up the shop against all blunderers, or take the risk and upon your business to human customers.  Preferably those who carry or still have money in their possession and have entered your shop in hopes of appreciating something enough to part with some of their money in exchange for it.  You are both the shopkeeper who must pay your bills and overhead and staff if successful enough, but in some ways, you are also a collector of certain figurines and china sets that you are loathed to part with for any price.  The latter priceless collections represent those who occupy the most cherished places in your life.  Those you keep in the back of your shop and do not put on display for customers.

Now let’s say one of your prospective customers is carrying one of those honking big purses on their shoulder as they walk next to your displayed items.  You warily watch as they chat away with their companion turning this way and that, sweeping that monstrously tacky purse this way and that, causing even the painted eyes on your shelved figurines to blink and wince and cringe as that wrecking ball swings near them.  The customer squeals in delight over this item and that piece and this little “SO CUUUUTE!!!!” figurine over there.  You are glad that the women with the wrecking ball purse find your items and precious wares “SO CUUUTE!!!” and marvel at how some lady who looks to be a baritone can actually be an operatic soprano with each delighted piercing squeal, so you smile placidly (as much as you can) while she literally be-bops and pirouettes down the aisles.  That placid smile is cracking, isn’t it?  There are gritted teeth behind it.  You may need to visit your dentist soon about your molars, you think to yourself.  The oblivious woman and her lady companion, who thankfully (bless her heart) carries a modestly sized shoulder bag which she keeps held tightly to her side, continue their progress towards the back aisle of your store where you keep the more foreign and expensive items.  Suddenly, this annoying electronic noise that purports to be a ringtone erupts with a cacophonous sound from the back of your store.  The wrecking ball bearing, soprano, with hips the size of a pair or watermelons, pivots swiftly and plunges a meaty arm into her cavernous purse to retrieve the squawking box, now singing “♫Happy, happy, happy.  Singa long if you feel lika room without a roof…♫!!”  Whereupon your precious figurine from that special curio shop of native and handmade one-of-kind items in Peru, that you wrapped with roll upon roll of bubble wrap and carried in your carry-on bag on your flight back to the States, sudden is forced into its own flight, sans the bubble-wrap, aboard Elbow Express Airways.  In your mind, you can almost hear the following as your figurine makes its end over end slow-motion plunge to the uncarpeted stained concrete washed floor:

“This is your Captain, speaking.  Thank you for FLYING Elbow Express Air.  All beverage and food service has been suspended on this travel for we have a very short flight today.  Stewardesses and Stewards, will you please make sure all tray tables and seat backs are in their upright and properly stowed positions and strap yourselves in as soon as possible?  We are encountering turbulence and it’s going to be a bumpy ride, folks.  The captain (that would be me) has turned off the No-Smoking light on this southbound flight and strongly suggests that all passengers lean forward with your forwards pressed to your knees (if humanly possible [You, madam, are perfectly okay using your third chin in lieu of your knees.]), and say a prayer if you’re inclined to or smoke’em if you got’em.  At this rate of decline, the long-term effects of lung cancer do not appear to be an issue.”

Needless to say, your placid and indulgent smile has now faded, and you are not feeling so “Happy, happy, happy, happy.”  In fact, by now in the shocked silence following the shattered ceramic and glass demise of the Peruvian figurine, you probably have let fly and involuntarily said a word that is best descriptive of what you may now need to do in a bathroom.  The following succession of those words may indicate that the momentary lapse has ceased to become involuntary.  In that moment, a struggle wars within you.  Am I the Shopkeeper or the Collector?  What follows may determine the future course of either profession, but you will have to choose, in this moment, to be one or the other.

If you choose to be the Shopkeeper, you have a difficult choice to make.  Do you absorb the loss or monetarily punish the orange-haired, bag handler, with the soprano shrieks, who a moment ago, thought everything in your shop was “SO CUUUUTE!”?  You heroically gather what semblance you can together of a state of calm.  You are the adventurer “Link” in The Legend of Zenness.  [I think that was The Legend of Zelda on the Nintendo Gaming System.  I must be getting old.]

A few beats, a few ticks on the clock pass as the two lady customers look at each other in stunned shock.  Well, the small purse lady does not seem so shocked.  She has that look of having witnessed this kind of thing before in other shops with the Carrot-topped Bag Lady.  She does send me a commiserating, wincing and apologetic look, for what, I do not know.  There is no such thing in my mind as bystander guilt.  My eyes…wait a minute…how did I get into this!?  Okay, it is a ‘we’ thing.  I am immersed in this with you.

My eyes turn toward the broad-shouldered Bag Lady, and I think to myself if she goes for the phone and holds her hand up and says, “I gotta take this, Sugar.  This is IMPORTANT.”  My mind is made up.  I will be THE COLLECTOR and she will not get out of this shop until she has paid the price of a gold-filigreed Decorative Fabergé Egg.  She reaches into her purse…and retrieves her ladies’ wallet.  The phone is left to conclude its own form of “happiness” and the prospective caller is shunted to the Voicemail queue.

The Orange-Bell Pepper-Headed, Bag Lady says, “Oh my goodness!  I am such a klutz and oaf.  I am so, So, SO sorry.  Let me pay for that…whatever it costs.  I am so clumsy.  Please let me clean this up for you, as well.  Can you ever forgive me?  I so love your shop.”

Shopkeeper then.

“Honey, don’t worry about that, darlin’.  I saw it was an accident.  Those things happen.  Just you continue lookin’ and I’ll get this all cleaned up in a jiffy.”  [Why do I sound like Paula Dean, now?]

§§§

Forgiveness.  It is both a difficult choice and an easy choice to make once committed to it.  But that choice is much easier when the offender is aware of the trespass and takes responsibility for it.  Asking forgiveness often summons the capability for it in others.  It makes the choice easier for them to choose the Shopkeeper over the Collector.  But the story doesn’t end there does it?  According to Xarmnian philosophy they would have us believe that it does.  People are basically well-meaning just blunderers and ignorant of the risks they are creating when they move carelessly about your shop.  There are some like that, sure…but then there are others.

§§§

(continuation of) The Shop Keeper and The Collector – Story #5 [Part II]

…Then there are others.

Those ones you think are prospective customers of your valued wares, but you learn they are not.  They really don’t care.  They are self-absorbed and merely stepped into your shop to get out of the hot sun, or rain.  They are looking for a quiet spot to take that IMPORTANT call from.  They don’t care about you, or what you have collected and lovingly put on display to catch their eye and fancy.  They are wholly concerned with their own issues.  Your store is an irrelevant, temporary convenience to them.  If they don’t venture too far into it, they will merely take their call, and obstruct the doorway.  Laughing obnoxiously to the perceived brilliant witticism of some disembodied voice on the other side of the line.  They may not mean to be obnoxious, but the effect of their actions achieve what their intentions did not.  They ignore your cordial greeting as if you are a mere fly on the wall.  They pivot and turn their back on you.  They have this tacky shirt on, that features some circular image on its back.  For a brief moment, you cannot help but envision a big red concentric target and a handful of dart in your hand.  You catch yourself, almost saying, “Welcome to Target, Fellow shoppers!”  Almost.  You were good this time.  You wait patiently while Ms. Prima Donna, Phone-Call concludes her semi-private.  Who wanted to know that the other voice’s husband Carl, had to wear her pink panties because she forgot to do laundry.  His nether-region chaffs.  So we’re told. T-M-I!!!

Ms. Phone Call, with her now revealed slogan shirt reading “Let’s Talk Turkey,” concludes her call to the erstwhile Ms. I Don’t Do Laundry on Weekdays, and shoots us a “Nice shop,” on her way out the door to the “The Clang and Jangle” tune of the door chimes.  No lasting harm done, no foul.  We’ve just had a brief encounter with Miss Oblivious and we are glad she left, because the way the world seems to revolve around her, it would have trashed our entire shop had she lingered any longer.

§§§

As I mention this kind of quasi-customer, the Xarmnian philosophers of the group begin to squirm a little in their seats of pomposity.  Selfishness and self-interest are an admission that all is not perfectly all right in the state of Denmark.  [William Shakespeare’s – Hamlet (1.4), Marcellus to Horatio]

We begin to cross the line for them with the suggestion that Miss Oblivious has a trait we all share in some fashion.  We are all selfish creatures by nature, and given that nature, we act in the interests of ourselves in the most basic way.  Human nature as evidence in every culture has this consistent trait.  There are bright spots of altruism and selflessness, but those stand out to us because they are the exception and not the general rule.  Sometimes what seems to be a selfless act on the face of it is, in fact, a need for acknowledgment and personal validation from others.  We all seek validation and praise.  We want to be thought of as a “good” person.  What others think of us, is coveted if it may be positive, and we flee from the prospect that it might in some way be negative.  In so doing, we place our value in clumsy human hands.  Those will most certainly break our pieces of fine china and crush a few or more of our figurines before they are done.  From a Xarmnian, this would be where I would get a warning.  Mankind is basically good, they tell me.  By “basically” they allow for exceptions.  And they also remind me that many are misunderstood.  Don’t forget that, Mr. Shop Keeper.  They indicate with a symbolic warning.

§§§

(continuation of) The Shop Keeper and The Collector – Story #5 [Part III]

Is forgiveness warranted here for Miss Oblivious?  Perhaps so.  A mild irritation that passes.  Not worth remembering.  If we took a poll of all of those who offend us by being inconsiderate, then the list would be long indeed and the anchor chain of bitterness would weigh us down.  Time and life is too precious for that.  We want to move forward into it, and the prospect of having the words that beckon the possibility of forgiveness forward to the moments in which we need it, will most certainly never pour forth out of the mouth of an Oblivious person, so we “♫Let it go, Let it go, Let it go…oh…oh..oh.♫”  [Any more of that then I will have to pay royalties to Disney.  Stop it.]

