– – –
TREASURES BEFORE THE STORM
“I spoke with Him.”
Anorra pulled away after the warm embrace. “What?”
“I spoke with the Most High in the garden,” Luik added. He brushed a strand of her blonde hair behind her ear.
“That’s good, my love,” she said, pulling herself back into his chest. “I knew you just needed some time with Him.”
“Nay, I mean I spoke with Him, face to face. He came to me.”
Anorra leaned back again and stared him. “You mean—”
“He was in the garden, Norra. He stood with me there.”
Her eyes glowed in wonder.
“He was magnificent. I never imagined Him so captivating.”
“What did He say?” she asked as if a little girl again, delight singing in her countenance.
“We spoke of many things. Of things past and things to come.”
But his response made her impatient. “Like what?”
“Like Earth and why He must leave.”
“Leave?” She reeled. “Whatever do you mean?”
The two of them sat on a seat mounted high atop one of the palace turrets, watching the sun set under the eastern sky. He told her everything he could remember of their conversation in the garden and spared no detail of the majestic Lion’s appearance. She hung on his every word; before her was her second love speaking of her first Love.
Her life was full.
The day had been primarily consumed with the affairs of the city and its people. There was much celebration for Anorra’s return, and that of the Lion Vrie, despite the tragedies suffered in Ot. But by far the news of the day was the appearance of the White Lion. Though only those in Haides had seen Him, and now Luik—which no one other than Anorra knew about—word spread quickly of the Great King’s arrival. And what an effect it had!
The tide had turned.
Dionia had been slipping into a dire state, one in which people were ruled by unseen fear. Anxiety lingered in the doorways of every home, both the dwellings of the living and those empty, their owners deceased or taken. Battles were lost more than they were won. Women and children shrieked at their losses when the warbands returned, their husbands and fathers and brothers absent. The presence of the Most High was a faded memory, a story only told to doubting children, conveying what life used to be like. Not what it was. Or ever would be again. It seemed that everything had been lost. And if there was indeed anything left, it too would be stolen. Of that they were certain.
But everything had changed now.
In a single day, the crushed spirits of those in Mt. Dakka had been set ablaze. Though they had not even seen Him with their own eyes, merely the rumor of the Most High’s physical return to Dionia had become a beacon of absolute hope. Pure hope.
Their eyes were bright again. Children gathered around hearth fires that evening, listening intently to what their parents had learned on the street. It was all that was talked about around the board, and all that was discussed in the markets. Anorra had been rescued, and she was whole. Luik was safe within Mt. Dakka with his warband. And all the free peoples of Dionia were gathered together, awaiting the commands of their kings, with Benigan taking the place of his fallen brother, Brax, as King of Tontha.
It seemed the overwhelming thought was a simple one: Nothing was impossible.
When Luik finally finished recounting his visit to Anorra, she sat for a long time in awed silence, picturing the encounter as if she had been there herself. She longed to see the great White Lion. To touch Him. Perhaps she could sit with Him tomorrow when the battle plans were discussed. Surely Luik would permit it. But for now her thoughts lingered on the man before her, the one she had come so close to losing.
“Will you be my bride, Anorra?” he spoke up.
“Why, Luik,” she paused dreamily, “you already asked me this.”
“I know, but I wanted to ask you again. You were lost, Anorra. And now you are found, and I want to ask you again. I want to hear you say it again.”
“I would marry you today,” she exclaimed, “but for the battle ahead. You would not be fit to fight.”
“Then let it pass, and I will be yours forever.”
Anorra took on a pseudo air of authority. “So be it,” she ordered in a low, kingly voice.
They were left undisturbed atop the turret as a brilliant canopy of stars appeared above them. The city below sparkled with lanterns, and singing could be heard coming from the Great Hall. All was as it should be. And even though so many questions remained unanswered, the people of Dionia knew that everything was going to be all right. Their King had returned. Yet…how long would He stay?
• • •
The next morning went much like the previous, save without the verbal contention. Everyone gathered in the kitchen and embraced the others as bread was broken in genuine thankfulness. But what was not asked aloud was surely asked in secret. Doubt is a bitter enemy, one hard-fought.