§§§

There are two other kinds that may enter our shop.  They are the ones that Xarmnians do not like me talking about.  If I do so in their presence, I will most certainly see the flash of cold, sharpened steel, honed to a razor’s edge.  I will do so, anyway.  Let them come.  The truth will out.  These other two are they who set out to trend a string of offenses.  Self-interest has sunk its claws deep into them.  Some we call Trolls, others we call…well…it cannot be politely said.

I was once asked if a Troll could be turned back to the self they once were.  I responded only if they themselves will it, but the chances of that are highly improbable.  The Ancient Text deals with that issue.  The place in which a human turns into a Troll is when the human turns its’ back on the good it knows to be true and instead finds unremorseful delight in doing evil.  At that point, the Master gives them over to what they most desire, separation from Him.  That, in and of itself, is a death sentence.

The text reads, as follows:

“And even as they did not like to retain God in [their] knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” [Romans 1:28-32 KJV]

The reprobate mind, the Troll mind, takes them over and consumes them.  They cease to hear warnings and pleadings, and they take pleasure in that fact.  These kinds are without hope.

§§§

(continuation of) The Shop Keeper and The Collector – Story #5 [Part IV]

There are two other kinds of people, whom we might be told are potential customers to our shop, but the ones who tells us these things are despicable cohorts, unwittingly or otherwise, of those “shoppers” who enter to do us harm.  These kinds of “customers” are ne’re-do-wells, thugs, gangsters, punks, whatever might currently me in vogue to call them.  Some enter the shop under the bells of the front door.  Most flee the shop under the sirens of the alarm systems.  For these kinds of customers, we offer our small cylindrical leaded variety of figurines, jacketed in a copper or steel finish.  They are resilient figures that have no fear of falling to the floor.  They are announced by either the bark of a Berretta or the chambering chock-chick-chuck sound of a Glock 9 millimeter.  In the case of those presentations, you can safely assume that Paula Dean has gone out the backdoor and Bubba McGruff has manned the store counter.

“What’er you fellas a lookin’ for?” you ask, as the head-banded and baggy pants, trio enter under the slammed jingle, crash of the entry door.  A pair of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum look-a-likes if I’ve ever seen some, I can tell you that.  One is carrying a baseball bat.  He is no Yankee, Oriole, Ranger or Dodger fan, that much is clear.  He’s wearing a plastic Hulk mask, like a lost five-year-old trick-or-treater.  If he dares say, “Hulk smash!” I am going to make him wish he hadn’t.  Bandanna Head and Baggy Pant says, “Man, why you roll up on me, like that, Cuz!?”  The boy is whiter than a frosted wedding cake, but he makes out like he is ghetto.  I can tell for sure and for certain, he ain’t no cousin of mine and he ain’t no kin.  This dude has Cheeze-Whiz for brains, and he is acting like I was born yesterday.  When he speaks, he splays out his forefingers and leads with the back of his hand.  Looks like he has to pull his own cord, to make the internal voice box operate.  Kind of like those string dolls they used to have, before DuraCells and Energizers became internal organs.  These kinds won’t be summoning Forgiveness for anything they do next.  They are the Entitled.  Everybody owes them something.  They were the kiddos that got Trophies for Breathing.  These are the Honor graduates of Anywhere Junior High.

Tweedle Dum has decided to juggle a couple of figurines bought and purchased in Madagascar.  He is about to reach for a piece of Waterford crystal to add to the aerial show, before I tell him that his juggling prowess had not reached the level that gives me confidence in his skill and dexterity.  I tell, him that piece he is contemplating adding to his act is worth $200 dollars.  Please be careful.

He glares at me, disapprovingly.  Doubtless for doubting his juggling abilities.  He catches the Madagascar figures and makes a dramatic display of setting them carefully on either side of the fluted Waterford crystal wine glass, then flourishes and bows.  I give him no applause.  My glares are now on high beam and this Dear ain’t runnin’.

Bandana Bags is walking his fingers along the figurine shelves, his hands weaving in and around the items there, all the while watching me out of the corner of his eye.  Hulk Mask has but the baseball bat up across his shoulders and hangs his arms there, his hands draped over the bat and waving a little as he walks in and out of the aisle rows.  His shirt has a slogan on it, under a skull and cross bones.  It reads, “Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Angry”.  A veiled threat or a plea bargain?  It’s a toss-up.

“Can I help you fellas find something?” I ask again.

“Naw, we’re just here to help you with your insurance,” Baggy Band, says.  And the other two break out laughing as if that was the funniest thing they had ever heard of.  Clearly, Baggy Butt is pleased with himself for this rare piece of Harvard worthy witticism.  I remain unamused, but my fingers do the walking act as well.  Not to the yellow pages, but to the silent alarm button under the counter.  I am mentally calculating how much damage Goof, Goober and Gonzo will do to my shop before the authorities arrive.  I sense that both Glock and Berretta would like in on any action, but they are not warranted just yet.

I lean upward slowly from the chair I had been sitting on, behind the counter, reaching my full six-foot-one height above these weltering pups, to show them that I was not intimidated by their antics.

“You need insurance?  Well,” I say, cracking my stiff neck from side to side, feeling my carotid artery pounding in my neck and up to my temples, adrenals signaling a readiness, “Let me help you become aware of what you can take for assurance, boys.”

I palm the Berretta, and surreptitiously tuck it into my waist band as I appear to be adjusting my britches from the sitting position.  Have I mentioned that I hate pants that go baggy on me?

“If you were in my position, and boys such as yourselves, walked into your establishment dressed the way you are, with one carrying a Louie-ville slugger and wearing a tacky mask, one with a chip on his shoulder the size of a stack of cordwood and the other amusing himself with delicate and expensive pieces as if they were McDonald’s Happy Meal prizes, I would think you might be feeling what I’m feeling about now.  So boys, I’m going to give you some friendly assurances and some not so friendly advice.”

“What is that, pops?” Mr. Smart-Ass, Bandana-Boy said around a wide smirk.

“I feel threatened by you.  Not personally threatened mind you.  Little punks, such as yourselves have nothing on me.  But I feel threatened in that the items in my shop are expensive and valuable to me, and I went to great pains and difficulty to bring them here and put them on display for customers to come in and see if they appreciate them enough to give me money in exchange for them.  Right now, these items are being subjected to the threat you pose with your bat there, and with your pathetic juggling skills, and you with your little finger dances around these valuable items.  That is where I perceive the threat boys.  You failing to appreciate my cost and expense and appreciation for these items.  You see I am not just a Shopkeeper, but I am also a Collector.  I recognize the value of what I see, but you don’t seem to.  So, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do.  You’ve got a choice to make.  Either you respect my stuff here and apologize to me for the threat, or you leave and don’t come back unless you are sincere in wishing to buy something.”

“Or what, Old man!” the Hulk masked boy spat, but failing to think it through, covered his own chin with the spittle as it bounced off the back of his mask.

I stepped out from around the counter and stood towering over little Mr. Hulk.

“Or I lock that front door, and show you guys some of the very pain-inflicting tricks I learned in the United States Special Forces unit in the mountains of Afghanistan.  In about five minutes or less, Hulky, you Bandana Bags and The Juggler, will be begging me to call the cops to rescue your little smart ass, capice?”  Paula Dean is long gone, by now.  Probably in some kitchen somewhere cooking up some giblets and gravy.  Clearly, at this point, you and I dear reader, are in full-on Collector mode.  These will not be repeat customers of ours.

The other boys backed away, clearly unaccustomed to people who would call their bluff and see right through their bravado to their cowardly and fear-filled hearts.

“You boys have until the count of five to vacate these premises.”

They took it.  Stupid, but smart lads in the end.

I gave them a degree of forgiveness as well.  I gave them clemency, though they did not earn it.

They high-tailed it to the door, without breaking anything in their rush to it, thankfully, and I followed them to the front, fingering the lanyard and fob beneath my shirt.

It’s a Life Alert button.  I’ve got a bad ticker.  Medical response is often quicker than a silent alarm button would’ve been anyway, because when precious moments are wasted a life could be at stake.  They don’t just send EMS on a call like that.  The firetrucks come.  Guys with axes and firefighting suits who know how to break things to save and preserve other things that really matter like the life of an old man, who shamefully bluffed his way into the minds of three punks and planted a bogus story about him being in the Special Forces.  Shoot, I was about 20 something when that whole Afghanistan conflict began.  Already too old to join the service.  Perhaps if those kids had gotten say a Trophy for Math Performance, rather than a Trophy for Breathing this incident might have gone a little differently.  But that is highly unlikely.

In the Surface World, there have been terrible, heated arguments that often erupt into violence over the issue of the toppling of historical monuments.  The person or persons our society chooses to venerate today in the commissioning of a likeness in statuary will become a pariah by tomorrow if the honored person is scrutinized for every fault and failing.  Historical revisionists have planted their seeds of dissension among the youth culture so much that many details of historical fact are lost within this new clouded haze of feeling.  What I feel to be right it the truth.  That is essentially a chamber pot and bedpan of nonsense.  Some just shorten that saying to be, “What a crock!”  That thinking is the outcome of the evil and twisted ideology of Relativism.  Ironically, relativism was some compromising effort to cause people of opposing views to Agree to Disagree and thereby promote tolerance and peacefully co-exist.  This is not what it produced.  If I hold a sincerely held belief, and someone else holds the opposite sincerely held belief, both beliefs cannot co-exist and be true at the same time, unless each of us, by our sincerity alone has the power to create a truthful reality merely by our own will.  Truth is external to us, no matter how we may feel about it, or formulate sincere opinions around it.  I cannot make the laws of gravity stop, merely because I sincerely believe I can fly.  Like one of those figurines in the Shopkeeper’s shop, I will soon have that reality and illusion shattered by a hard abrupt stop upon a cold solid ground that has a separate set of opinions concerning my aviation capabilities.  None of us has a corner on the truth.  It is external to us, and so we are duty bound to find it and seek it out for ourselves.  Some may walk with us; some may walk against us in that pursuit.  We are each freewill agents because we have been created to be so.  That is why I cannot compel you to follow me on this mission through hostile territory on our way to Excavatia.  I can only hope for and appreciate your company, but I cannot compel you into dangers.  You stay or go by your own choices.  But every journey made in company, must have a guide and a leader.

You should know that I didn’t pick me.  Wouldn’t have picked me for that role here, but I am called to it nonetheless.  My given middle name is David, but I am certainly not as valiant as that Warrior King was.

In the ancient Hebrew tongue, in the Surface Word, the name “David” means “Beloved”. Source Link

If my opposite meaning trend is correct, with “Brian” being “weak” instead of “strong”, the indications of living up to the name “David” being a “beloved one” indicates that I may instead become “hated”.

I am becoming okay with that.  Not fully there yet, but getting there.  After all, I am not living according to my own namesake am I?  The things I do and will do, will be for the Namesake of another.  If He then is strong in my weakness, He also is capable of turning my inability to find a “beloved state” into something that will receive honor through His presence in me.  Like Jabez, in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10, I may not find and experience this opposition trending of who and what I am, but rather find meaning living under the praise for His name, rather than my own.

If I had to equate myself to a leader in the Ancient Texts, my best representation would be that of Gideon.  Though I share the guilt of having betrayed innocence, like the Warrior King David, my similarities to him, in valiance as a stone slinger and later a sword-wielding, battle-hardened warrior, end there.

The Ancient Text gives an account of my similarity with Gideon, and its similarity to what we together face ahead:

“And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him, and said unto him, The LORD [is] with thee, thou mighty man of valour. And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where [be] all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt? but now the LORD hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites. And the LORD looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee? And he said unto him, Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family [is] poor in Manasseh, and I [am] the least in my father’s house. And the LORD said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.” [Judges 6:12-16 KJV]

Gideon was full of self-doubts and feared uncertainty.  The situation for him looked dire for the armies of the Midianites and the Amalekites, and an unidentified army referred to as the children of the east were amassing together and converging on them.  That is what in some fashion is happening here.  The armies of the Xarmnian kingdoms and fiefdoms are beginning to converge upon us.  Gideon received his calling while secretly standing upon a Threshing Floor, as are we now.

Here.

Today.

In this very moment.

We are about to enter the storm.  Therefore, it is very important that we learn to identify who is friend or foe at each meeting of a stranger.  Depending on how you engage with them, you may or may not be able to determine on which side they are, but there is a way to tell one way or the other.  I caution you, however, to keep that your knowledge to yourselves once you discover you are standing within the presence of a hostile.  They are gathering intelligence on us as well.  By that, I mean strategic intelligence on how to turn us against one another or discern where we might be moving next or what resources we have ahead of us.  They will do everything they can to cut off and spoil our supplies.  So be vigilant and careful, and use discretion and sober judgment when speaking with someone who is a stranger to you in this place.  They masquerade as friends.  Everyone is not your friend.  Don’t be naïve.  As the Shopkeeper learns, so should you that everyone who enters is not necessarily your prospective customer who appreciated the valuables you offer.  Before we take up weapons from the weapons cache, you first need to be able to recognize that these cannot be used without respecting what their purpose is for.  To take up arms is to choose to live by the law of the sword.  If you take it up, you must be prepared to die under it.  Do not arm yourself lightly.  Your greatest weapon is between your two ears.  Use it judiciously and wisely.  Bind your tongue, if you need to.  It may prematurely cause you to have to resort to your sword before you gain the skill and practice to wield it.

Call forgiveness to your aid where you can.  Always protect your vital areas.  Put on the personal armor and feel its weight before choosing a sword for yourselves.  May sure it fits, and that you can move quickly with it on.  You may have to travel with it on, and we are headed for some rugged terrain ahead.  If you opt to choose a helmet, which I encourage you to do to protect your first most powerful weapon, choose one that gives you the widest and clearest field of vision.  Some attacks are made frontally, but most often the others will come in at you from the sides.  Our enemies, for the most part, lack true courage and rely on surprise and numbers when they can get them.  Most of the fighters in these armies are conscripts.  They survive battles, rather than have the personal dedication to them.  They have little skill in fighting in coordination.  They are hackers.  They charge in and will hack away at you with hammering blows.  They too often celebrate a glancing blow, and retreat to a distance, to see what you will do.  If you can’t handle nicks, abrasions and small cuts, then you have no business in battle.  Go train and gather skill and then return to the fray.  When any of you falls, we will fight our way through to you, if we can.  Your injury is our injury.  Your pain is our pain.  If these enemies wound you severely, seek refuge.  We need and rely on your ability to be able to fight another day.

There is honor in our cause.  There should be love and camaraderie in our ranks.  I call you friends, even as necessity calls us to battle together as one.  We are the Fellowship of Salt and Light.  We are the band of brothers and sisters.  We seek to give these oppressed stories their liberty and take a stand for them and for ourselves.

Begglar has worked with his trusted friends to make preparations for the days ahead.  We will rendezvous with some of them shortly.  Now, we need to follow him into the granary.  Bring a knife if you have one.  We will need it.

Begglar may have some questions to ask each of you as we go in.  Be honest and forthright in your answers.  You should know that we may have an enemy in our midst.  Be assured, however, that if allowed to go with us, without first rooting them out, we will all soon be going to our certain deaths.

Let the Shibboleth Testing begin.

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Days of the Warrior Kings – Chapter 12

“The Builder stones are being drawn,” Begglar said when he had me alone in the interior storeroom.

His face was grave and his countenance sober and disturbed.

“How do you know this?”

“We have our people.  They have seen some very mysterious things.  You know how the kingdom leaders are when it comes to the stones.”

“What have they seen?”

“Every city is different, but they are essentially the same when it comes to those stones.  They have them locked up and heavily guarded.  The Xarmnians keep their stone in the Citadel vault, on the stone pedestal.  You know they worship that thing.”

I knew.  A very pagan ceremony they observed each harvest season.  One did not speak of such things.

Some things that are done in the darkness are better left there.  I gave Begglar a moment to collect himself.  He had borne this secret and suspicion for some time, yet somehow divulging it, even in private, made it seem more real and ominous.

“For over a year now, they all have been unable to move their respective stones.  No one can build with them anymore.  They weigh far more than they should.  Each clan that has charge over them, have had them guarded, but they always were expecting a threat from outside.  Never this.”

“What has changed since they locked them away?”

Begglar looked hard at me, finding it difficult to say the words…badly wanting not to.

“They are being moved.”

“Who is moving them?”

“What…is moving them.”

This gave me pause.

I thought perhaps I had not heard him right, or perhaps I misunderstood what I was hearing.

“Are you speaking in riddles?  What do you mean by that?”

He cleared his throat and lowered his voice, even though we were alone and there was no possibility that anyone outside could possibly hear us.

“They are moving in a very particular direction.  It is only a matter of time that they figure it out, and when they do, they will gather their armies and follow where their stones are leading.”

“Where?”

“Here,” he paused letting that sink in, “They are being drawn back to The Blood Stone.”

The implications, if true, were very, very dangerous.  It would draw all of the years of aggression to a head.  Whoever discovered it first, would be the first to field an army.  The army already present when the other comes after, will be the one under the greatest suspicion for having caused the stones to move.  All of the clans and their conquered serfdoms would be drawn into…what could only be called…The War of the Stones.  They would annihilate each other on the field of battle.  The valley would run with rivers of blood from their slain.  At the very least, one clan kingdom will be utterly lost.  The balance of power will shift, and at the end of the day, one kingdom will rule the field.  Be it Xarmni or Capitalia.

Worst case scenario, they will each destroy the others and fight until the last man is standing.  A man who will have lost his family and his country to suspicion.  The field would then be left to the only strength and power that remained as a threat.  And the SubWorld would then be ruled…by Monsters.

I could tell that Begglar had followed the path of the same logic that I had because he nodded as he saw the light of that understanding dawn upon my countenance.

“We have to keep this to ourselves for as long as possible.”

“I have already thought of that.  If only one stone were observed demonstrating this movement, then that would be one thing.  But as soon as one or more of them discover that the same thing is happening with each of their stones, then the war preparations will soon follow…and quickly.”

“I agree.  There is something in our favor, however.  They do not trust each other enough to admit that they are experiencing trouble with their stones, and they certainly will not invite each other into their protected areas to observe the phenomenon for themselves.  Because of their mutual distrust, we may be able to keep this secret under wraps to buy us some more time before the valley erupts with hostilities.”

“I wish I had your hope, but there is something more you need to know about the movements.”

“What is that?”

“The stones are breaking out of their keeps and they cannot be dragged back into their vaults.”

I exhaled loudly and ran my hands through my hair.

“That IS a problem.”

“The leadership of each of the families has tried to keep this quiet, but the stones cannot be contained.  They build thick stone walls around them, but the stones break through them, dragging whatever impedes them with it, or just punching through it.  Their soldiers are sent to cordon off the area, but the people are becoming curious and suspicious.  They will not be able to contain this secret for long.”

“Have they tried stronger materials?  Iron perhaps?”

“Nothing works.  Nothing stops the stones.  They move more each night.”

“At night?!  Well, that is at least something.”

“No, it is not.  It makes people all the more curious to see palace troop movements at night.  The people are afraid of what they are not being told.  They fear that they will be slaughtered in their beds, so they keep watching from their windows and from alleys.  They observe what they can from the shadows, and they whisper among themselves.  They are living on edge and lack of sleep.  It makes them very irritable and short tempered.  This is a powder keg with a short fuse and they are storing these too close to their home fires.  It won’t take much to set them off and rally them to the fight, once the half-truth is revealed.  All those leaders need is a direction and a scapegoat to blame.”

“And the leaders will just set that fuse and let it burn.  So long as it destroys whomever, they wish to place the blame upon.”

Begglar nodded, “Exactly.”

“Will any of them go out with the armies?”

“Those of Capitalia might, but that kind of invested leadership has long gone out of practice.  No one has seen the high leaders of Xarmni in some time.”

“Why is that?”

“They’ve grown fat.”