While many a man would have seized any chance to speak up and voice the fears of their heart—fears Luik had voiced to the White Lion only a day before—one simple thought held their tongues: The White Lion would meet with them all today.
But before He did, there was one relationship Luik needed to reconcile.
Luik found Fane just where he suspected, browsing the shelves of one of the only remaining libraries left in Dionia. Now that Ot was destroyed, whatever scrolls could be found elsewhere would be a precious rarity, prized among the people.
Mt. Dakka’s Royal Library was not as large as some, but had other characteristics that made it unique. Built in the round, its domed ceiling was made completely of glass, fashioned by the Tribes of Ot on order of Tontha’s first King. It was covered with steeply slanted boards during the inusslen to keep the snow from breaking it. Mahogany reading tables sat in clusters in the middle of a heavily carpeted stone floor as four balcony levels towered overhead, each abounding with scrolls.
Luik allowed the heavy oak door to latch behind him and moved into the center of the library. The hall was still, filled with the comforting smell of aged papyrus.
A voice floated down from up above. “Come to do some reading?”
Luik looked up and spun around. Fane’s head stuck out over a railing on the second tier.
“I heard there were some things worth perusing here. Any recommendations?”
“The Wisdom of Kings,” Fane pointed clear across the room to the other side. “Third level. They are exceptional.”
Luik followed his direction and nodded with assent.
“Although I left a few on the tables just there. Feel free…” Fane waved his hand.
“C’symia,” Luik replied and moved toward the tables. He found a few scrolls laid out, pinned down at the corners with clear balls of glass, flat on one side. He slid one of the stools out and sat; one was never meant to be comfortable while reading the ancient words. A plush chair would have been an insult to those who penned the lines. The words were the focus, never luxury.
Luik scanned the page and began reading. The text offered line after line of profound insight. After only two or three sentences he had to stop, searching out their meaning and dividing its truth. He was impressed at how the words probed his heart and soul. How any man could digest more than but one line in a day was beyond him. Surely these were written over great spans of time by great men, tested and tempered by the trials of life.
Avoiding the conviction each line brought, he pressed on, scanning down through the document. Then his eyes stopped after reading a particular statement, one which he reread aloud.
“A king’s lips are the mouthpiece of the Great God; they should never betray justice or righteousness.”
Luik heard his own voice echo up through the tower and dissipate into silence. He felt the sound convict his heart, realizing that these words were not just for any man, though they could be, but were for him as a King. Dionia’s High King.
He lowered his head and knew then, as he had before, that he was guilty of this fault where it concerned Fane; he had betrayed his friendship with his brother by not listening to wise counsel.
A hand rested on Luik’s shoulder. He raised his head.
Fane looked down at him, a peaceful expression on his face.
“I am indeed sorry, my friend,” Luik said.
Fane did not reply, knowing there would be more.
Luik went on, “I have wronged you in this way. As it says here, I have done what a king should never do. And I am sorry for it.” He sighed. “You would forgive me and have me as your swordbrother once again?”
Fane squeezed his shoulder and easily replied, “I forgave you the day you spoke the words of harm to me. They harm me no more. All is right.”
Luik stood then, embracing his childhood friend and savoring the restored friendship, though it had never been broken in Fane’s mind…only in Luik’s. Whether they know it or not, it is the heart of the offender that breaks the most deeply; for theirs is not only broken with the cutting, but is the broken heart that merits the cut.
“C’symia,” Luik said and then released Fane. “I am sorry for not trusting you…you who have been ever faithful to the Most High and to Dionia. I should have never—”
“It is done,” Fane said. “We will speak of it no more. And anything spoken of this event will only recall this day, of restoration and forgiveness.”
“So be it,” Luik conceded.
They stood smiling at one another until there was a knock at the door.
“Come,” Luik spoke up.
The door moved open and a small face peered through the crack.
“Fia!” Luik exclaimed.
Fane looked between them, and then said, “I will leave the two of you alone.” He bowed his head before Luik and then turned to the door, letting the girl in and closing it behind him.