“They would not be the first to have a fat leader.”

“Yes.  But a fat leader does not sit well politically with a people who live on the edge of starvation and poverty.”

“Surely they have been seen by the people?  Even their home guards would have had to see them regularly.  How are they kept in check?”

“Fear, deception, and dependency.  The people are afraid of their government, they have indoctrinated their children for years so some who might be tempted to turn are afraid of their own children, but the latter point is the most sinister hold they have of all.  For years the government has been providing essentials to their people at seemingly no cost.  This was by design.  Their subjects have not understood that it was a trade-off for something highly valuable that they lost over a generation.  Self-sufficiency.  If the government withholds the essentials, it is only a matter of days, before a resistor comes back begging for reinstatement of favor.  The government dares not allow people to rise above a certain level.  They must keep the people as close as possible to this level of need, so they do not lose control of them.  If ever that power were lost en masse, the people would immediately revolt and overthrow them.”

“Have they tried fleeing?  Seeking assistance?”

“You’ve seen the Cairn hill.  Among the piles of bones are many belonging to those who dared to try it.”

It was a lot to take in.  Such madness.

“How long before the stones start getting outside of the walls of the towns?”

“Can’t be that much longer.  They move overnight in incremental bursts, but as far as we can tell they have not measured the distance and rate yet, because it only began recently, and the leadership is in a panic.  They are doing everything they can to cover the movement and trying everything they can to stop its progression and manage the people as well.  Once these breach the city walls, then it will grow harder to cover them as they cross plains and forests and rivers.  I can’t imagine what will happen when they reach the lake country and then the hills and the grading upturn of the rise.”

“How did your spies know they are heading this way?”

“I’ve told you before of the place I once lived in the Surface World.  It was a sea faring village.  A port of call for many boats, but also a great deal of fishing boats.”

“Yes, I remember.”

“On the sea, a good sailor never loses a sense of the direction where land is.  His or her home port.  If you get lost at sea, chances are high that you are a land lubber, a novice, and that your journey was ill-fated before you even set sail or stepped aboard the vessel.”

He fished into his pocket and produced a small metal device with a pivoting screw hinge, a blunted point and a combination of three eye loupes.

“What is this?”

“A good luck charm.  I may be far from the sea, but sea water still flows through these veins.  That’s a device used for finding your way.  It took quite a bit of time locating one of those here.  This is a much older version.  Crude, but it works after a fashion.”

“What do you mean?”

“The problem is in the stars.”

“The stars?”

“Yes.  The sky here is all wrong.  High above it cracks and has strange fault lines.  Like a vein of silver or gold in rock, only the marbling of the sky obscures most of it.  The clouds and fog obstruct it usage.  The moon is hard to follow and transparent at daybreak.  You’ve seen it.  It is luminous but seems muted.  If memory serves, I remember it much closer and brighter up in the Surface World.  The problem with that is the moon is not a fixed point.  The device relies on a fixed point in the heavens.  Without it, the device it useless, to a certain degree.”

“A certain degree?”

“It can be used in other ways, we’ve discovered.  Both the sun and moon follow predictable paths.  At sunrise or sunset, we can be certain of directions east and west, and by consequence north and south.  Moonrise and moonset take longer and are tricky because of the roll of the land, and the influence of the Sun.  The Sun reveals the moon as it leaves and swallows the moon in light as it rises.  That device becomes useful when one has determined where the true points of direction lie on the horizon, from observing the passage of the Sun.  Once you can sight those fixed points, you can measure the degree or direction from you vantage point from just about anywhere you are standing.”

“And you spies have one of these?”

“Absolutely.  And they know how to use them.  We recruited them from the lake country.  They had found them useful on the boats, but also overland.”

“How did you get seamen to leave the sea?”

“That was easy.  When the Xarmnians decide they wanted to regulate and control the fishing.  Xarmni wields most of it power in the large cities.  In the cities, people are grouped and packed closely together and are more easily controlled by regulating their access to goods and services.  In the outlier communities and rural areas is where the Xarmnians have the greatest challenge to maintain their rule.  Those communities tend to be more independent and self-sufficient.  They are by and large agrarian communities or game hunters or fishermen.  They can live off of the land and water sufficiently enough to have no need to ask from the government much of anything.  They don’t like being ordered about by some distant ruler who knows little about them, their needs or their way of life.  So when the soldiers moved in and started harassing them, they fought back.  They valued their independence.  They did not need some power-grabbing ruler to order them about.  They fought long and hard until the soldiers came in larger numbers and began to quell the rebellions.  Men, women, children.  It did not matter to the Xarmnians.  They were slaughtered by the hundreds.  Marched in chains up to the Marker Stone and killed before it until the townsfolk begged them to stop and agreed to let themselves be ruled.”

I had been away too long.  So much had happened here, while I had become so preoccupied in the Surface World.  Hearing all of this, my gut tightened and turned at what these residents must have gone through.  Witnessing it happening firsthand may not have made much difference, but sometimes even the presence of a fellow in the midst of tragedy can mean so much to the one suffering through it.

I closed my eyes and bowed my head at the thoughts and implications hammering into me.

Begglar continued, “The seamen, like the rural farmers and herders, were of good hardy stock.  Muscled and gristled, deeply tanned and weathered by a life lived in the open and earning their daily provision by the sweat of their brow.  These were the men most desired to be in the armies of the powerful, but these were the men, most averse to being conscripted.  So the Xarmnian leaders had to gain leverage over them.  Each circumstance is a little different, but by and large, the leverage taken was most likely a loved one brought back to live in the walled cities.  In a place where the Xarmnians could keep an eye on them, and a metal shackle about them, if necessary.  Needless, to say, they sought us in the Underground out and gladly volunteered to go down the lion’s throat and live within the belly of the beast, it that might serve the cause.  When the time comes, they will be within striking distance.”

“How many of the stones are being watched?”

“Ten.  And by all accounts, they are started moving at the same time.  We can only assume that the same is true with the other two.”

“And they are all pointing back to The Marker?”

“Everyone that we observed, yes.”

“Then we don’t have much time.”

“No,” he shook his head, “we don’t.”

Begglar reached down and placed his hands on the top of a wooden iron bounded barrel.

“Help me move this, will ya?”

“What’er we doing?”

“Just help me and you’ll soon find out.”

The barrel was short but thick, and it was very heavy and seemed to be filled with rocks or something that caused it to be of great weight.  We rocked it to a tilt and then I helped him roll it along its staves until it was three to four feet further into the corner of the small storage room.

The walls were made of joined timber, shaved down for uniformity until they could be joined together in an even seam along the way.  barrels-1005376_1280Because this storage area and the subsequence rooms were cut into the ground beneath the threshing floor, the walls were thick and packed against the ground in which they provided the substructures.  As the weight of the mounds and piles of grain pressed down on the floor above, the crushed earth filled in and pressed against the substructure timbers and sealed the area off against the seasonal weather keeping these vaults dry and cool for perennial storage.  The air in the vaults, though a little stale from being sealed, was neither musty nor wet, which made it perfect for its use as storage for perishables.  In my imagining, I would expect that these were somewhat akin to the root cellars I had heard the old timers talk about in family gatherings back in the Surface World.  I almost expected to see shelves of preserves, safely sealed against the passage of time in a row of Mason jars, with their brass ring tops dimpled in from the boiling process which sealed them.  With momentary pleasure, I grasped at a fleeting memory of how wonderfully flavorful the contents of those jars were, when my grandmother unsealed one and served it with a meal at their family table.

Begglar had crawled down on the floor and with a small, metal instrument was prying loose one of the floor boards.  I bent down and helped him, and we set it aside.  He reached into the dark oblong cavity and tugged at a rope in the darkness until some hidden catch was released.  Then he carefully set the displaced floor board back into its groove and thumb-pressed a wooden dowel pin back into place to secure it.  He stood up.  Brushed himself off and commenced to drag rolling the barrel back over the spot in which we had displaced it only moments ago.  I assisted him until got it done.  I followed him out of the store room and he pulled the planked door and leather latch shut over the set pin closing the room once more.

“Now to the weapons,” he said, and I followed.

There were days much passed when the prospect of a battle and conflict was lauded and immortalized by poets, playwrights, and minstrels.  To be honest, the prospect of it terrified me.  Having seen the aftermath of a wartorn battlefield here, I did not much relish the thought of dying upon on, my carcass lying and moldering in blood, sweat, urine, and feces.  Battlefields reeked.  People falling by the sword die not often die well.  Hollywood lies…a lot.  Bodies are twisted upon uneven ground, faces pulled into a rictus, eyes bulging in their sockets, lacerations gaping and attended to by clouds of flies and scavenger insects.  Every few feet a new stinking horror which you could not get away from.  These were the stuff of unending nightmares.  Images so hard to cancel out, that one sometimes invites the Monster Distraction in to help them do it.  Oh, yes.  Distraction does provide some form of benefit to those in need of it.  The problem is that creature is by its very nature…a taker and a thief.  I know of this because I was for many years held prisoner by it in one of its dungeons before making my escape.  Well, I should say…before I was helped to escape.

It is often odd to me in how transitions come upon us.  We are always leaving one thing and beginning another.  We are either in or out of something whether that be a physical, mental or spiritual state.  We sleep, we wake, but the effects of sleep linger with us until we are able to rise and confront the day.  Coffee helps somewhat.  Just like in leaving the darkness of the underground store room, I blink in the daylight as Begglar and I emerge from it, having forgotten or perhaps not having noticed how bright the overhead sun was shining.  Perhaps, having been underground and in darkness, I had acclimated to that condition, and just did not perceive how different those two states were.  It is there in the midst of the transitions where both states become clear for a brief space of time.  I appreciate the sunlight so much more for having spent some time in the darkness.  I appreciate the cool shade of the darkness, as an escape from the brutal heat of the overhead sun.  That is why I cannot help, as we move through this Sub-world, also feel the need to keep with me an appreciation for life’s passages in the Surface World.  By doing so, I remain in that duality and in an appreciative state of what both experiences have to offer…and teach me.

There is a passage of verses I ran across in my journeys in the Surface World.  I will share it with you now if you will indulge me but for a moment.

Within Without, Without Within – Poem by Alfred Barna
Within Without
Modern dilemma of dichotomy
Rules the day
Whisperings dotting in the shadows
As the light continues trying to find them
Lawlessness and lawful
Selfishness and selfless
The paradigms lurking within to bind them

Without Within
Although the vibrant tapestry
Greatest is the controversy
Material and Spiritual amalgam
Humanity has an internal cache, each can destroy
Babel and Jerusalem
Towers to men, ladders from God
We each hold potential cruelty or compassion, which shall we deploy

The greatest battles are within
For its victory matters little when without
A man may conquer the entire world
But lose what matters most for his soul
Seeking to meld the world to change
Into your vision, may be the nightmares of others
And ultimately, forever out of reach
And certainly, a realm out of our control

It also strikes me that the One in Whom I trust often kept that kind of dual balance.  He walked upon the Earth with a continual sense of Heaven.  I do find that hard to maintain, but He did it.  He led, but followed His heavenly leadership.  He lived an exemplary and extraordinary life.  He left the context of Heavenly realms and put Himself into our Earthly experiences because we needed to be able to relate to someone who could share our experiences.  He made Himself less so that we could become more.  I cannot even begin to fathom that.  Especially knowing He didn’t have to.  He never had to put Himself to such indignities as we offered Him.  Never had to go under the scourge of a cruelly fashioned whip called a cat-of-nine-tails.  Never had to suffer the insult of being spat upon from countless lips in which He placed the breath of Life.  Never had to be struck by closed, hard fists, which if opened He freely gave to.  Like to kings of old, He was the ultimate Warrior King.  One who leads His armies into battle, rather than directs them into it from a far.  He owned and suffered under the same risks He called those who followed Him to take.

Like the Warrior Kings, He became the targeted prize upon the disgusting battlefield.  He chose to risk dying upon undignified soil among the stench and horrible scenes of carnage all about Him to inspire our fight and continued struggle through life’s conflicts.  And then He does something beyond what other kings have done…He comes to our personal aid.  The King, the battlefield target, that all the enemy seeks to topple, wades directly into our conflict, brandishing a sword that cuts to the very marrow of bone and between joints and muscle and extracts Truth in the heart of the conflict.  He stays off our opponents.   Having all their ire, vitriol and venom focused on Him, so that we may catch our breath and renew our own strength.  He makes and made Himself vulnerable for us.  Thinking about it, I feel something in me, that makes me willing to move forward.  To take up a sword again…and fight.

“The one true God acts in a faithful manner; the LORD’s promise is reliable; he is a shield to all who take shelter in him. Indeed, who is God besides the LORD? Who is a protector besides our God? The one true God gives me strength; he removes the obstacles in my way. He gives me the agility of a deer; he enables me to negotiate the rugged terrain. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend even the strongest bow. You give me your protective shield; your right hand supports me; your willingness to help enables me to prevail.” [Psalm 18:30-35 NET]

A Life of No Consequence – Chapter 11

“We are not going to the armory,” Begglar tells me as we begin walking down from the promontory where the three cairn hills were set, “To do so would be suicide.”

“Where to then?” I ask.

He looked ahead, in the direction we were going, scanning the horizon, clearly looking for something.

Quietly, in only my hearing he muttered, “To the threshing ground and the granary.”

I let that thought hang for a moment.

“We don’t need grain we need swords,” I rejoined, try to search ahead for what Begglar might be hoping to see.

From the corner of my eye, I caught him squinting and then nodding to himself.  A poker tell that he had sighted what he had hoped to see.

“The things you told that lad, back there, O’Brian.  Surely you didn’t think that this day wasn’t planned for in advance?  Me and some of the trusted families of our clan have been preparing for it for many years now.  All we lacked was a catalyst.”

I could not help but grin at that.

Some of our traveling band had opted to ride in the buckboard with Mrs. Begglar and Dominic.  Others had just chosen to walk along side of the wagon and steady our provisions loaded into the back of it as it rocked and swayed along the rutted mountain road winding down into a small high valley.  The land was stepped, cleared for fields and pasture land, but then descending precipitously on down towards the larger valley and forested lands below.  Beyond were the looming and majestic mountains, some blanketed with ermine coverings of snow, some heavily forested in persistent greens and charred, fire-touched blacks and browns, and some gray and formidable stone giants, with jagged cuts of rock chiseled against the gray blue sky.  The very land postured for dominance under fissured heavens.

Begglar’s steps grew more determined as he strode alongside and ahead of me within a pace.

“Be careful, what you speak of, O’Brian,” he said, not looking at me, or making himself heard above a whisper.  “I can’t be certain, yet, but I believe we have a monster hidden among us.”

Begglar walked on ahead, saying nothing further.

The young man, whom I had been talking to earlier, approached us from the rear.  I knew, even though I had tried to give him answers before, he was not fully satisfied with them.  His next question left me with no doubt of that.

“Did we murder the Troll?”

“Why do you think that?”

I don’t think the young man liked me answering him with questions of my own.  He didn’t like being questioned but rather expected to be the one launching them.

“I am asking you.”

“Clearly you have some reason for asking it.  What is it, about what happened that is bothering you?”

He thought a moment, and then gathered his internal arguments together formulating some degree of an indictment of our actions in the matter.

“Well, you told us that some of the Xarmnian children were being given an elixir.”

“I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did!”

His voice raised in accusation, “Back at the Inn!”

“That wasn’t me who told you.  That was the man you heard along with the rest of us telling his story.”

“Well, is it true?!  Did we kill somebody’s kid?!”

“Every living creature that dies was somebody’s kid.  Every life we take to eat, survive or protect requires a sacrifice.  No life whether man, boy, woman or girl is less significant, just because we as a culture tend to have this persistent illusion of innocence for one and not for the other.”

He was shocked by my words, but I could tell that something within them resonated with a thought or memory in his own mind.

“Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”

“What is that?”

“Would you be willing to share with me your name?”

He shrugged.

“My name is Will.”

I offered my hand, and he looked at it suspiciously.

In Old World tradition, a hand shake was a sign of goodwill and some degree of trust between one person and another.

In the Surface World the custom varies from culture to culture, but in antiquity, it was referred to as dexiosis in Ancient Greece.  It was thought, that by doing this a certain mutual agreement of trust must be established.  An accord of fair treatment for the moment at hand.  Since it could not be accomplished while holding a weapon, in ancient times, it signified a temporary truce and trust.  Some cultures add to the meaning that it signifies mutual respect, equality and balance.

The man ignored it.

I didn’t press.  Each person has their own choices to believe and trust whom they will and has the ability to introspect on what they learn from the shared experience.  Since I had experience here, and he didn’t, he chose to keep me in a master position.  For ignorance makes a person subservient to the one who has knowledge.  Perhaps, he did not know I was offering friendship.  What do I mean by that?  Glad you asked.  There are some stunning words in the Ancient Texts that reveal what I mean.  These words were spoken by the One I call Master, since I am a bond servant to the All-Knowing One, but He extends His love to us, the contentious and belligerent ones, and offers us the elevated position of personal and intimate Friend and joint heir to a coming Kingdom.

“”Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. … “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before [it hated] you. “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” [John 15:13-15, 18-19 NKJV]

So in like manner, as a representative, I offer the knowledge I have gained from experiences in this Subworld and the Surface World, always being careful, as I am led to align them to the Transcending Truth Text.  I defer to a Wisdom Higher than myself, by doing so.  Reading its words, I am becoming more and more an intimate Friend to the Master, who has chosen not to hold me in a position of a slave, to elevate me, even though, as I have told you, how unworthy of the position I am.

By telling you, my friends, all I can about this place between the Surface World and the land of Excavatia, I am offering my hand to you in friendship.  I will have need of your friendship in this SubWorld if we are to continue on this journey together.  As I have told you before, if need be, I will walk it alone and will do so whether joined or not.  There is more to reveal here.  Much more.

I have not told you everything.  Some things require timing and context.  Some require a test of trust between the ones designated to lead and those supporting the leadership effort.  I did not choose me for this journey.  As I said, given my history, I am ill-equipped for it.  I am humbled by the position, not proud of it.

As I told you before, my first name is Brian which means ‘Strong’ in some lexicons and “High and exalted” in others, and “He ascends..” from the Old Celtic tongue.  In many ways, what I’ve come to discover is that I often find myself living out and experiencing the opposite of each of those meanings.  If I am called Strong, I learn by the Ancient Text, that my Friend uses that to great effect.

“And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” [2 Corinthians 12:9 NKJV]

I find myself weak in so many ways, and I surrender those weaknesses to Him so that He, in turn, can demonstrate His strength through me.  I was not called to a position of leadership to lord and laud myself over others.  Quite the opposite.  The Ancient Text says:

“For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in things [pertaining] to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray since he himself is also subject to weakness. Because of this, he is required as for the people, so also for himself, to offer [sacrifices] for sins. And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron [was].” [Hebrews 5:1-4 NKJV]

These are the truths which balance me and keep my pride in check, for if I demonstrate strength in a way that I typically would not in my own efforts, then it can no longer be me that achieved it, but rather than His strength was given the opportunity to work through me, so that all credit goes back to Him.  I claim nothing for myself, yet render all gratitude to the One who leads in and through me.

The young man, Will, folded his arms and shook his head at me in mock amazement.

“You are still preaching and philosophizing.  And it is annoying.”

I cleared my throat, “Do you not care that I give you keys to unlock doors in this world that will help us with this quest, but also have implications for our own lives in the Surface World?”

“It is just a story!” he clawed pleadingly at the air, “It is NOT REAL!  Get on with the STORY!”

Begglar, who had been hearing all of this yet continued to walk ahead, turned around and walked back towards the young man, his eyes ablaze with barely contained fury.

“Listen, laddie!  It is REAL to me and my family!”