“They said I would find you here,” she said. She wore a purple dress and a white ribbon around her head to keep her blonde hair out of her face. Fatigue had racked her the entire trip from Kirstell to Tontha, and Luik could only imagine what she had endured to follow them to Kirstell in the first place. But now she looked rested, and her eyes were full of life.
“Fia, it is good to see you!” He knelt to hug her.
“As it is to see you, my King.”
Luik held her off at the shoulders and examined her. “You look lovely today. Ready to meet the White Lion, I presume?”
“I had hoped so, only if…”
“If you’d allow me.”
“Allow you—why, child, since it is a rare wonder that any man would follow his King across dangerous land simply to look out for his safety, how much more than a little girl.”
Fia looked indignant at being called “little girl.”
“A daughter of Eva,” Luik corrected.
“Of course you shall meet Him, heroine of Dionia. You will be among the first!”
“Really?” Fia giggled then threw her arms around his neck. “Oh, c’symia, Luik!”
Luik chuckled and then pulled her away.
“Ta na and Na na always said you would favor me one day,” she said. “And that’s when I would know.”
Luik was confused. “What do you mean?”
“That’s when I would know it was safe to give you this.” Fia reached behind her and withdrew a small blanket tucked in her sash. She handed it to him with a big smile. “They told me the story of how you found it in the tree and returned it to me.”
Luik’s heart beat fast in his chest. He had touched this blanket before. He knew it just by the feel of the fabric.
His fingers intuitively searched the corners for…
“Ciana?” Luik said, almost in a whisper. He looked up.
“Aye,” Ciana giggled and shrugged her shoulders.
“But you—I mean, you were—” he reached out to touch her face. “It was always you?”
“I’m your sister.”
“Then you always knew?”
“Aye, I told you I could keep a secret,” she grinned, remembering their first meeting.
“But why didn’t you ever tell me?”
“Father said it was better that Morgui thought I was dead, as he could not bear the thought of having another of his children in harm’s way.”
“But Fane told me you had been killed by Morgui!” He remembered the garden meeting with the Dibor and Anorra.
“He never told you that,” she corrected him. “You concluded that yourself, and Fane let you move forward with your conclusion to keep me hidden.”
“So they kept your existence a secret,” he concluded. “As did Meera.” Amazing woman, he thought.
“Aye, but no longer.”
“No longer,” he echoed and took her into his arms. They wept together, swaying in the library.
• • •
When Luik and the others opened the doors into the Great Hall, the White Lion was already there, standing beside the dais.
At first no one moved in. They stopped in the doorway and looked on with awe through the massive room. Luik collected himself and strode ahead, the others in the warband eventually following, never once taking their eyes from the Most High. They didn’t know whether to fall prostrate or cry out and run to Him.
Luik moved forward, locking eyes with his Maker and smiled at the reunion, now the third time he had seen Him face to face.
“My King, allow me to introduce my men to You,” Luik said and turned.
Every man was on his knees, heads bowed, as were Meera, Pia, and the young women in their midst.
Luik knelt as well. The short moments that followed were filled with wonder as Luik heard sniffles go up from those gathered. He had had his moment; this was theirs. He was here. Standing before them. There was no way to calculate one’s own reaction. There was no preparing for such a moment, no reciting memorized lines or offering gifts as was often spoken of. Nor was it expected. One minute they were walking toward the Great Hall, the next they were in profound awe.
“Arise, Sons and Daughters of the Living God, Your Light has come!” The Lion’s voice boomed in the Great Hall like thunder across the sky. His words filled them all with a sense of relief. But more. With hope. There was something so fulfilling about the Great God’s voice…something that left them complete.
One by one they each stood, slightly lightheaded and most not daring to look up. But the White Lion commanded their attention, and soon each was looking at Him square in the face as if they were the only two beings in the room; many wiped tears from their eyes with the backs of their hands.
“I am honored by your presence, My people,” the Majestic King said at last. “Thank you for coming.” He turned His head and indicated the tables and chairs set up around the throne, still in place from the last planning meetings that had sent the warbands to Ot.