He gestured angrily back the way we had come, “Every skull, every piece of bone you saw buried and cobbled together into that man-made hill represents someone for whom this story was very real!  Real enough for them to die in it!  Real enough for them to believe in a hope etched into writing on a Stone.  The hope of a king who would come to this land and set to right all that was made wrong by the people in it.  A people who gravely misunderstood what it was they were called to do.  A people who failed to read the prophecy and warning given there, and understand that it had very real and personal implications for them and their posterity.  So don’t tell me it’s not real.  It’s only a story.  Story is embedded in the heart of all thinking beings, and it is an essential part of everything we do or say!  It is how we interpret meaning into this bleak existence.  It is how we pass meaning and values on to our children and our children’s children.  Story is real and part of our heritage and legacy!”

The man was puzzled and cowed at the same time.

Begglar was silent for a moment, trying to get control of his anger and somewhat embarrassed by his outburst.  No one spoke in our company, most observed an embarrassed silence or quietly stared at the ground or off to the horizon.  After a bit, Begglar turned and trudged silently on ward down the descending road.  The wagon creaked and the team of horses began to follow him, as did the others walking alongside the buckboard.

I walked in silence along with the young man who had given me his name as “Will.”

“You seem to be a man who still has a lot of questions that you need to be answered.”

He stared ahead not looking at me, but I continued quietly anyway.

“I don’t know your own story or the life you’ve come from living up in the Surface World.”  I paused.

“I assume it to be something of a challenge to you, perhaps one you would not care sharing about.  I get that.  There are things in my own life I am challenged with and have met with repeated failures in.  Things I am not proud of that I am too prideful to expose even here.”

Will sighed and finally turned to me, “What is your point?”

“My point is, you are a story worth saving.”

He was quiet for a long time after that and did not look at me for the remaining trip down to the Threshing Floors and Granary.  In fact, he slowed and began walking behind again and was once more joined by his friend.  I could barely make out a kind of animated and agitated whispering between to two of them, but for the life of me could not tell what was said.

A woman in our company increased her pace and caught up to me and walked alongside me a bit while seemingly lost in her own thoughts.

Finally, she asked me a question that had been bothering her for some time, since leaving the Inn.

Her voice was quiet and pleasant, with a lilting quality of music in it.

“Mr. O’Brian, what about that family?  Back at the Inn.  What will happen to them when we leave?”

“They’ve already left,” I answered quietly.

“What?!  When?” she asked, “No one saw them leave.”

“That is the point.”

“What do you mean?”

“Begglar put them in contact with the Underground.  You can rest assured that they are safe and far away from here by now.”

“But if this Underground is rescuing these story-people what is our role here?”

“Our role is to give them a life of consequence and significance.  They cannot remain in hiding forever, though so we are seeking for them a place in which they can realize their hope and potential.”

“I don’t understand.”

“There back at the cairn hill.  There were so many who died there.  Each are only bones now, but each skull once had a face, a purpose and a life joined to them as much as the rest of their bodies once were.  People, both here and in the Surface World are much more than just mere flesh and bone.  They were each born with a purpose for their lives; their own stories to learn about and be a character within.  Some choose to tell a good story with their lives, some a bad one and, more tragic still, some are content just to tell and live a life with no connection to the meaning or purpose for which their lives were given.  Some just breathe air, eat and work or take because they must and end their lives in some form of burial in a nondescript grave and fade from memory.  They never seek their purpose or they run from it if it were ever to confront them with a choice to change from the routine drudgery to their own adventure.”

“How sad,” she answered in a thoughtful tone.

“This very week, back in the Surface World, in a city where I live, a man took his own life, by climbing up on a bridge over a busy highway and jumping to his death into the traffic below.  His life was made significant in that moment because of the several hours of traffic jam that it caused, as officers and paramedics rushed to the scene to figure out if the man had somehow survived, what the witnesses saw, and if there were any others hurt as a consequence of swerving and crashing vehicles distraught over seeing a man die before their very eyes as he crumpled to the highway below.”

“That is terrible.  Was anyone injured?”

“There was some vehicular damage, and one person suffered a bloodied noses, but nothing more significant than that at the scene.  But at home and with everyone who knew and cared about the man, that is not the case.  There are those who will grieve his foolish action.  Those who will mourn him and feel a part of their lives were lost with his death.  Those are the consequences often overlooked by the public whose interests quickly return only to how they alone were impacted by damage to their vehicle or the inconvenience caused by the delay in traffic.  Injuries are done more often silently to the heart, mind and soul than are every fully seen as being done to the physicality of our existence.”

“I guess that is so, but it is not something that we can notice easily, can we?”

“That is the reason why I keep coming back to the way in which we and others think.  It is the warfare going on all around us that no one seems to be aware of or engaged in fighting against.  The most effective weapon we have against the unseen is the Truth.  Many of the monsters here work silently on our minds, wills and emotions.  Here we can see them as beasts that we engage with in a physicality, but to succeed in the fight against them we have to be aware that we must fight them on two fronts simultaneously.  With a skillfully brandished weapon and with a carefully guarded and grounded mind firmly immersed in the protection of the Truth.  That is why, I persist in bring out the Truths of the Ancient Texts into the course of this journey.  I must engage your thoughts and have you be familiar with how those principles connect across the universes of these worlds.”

“I get it, I do,…but sometimes, I think you are being a bit heavy handed with them.  Perhaps use only one verse where one will suffice.  It is a lot to take in with all that we are learning about this world and this quest and its dangers.”

I sigh, and nod.  She is right.  I do get a little…okay…a lot carried away.  It is off putting, even for those who would normally be fully engaged with this journey.

I do feel the pressure of the moments passing, however.  I do feel that some degree of having a crash course in survival here is necessary.  That the mind has difficulty processing in information overload.  But I know things that I have been hesitant to share, to keep from scaring the others.  I know, for instance, that even now we are being hunted by a villain of this world, and that he is aware of our presence here and the nature of our quest to bring significance and consequence to those stories held hostage in this land.  That our presence represents a potential uprising that must be quelled in its infancy, and murdered in its very cradle before it has a chance to grow to threaten the established orders here of fear, and oppression.  That they dare not let us rouse a sleeping giant in Capitalia, or cause the traitors and spies in their midst to be exposed to the Truth we know and will learn along the way.  I know these things.  I see the deceptions and how they started and what they are becoming.

The prophecies of the Blood Stone are even now coming true, yet few perceive them as such.  We shall see the abandoned cities ahead, mere ghost towns of what they once were.  A place where spectral things live like a haunted wind among open tombs.  Banshees, that are terrible to behold and strike fear and terror into all who encounter them.  All those who encounter them…who are not also armed with the Truth.  These are bodiless creatures, for whom swords, spears and arrows hold no danger.  They are such that must be met with weapons of another form.  Ones in which the words of the Ancient Text, are critical to be used wisely and judiciously.  I cannot tell of all of the dangers that may befall us, because I am not a prognosticator.  I do not have a way to mystically foretell the future, but we do have Ancient Texts that were given to us from One who know the end from the beginning and all that lies between us and our journey’s end.  I do not dare trust in my abilities, but must be led by the One who knows my shortcomings and can move us together safely to places of strength and survival.  The king that is promised for this land will one day return to it and establish justice for it.  All of the evil doers here will be called to account for how they lived their stories out.  A reckoning is coming.

This promised king will not be like the current rulers we have now in global lands of the Surface World, nor in the governments and kingdoms of this Sub-World in which we journey through.  This one, will be as the kings were in the days of old.  A warrior king who leads into the battle, rather than orders others into the fray.  A king who personally goes right through the heart of the dangers ahead, and beckons us to follow in His footsteps as He leads the charge towards the Leviathan roaring in the darkness ahead.

At last, we arrive at the granary and the large flat area, where the winds begin to howl around us and blow downward toward the lower valleys.  This is the Threshing Floor.  Where the grains of wheat, alfalfa, millet and sorghum are separated from the chaff and grated into the catcher pits for bagging and storage.  It is there, Begglar believes, where the Beast that is in our midst will finally make himself or herself known.

Begglar went down to the lower log-cabin-178792_1280area entry way, beneath the threshing floor, to a wooden structure beneath the grated floor that was locked against entry.  This was the area called the Granary, where all of the grain was stored underground in large bins and to bagged and loaded onto wagons to feed the lower occupied lands in the cities ahead.  It was also, I learned, where many weapons were hidden and cached away beneath floor boards to be later secretly transported in grain sacks from time to time.

Once inside, he led me alone tobarrels-1005376_1280 simple store room chamber, insisting that the others remain outside for the time being.  He had something further to tell me which could only be done with absolute certainty of privacy.

The Blood Stone and The Builders – Chapter 10

Legend tells that the Marker stone was once pure white.  It is only black now because of the blood.

Outside of the cairn hill, we assembled quietly around the wagon, sobered by the ancient words etched on the black stone marker hidden and buried inside.  We consider what the impact of those words must have had on the oppressed people willing to die for the hope portended in them.

It may be easy for others to dismiss the hope of those who perished before that sacrificial stone.

But not us.

Not here.

Standing reverently upon the very ground on which they died.

Time and Distraction had almost stolen from me the memories I had of the Legend of the Marker Stone.

The Beast I mentioned before…Distraction.  Yeah, well we’ll get to that.  When Distraction walks here visible in creature form, it retains some of its pernicious traits carried with it from the Surface World.  It has the ability to fade your memory.  Not erase it, but fade it until you only have the barest edges of it in lingering uncolored and amorphous shapes.  Barely visible to the mind’s eye.  Spend enough time in its presence and you will meekly surrender yourself to be consumed by it.

Perhaps I am scaring you with all this talk.  Perhaps you feel it would be better to remain blissfully unaware of the dangers here.  Perhaps you do not trust me, because of what I’ve told you about my past.  You have that right.  Truth shows us things about ourselves, good and bad, beautiful and ugly, precious and worthless.  Both are revealed in stark relief.  If you only see the good, chances are you are being deceived that the bad does not exist.  You can only see the good when you look upon the Divine, and that alone will give you no cloud of deceit.  But few of us can look upon it for very long.  There is a dark tugging at our nature and our core.  Honesty sees into both.  It is hopeful in the good and warned and wary of the bad.  Therein lies the central problem between the conflict of the Xarmnian and Capitalians.  Assumptions made by both sets of leaders.  Philosophies of order, community, and society.

The Xarmnians wanted to believe in the basic goodness of mankind.  The Capitalians believed in the basic flaws of mankind.  That their tendencies always led to self-interests first and foremost.  That their propensities were more bent towards evil than good, and some degree of leverage and mutual desire must lead them back into some modicum of harmonious co-existence.

You might think that Xarmnians were the optimists and that Capitalians were the pessimists.  You would only be partially right if you did not also consider the external nature of Truth.

And if you do not like what Truth reveals, you have only three options:

Ignore it.  Embrace it.  Or Destroy it.

The Ancient Text says:

“For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.” [James 1:23-24 NKJV]

…this would be a person in the very clutches and nearly to the open jaws of the Beast called Distraction.

Legend tells that there once were 12 mysterious Builder Stones buried at the base of the Marker Stone.

They were conical in shape and could fit within the palm of a man’s hand.

They were discovered buried around the base of the Marker stone by the men preparing to move the Marker.  Each stone was given to each of the twelve tribe families who sojourned through and ultimately settled in the mountain.  The problem was there were only 12 stones and 13 families.  Though it could be said the 12th and 13th were small enough that they could have formed one family tribe and shared the one stone between them.

There is a young man here that I can tell is becoming very agitated.  He feigns interest in my talk, but he is irritated by them.  My personal revelation at the foot of the Marker Stone disturbed him.  He and another friend are thinking about leaving us.  Abandoning this quest, and this “nonsense” about this world and the Surface World above.  He tries to stay engaged, but is clearly becoming…distracted.

I do not know his name.  I haven’t asked and he hasn’t offered.  Right now, I just call him a friend and fellow traveler.  But he does ask me the important question and is one of the few who speaks up.

I am asked by him, “What was so special about those stones?  Why do you call them builder stones?”

I answer: Because that is what they were used for.

How else do you think such towns were built and grew up so quickly?  Each stone had the unique ability to lift tons of rock and stone.  Anything that they touch, they could cause it to become weightless and uprooted from the gravity of this world.  The stones, like The Marker, were from another place and time.  They are not bound by this world’s laws but operate as if under a law unto themselves.

This is how the founders made use of them, and so they are called.  They were used to clear land, level fields for farming, hew into the mountains great steppes and raise immense stones for the carvers to position and build foundations on.  The Surface World also has legends of such stones.  There are vestiges of great monolithic structure still standing in the Surface World, they few moderns can understand how they came to be.  The Ancients should not have had the technology they had or the precision to have built such things.  Even their modern equipment would be hard pressed, if it were ever feasible to accomplish such structural feats.  The words, “And you shall say to this mountain, “Move” and it shall be moved” have a chilling and unsettling context when considering them alongside of what the unearthed evidences show of ancient structures.

But as for the Builder stones here, I suspect that the intention of those six stones, were to be used together to raise the Marker Stone and allow it to be taken to an area below and serve as the foundational stone for a great city.  However, no one thought to use the stones together with the Marker.

As legend tells it: Try as they might, no one stone could ever shake or move the Marker.

But at no time could they be convinced to cooperate with each other to try lifting the Marker by using all of the Builder stones together with that singular purpose in mind.  And the argument was that even if they did move the Marker, they could not agree on where it was that they should put it to build the city around it.  Each group suspected the other.  None could agree philosophically what to do, nor how to live together in peace.  The Marker itself had become a source of contention between the families that were beginning to take sides.  The rock was a Rock of Offense.  Though they grudgingly recognized that the builder stones came from the Marker stone, they each sought to use and possess those stones for their own purposes.

There was great building for a time, but the two tribe families that had to share a stone did so with great infighting and arguments, such that their towns took the longest to build.  They also resented and envious the other larger families with their one stone to use for building, while they had to share their.  Ultimately it led to the present day conflict, and the stones were locked away in great ramparts and bastilles to prevent their being stolen by other tribes.  Building then was done only at great risk for to use the stones was to expose them to potential theft.  The stones then became the stuff of legend.

The once idea to raise and move the Marker stone and build a city around it where all the families could live was long forgotten.  Distraction moved in and over time and with cunning stole that memory.

The city governments of each began to grow more and more hostile to each other.  The two factions them divided and separated.  One called the lands of Xarmni and the other Capitalia.  Over the years there have been several attempts to find and steal the stones of the original families, but each attempt was quashed and put down severely.  That was one thing the two factions did agree on, though for reasons that differed.  They had agreed not to steal the stones of the other.  Now in each of their perspectives, if a region was conquered, to take resources and spoils from the conquered land was not the same as stealing for it.  A land under rule and thereby protection, owed its resources to the victors, so that they could enrich the whole and defend the whole of the kingdom.

But espionage and theft was something else entirely, and the two factions signed a treaty not to use espionage to steal those sacred stones of power from each other, or the other tribes would band together and go to war against the one tribe that broke that covenant.

There are few of us that still remember those days, when first we traveled here in the mid-worlds.  That black stone in there used to stand out white and brilliant like a city on a hill that shined out over the valleys below.  We who remember the Marker Stone, before it was called as it is now ‘The Blood Stone’.

Begglar spoke up and offered, “Aye.  A traveling geologist once passed by the inn and went to examine the Marker rock for himself.  He said it was a rock called Basalt.  Foundational rock.  It was the most abundant form of rock in his world’s mantle.  The underpinning of the earth’s crust.”

“That stone has had many names over the years.  Many of which I cannot say in polite company.”

I rejoined.  I still think of it as in the early days, as ‘The Marker’, for it was the guidance given to Sojourners planning to settle in the lands ahead.  The intentional bookmark, if you will, on how the pages of life should have been turned and will be again when the time is ready for its prophecy to come to pass.

Not every intention is realized by mankind.  Few in fact are.  But the Master’s intention will not be denied or thwarted no matter what mankind may do or say about it.  There is a story told in the Ancient Text.  A parable that tells about a land owner and some tenant farmers.  The land owner sends his son as an emissary to deliver a message to his tenants.  But they have plans and intentions of their own…

“14 “But when the tenant farmers saw his son, they said to each other, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ 15 So they dragged him out of the vineyard and murdered him. “What do you suppose the owner of the vineyard will do to them?” Jesus asked. 16 “I’ll tell you–he will come and kill those farmers and lease the vineyard to others.” “How terrible that such a thing should ever happen,” his listeners protested. 17 Jesus looked at them and said, “Then what does this Scripture mean? ‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’ 18 Everyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on.” 19 The teachers of religious law and the leading priests wanted to arrest Jesus immediately because they realized he was telling the story against them–they were the wicked farmers. But they were afraid of the people’s reaction. 20 Watching for their opportunity, the leaders sent spies pretending to be honest men. They tried to get Jesus to say something that could be reported to the Roman governor so he would arrest Jesus.” [Luke 20:14-20 NLT]

Some have wondered aloud to me why I feel it is necessary to give the history and context of the lands ahead.  Why not live and respond in the moments we encounter.  Why does the past goings on and the mindset of the people who live here and in the lands ahead even matter?

My answer is that you will need this knowledge to survive this passage through this area and perhaps you might even use some of what is experienced here in your parallel journeys in the Surface World.

There in the Surface World too exists an immutable and transcendent Rock.  The Ancient Text speaks of it many times.

“47 The LORD liveth; and blessed [be] my rock; and exalted be the God of the rock of my salvation.” [2 Samuel 22:47 KJV]

“3 The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men [must be] just, ruling in the fear of God.” [2 Samuel 23:3 KJV]

“22 But the LORD is my defence; and my God [is] the rock of my refuge.” [Psalm 94:22 KJV]

“10 Because thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation, and hast not been mindful of the rock of thy strength, therefore shalt thou plant pleasant plants, and shalt set it with strange slips:” [Isaiah 17:10 KJV]

Perception of that immutable and impervious Rock, there like here is perceived in many ways by the inhabitants of both lands.  Some love it.  Some are indifferent to it.  Some hope in it.  Some resent its presence or even the mention of it.  And some…like here in these worlds…seek with all their might to destroy it, which they have not been able to do.  So some seek to bury its message and evidence that it ever existed.

As I have said many times, I use the Ancient Text here as a way to find purpose and light on our dark journey here.  We will be challenged along the way, threatened and perhaps some of us will not survive.  But like the parable, I mentioned before.  We are servants sent by the Land Owner to deliver a message and recover those stories living among these hostile lands and give them a hope for life in Excavatia.

The Master who sent me has said to the inhabitants of the lands ahead:

“13 Behold, I [am] against thee, O inhabitant of the valley, [and] rock of the plain, saith the LORD; which say, Who shall come down against us? or who shall enter into our habitations?” [Jeremiah 21:13 KJV]

And their answer, like the tenant farmers, has been that of defiance and arrogance.  Like in the Surface World, the Rock on which we stand, the Foundation of everything we are called to, can either be a firm place to build upon or a place upon which we collide and are impacted and crumble.

“33 As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.” [Romans 9:33 KJV]

“8 And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, [even to them] which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.” [1 Peter 2:8 KJV]

Xarmni builds on the assumption that mankind is basically good and has goodwill towards each other.  That only loss, disenfranchisement, and poverty made men do bad things.  Capitalia suspected that mankind has a wicked, selfish nature and that given the opportunity they will do bad things to each other unless deterred from doing so or finding it in their own self-interest and self-preservation to do otherwise.  That is why its system assumed that each would follow their own self-interest or if seeming to be magnanimous would, in turn, expect favorable reciprocity for their efforts.

Then the challenge I was expecting finally came.

The young man and his friend began to mutter something to one another and then they turned to me.