The people found their places among the seats, and the Lion insisted that Luik take his seat on the throne. He made to argue but thought better of it. The White Lion stood tall, towering over the throne and those seated like a living statue, marble white.
“I am sorry for each of your losses,” he began, looking around. “I would have it known today that your misfortunes were never My desire, nor My intention. But such is the risk one takes when offering the gift of freedom. There are always two roads, one leading to death and the other to life. Without such a condition, there is no true demonstration of love. Even for Me.”
The meaning of His words dawned slowly on the listeners. While they had been focused on their own decisions as of late, they never once considered the ramifications of His decisions. For them, He had chosen death so that they might live.
It was in that moment that all their issues with Him, whatever they may have been, were swept away. For none of their arguments, none of their complaints, drew the scale to their side in the slightest when compared with what He had sacrificed. With what He had endured.
“The days of mourning, however, are behind us. The days of victory are dawning. That is why I have come.” The declaration sent a ripple through the crowd, each of them suddenly alive with a fire that burned in their bones. “Morgui has had his way with My people for long enough. They have suffered under the hand of his tyranny and today, I say, it shall be no more!”
And with that everyone stood up and shouted! Cheering filled the Great Hall from wall to wall. It was the release of a generation’s suffering, of parents who had lost their children, of children who had lost their brothers, of a country who had lost their hope. Today, all was reconciled.
The White Lion allowed the victory cry to resonate and only continued speaking when the people sat back down. “I have come for what is Mine, The Keys of Life and Death, the keys to My Creation which Adam—Earth’s Ad—took and eventually gave up. And I have come to make things right, by proving once and for all that death has no power over Me or those who call on My Name.
“Tomorrow at dawn we will meet the enemy on the Plains of Jerovah. I have come to Earth in the East, and so to Dionia in the West. As the sun rises, we will gather upon our foe with valiant force as the light meets the darkness. Morgui will not prevail.”
He looked down at Luik.
“Gather all the fighting men in the city to the streets before the sun rises. Those women wishing to tend to the wounded may come as well.” He looked to Anorra, and she smiled. “Daughter, your bow will be welcome. But stay by My side.”
“Begging your pardon, Majesty,” Luik said, “but Jerovah is many days away.”
“I know your question, but we will not be traveling on foot. Just before dawn we will attack the enemy, but not as he suspects.”
The White Lion then went on into great detail, sharing his strategy and then asking Luik and Gorn for their thoughts. Li-Saide also added notable wisdom, as did Fane, before the meeting was finally adjourned.
“If I am to remain by Your side, how long will you stay?” Anorra interjected as they were dismissed. Everyone hesitated and then discreetly sat back down. “I must know. For if You should leave,” she alluded to the rumor spreading among them, “by whom should I stand then?”
The White Lion did not scold her for her indirect question. “I will stay for as long as I’m needed, until I am called elsewhere by My Father, to a field of greater importance. The truth is, Anorra, that I do not need to be present at all. I do so only for you—for you to see your vindication. For you to see justice served for the lives of those the enemy has taken.” He let His words settle. “Know this, that when I do leave, I will send One after Me who will be with you always. For this reason, among others, I must depart.”
Insisting that He be the last to leave, the entire company exited before Him, but not before Ciana ran up and threw her arms around the Lion’s right leg. He lowered His head and nuzzled her, His whiskers tickling her body. She rubbed her face against His fur and then looked up, high up into His large eyes.
“I love you,” she said so that only He could hear.
“Me too,” He replied with a wink.
Anorra called for her, but the Lion gestured for the Princess to come to Him as well. Not one to disobey, she stood beside Ciana and embraced the same leg. He pressed His mane down so that it enveloped them both. His warmth surrounded them, and Anorra was overwhelmed with an emotion she could not put into words. It was…it was just too much. For how does one explain something never felt before but by comparing it to previous experiences, ones insufficient in their description of the new?
Before long Anorra and Ciana withdrew to where Luik stood waiting. The three of them walked to the exit, cast a last look to the White Lion, and then closed the doors to the Great Hall.
The next time they would see Him would be on the field of battle.
– – –