“Have you ever heard the phrase:  He’s so heavenly-minded that he is of no earthly good?”

I have.  Have you met many folks like that from where you come from?

I think my response puzzled him a moment, but he gathered himself again.

“I’ve met one here.”  There was nervous laughter among the group.  Clearly, this was intended to mean me.

“Touché.  I only wish that were the case.”

He laughed and I smiled.

“I’m sort of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kinda guy and don’t really care about the why or how of this place.  I need to see some action.  You talk a lot about the Surface World, and if there is a real danger here, you are not helping us by focusing on someplace else.  We need you to be right here.  In this story, helping us survive what is ahead.  I don’t care much to hear all this philosophy crap.  And since we’ve seen these bones of the dead and all of the ravages of this land and the storied people it impacts, I want to know more about that.  I didn’t come here to ponder my life back in the Surface World.  I came here to escape it for a little while.  How can you be in both places at the same time?  You need to be here.  With us.  In this moment.  If this journey in the sub-world is going to be about your philosophies and what we left above mixed with what we experience here then I’m out.  Give me a horse and a lunch and I’ll catch up to the girls we sent back.  I don’t need to be preached to.  I get enough of that on a Sunday back in the Surface World and from the nagging of the woman, I live with.  If we’re gonna fight here.  Let’s fight.  Begglar can get us some weapons and we’ll go to town and square off with some of these monsters you keep tellin’ us about.  Better yet, I got an AK-47 back home I could bring and make quick work of these beasts and those Xarmnians if they’ve got a mind to get in a scrap.”

Wow.  Not sure where to begin here.

But I’ll start with the last thing he mentioned and work backward.

“That AK-47 you mentioned.  You might find it much changed if you tried to bring it through the portal.  What you bring from the Surface World to this place conforms to the nature and laws of this Sub-world, if you have not figured that out already.  A fella once tried bringing in a bazooka he’d purchased at an army surplus place.  It transformed into a toothpick.  I asked him what he was going to do.  Give an enemy a splinter?  He was not amused.  Go ahead.  Check your pockets.  That cell phone you carry with you everywhere in the Surface World is only a collection of small pebbles and pocket lint here.  Useless.  You may think you’re holding it in your hand now, but that is only the reflection of your hand in the Surface World.  You, my friend, are in two places at once at this very moment.  Are you walking, while observing us and our story here in the Sub-world through your device?  You might want to look up there.  There is a light pole just in front of you.  I’ve seen it happen many times.  Your mind might be here immersed in our drama, but your physicality gets the bruises of scraped shins or the knot on the head from the phone booth, brick wall or the light pole there above.  Don’t tell me that you are not often in two places at once.  You are.  We are.  And many of us have the knots, bruises, and scrapes to show for it.”

He laughed nervously but I think he got my point.

“If you are presently in the Surface World and are driving a vehicle there, operating dangerous or heavy equipment or cutting up vegetables, then you need to go back there and focus on what you’re doing.  Click your heels, Dorothy.  You’ve got the Ruby Slippers already on.  We’ll be here when you get back.  Time doesn’t pass here in the same way it does in the Surface World so you won’t miss anything.”

Are there any teenagers here?

I haven’t seen any yet because they do not speak up….and perhaps it may be that the TEXTING feature in the laws of this world is disabled.  That is, I’ll admit one of the changes I am quite pleased with here.stones-1596058_1280

There is a place for reply and communication here in the Sub-World.  It works like a Post Office box, but someone has to leave a letter in the stone box.  The couriers here ride on horseback so the delivery system might be a little slow and antiquated.  But I’ve seen those letters get through eventually.  There is a sort of small cairn built to hold those letters and the stones are stacked up and placed in a prominent place in the hills where people can recognize it.  Letters are placed between the flat stones belonging to a resident of these lands.  Sometimes in winter and wet seasons, they are left at a local place of business where the recipient is known to visit.  That is why Begglar had my letter from the lady.  There was snow on the mountainside.

“Action you say.  Action comes upon you when you least expect it here.  If you stay you may learn to appreciate those moments when you are not forced into it.  Battles are not won or lost after the first sword has been drawn or dagger thrust.  Their victory comes from the mind.  What you consider and learn from your enemy, and the opportunities you have taught yourself to look for, long before the grappling of the conflict.  Think about it for a moment.  Have you ever heard a coach in the Surface World where conflicts are often a friendly team event, say to a player, “You need to get your head in the game”?  Why does he say that?  You know why.  Action without deliberate thought can lead to disaster.  Here it can kill you.”

He pondered that a moment, but still had misgivings.

“Okay.  I’ll buy that.  But what about all the Ancient text stuff you keep harping on?  You waste a lot of time talking about the writings in an old book.  You say it lights our path and orders our steps in this SubWorld.  How can some old writings help us when we are facing conflicts here and now?”

I start to answer, but suddenly we hear distant noises of distress from a story in peril far down in the valley forest below us.  As I told the young man, often times Action is thrust upon you whether you are mentally prepared for it or not….

We are suddenly, mentally transported, like wraiths snatched from our bodies, to hover over and witness the scene of a story being played out before us.  It is a snowy scene.  There is a place where the snow is shallow in the midst of a wooded clearing.  We float above the scene, like ghosts of Christmases past.  From above we see a path through the trees, where there are two sets of snowy footprints.  One set large, made by thick boots with a long gait, and a place where the foot cut into the snow as it descended.  Beside it, often missing steps one would expect from a shorter gait, are a set of smaller prints, dutifully following the larger.  The pair of tracks leads from farther and deeper back into the woods to this clearing, surrounded by low scrub brush and icy forest detritus.  There are other tracks in the snow.  Several sets.  Created by creatures that go on four legs.  These wind through the trees, clearly not following a predictable path, yet moving ominously and deliberately forward in pursuit of the two sets moving along the ‘predictable path.’  All of these prints finally converge upon the clearing against a stand of trees with high dark limbs bare of foliage in the winter’s frost.

The Cleft Cross – Story #4  [November 22, 1996]

There were screams.  Loud. Shrill. Piercing.

A man’s voice shouted, “YAA!  YAA!  GO AWAY!!!”

The whine of the wind through the trees was insistent. Branches crackled as something passed through them, moving fast.  There were more noises.  Snuffling, and snarls. The sound of an impact, and a yelp.

“NOOO!” a high pitched voice screeched in trembling falsetto.

The sound of a thud, and the loud crack of wood and bone echoed through the snowy trees.  A whimper and a high-pitched whine shrilled within the deep moans of the wind. Growls and the snapping sounds of multiple jaws followed.  Another yelp and a screech punctuated the hidden, savage conflict.  A canine cacophony of barked growls and snarls rang through the forest and then the high-pitched squeal ceased—but the growling and snarling continued.

From deeper within the forest, the frozen leaves of a low conifer parted and a black-furred, white-fanged beast emerged, its feral eyes glowing yellow.  The creature was an unusually large wolf.  Hackles raised, ears flattened, it pushed it’s sharp wet-nose through the brush, snuffing the air.  Even at this distance the wolf could scent the unmistakable pungency of freshly spilt blood.

In a small clearing, backed against a large oak, a man waved a glowing torch at the dark shadows feinting in and out of the light.  The roving topaz scintillation of jeweled doubles watched him and waited.  Off to the shadowy left of the man, the snow was spattered and stained dark crimson.  The air reeked of burnt hair, and torn bowels.  Five pairs of eyes looked up from their fresh kill, watched the man, and bowed again into a huddle over the body of their torn comrade. Five others had tasted the first blood and eaten small portions, but their interests lay more on the man.

Just then, a large, white wolf with bluish silver eyes emerged from the frozen brush and joined the pack.  It had been watching the man from the bushes and now it was stalking him, keeping its body low to the ground, maintaining a low wet rumble in its throat.  The other wolves began to howl in a shrill high pitch as the white moved through their midst towards the flame wielding figure now sweating under his own firelight.  The frightened man feinted a step towards the wolf, swinging the burning branch in a threatening gesture.  But the wolf only crouched lower, shifted its weight, and twisted its head in a fanged snarl.   The man stepped back to the tree; the wolf tensed and moved a step closer, the rumble in its throat becoming a frothy drool that dripped from its black lips.

All at once, the baying stopped. The other wolves paced and stamped in hungry anticipation.  One dead wolf was not enough to fill their emaciated bodies, but the creature wielding the burning light was.

High above, a small boy clung to the icy branches of the oak, blinking back his freezing tears, breathing in short gasps, too stunned to make any other sound.  He should have closed his eyes, but the cold terror prevented it.  The small one had escaped them, but the larger one would not.

The slightest sound of crushed snow and the chiming clinks of icy leaves were the man’s only warning.  From the snowy bushes behind him, a large black thing sprang from the shadows, hitting him between the shoulders with full force, driving him face-forward into the bloody snow.  The man twisted only to see the sudden flash of yellow eyes, black fur and slavering white fangs move swiftly towards his throat.  The impact had knocked the man’s torch from his hand and now it lay black and steaming in the snow, smoldering amid the gurgled screams and snarls as the pack converged on the base of the tree.

The thrum of the forest sounds stilled.  The echoes of a rustling struggle resounded in their place.

Allegorical Symbolism:

man- mankind male/female

white wolf- deception

black wolf- evil

torch- integrity testimony

child- eyes of innocents

tree- family

base of tree- noble family traditions

pack- the lost world

Suddenly, mercifully, we are returned back to ourselves, shocked to be so quickly returning to the awareness of our bodies that we cannot help but gasp, and stumble and weave like tottering drunkards, before we get control.  Our hearing ability seems to linger for a moment with our former position hovering about the forested scene.

Then the noises cease and we realize that there was nothing we could do for the man in the story from so far a distance.

We catch our breaths for a moment, stunned by the vividness of the experience.  Pained by it on some level.  There may be more questions about it on the road ahead, but we have to move forward.  We have to prepare ourselves in as much as we are able.

Clearly, it was time to quickly follow Begglar to the stables and the armory.