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The Terrestria Chronicles

 

 

 

The Terrestria Chronicles

 

 

Seven allegories

by Ed Dunlop

 

(The entire seven-title series)

 

Copyright 2012 Ed Dunlop

 

Shakespir edition

 

 

Table of Contents

Book 1 – The Sword, the Ring, and the Parchment

Book 2 – The Quest for Seven Castles

Book 3 – The Search for Everyman

Book 4 – The Crown of Kuros

Book 5 – The Dragon’s Egg

Book 6 – The Golden Lamps

Book 7 – The Great War

Author’s Note

 

The Sword,

The Ring

and the Parchment

 

 

An allegory

by Ed Dunlop

 

(Book One in the Terrestria Chronicles)

 

 

 

Copyright 2012 Ed Dunlop

 

The Sword, the Ring and the Parchment

 

 

 

 

Juvenile fiction.

Christian life juvenile fiction.

 

Ebook Edition

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For ye have not received

the spirit of bondage again to fear;

but ye have received the

Spirit of adoption,

whereby we cry, Abba, Father.

 

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the

children of God;

 

And if children, then heirs;

heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ;

if so be that we suffer with him,

that we may be also glorified together.

Romans 8: 15-17

 

 

 

 

For the honor and glory

of my King

 

 

Introduction — The Land of Terrestria

 

Long, long ago, in a faraway land, there once was a peaceful kingdom known as Terrestria. It was a rugged land, with towering mountains, dense forests, and thundering waterfalls. It was a bountiful land, with bright meadows, abundant streams and rivers, and fertile soil. It was a prosperous, joyful land, for the people who inhabited the quiet villages and well-kept farms were ruled by the wise and powerful King Emmanuel. The people of Terrestria were happy and fulfilled, content in the knowledge that their King loved and cared for them.

But one day the storm clouds of trouble swept across the land. King Emmanuel’s chief musician, a self-serving man by the name of Argamor, gathered a band of discontented subjects around him and led a revolt in a foolish attempt to seize King Emmanuel’s throne. The insurrection failed. Argamor and the servants who had joined him were banished from the King’s presence. Argamor fled to an obscure corner of the kingdom and became a blacksmith.

But Argamor still had plans to seize the throne. As the years of time marched on, he worked tirelessly to advance his own dominion, quietly gathering a secret army of servants who were disloyal to King Emmanuel. The wily blacksmith and his followers resided in a small town of rickety shacks and grimy shops that became known as the Village of Despair. Argamor worked day and night to enslave the minds, souls and hearts of the people in the hopes of one day seizing the throne of good King Emmanuel. Before long, every man, woman and child in the village wore heavy chains of slavery that had been forged in Argamor’s miserable shop. His evil influence spread rapidly, and he soon claimed followers in many other towns and villages.

Thus, in time, the kingdom of Terrestria was divided, with many of the subjects loyal to King Emmanuel, while others blindly followed Argamor. Conflict was inevitable.

Chapter One

 

“Make haste, lad!” Argamor roared, looking up from the massive chain that he was fashioning on the anvil, his swarthy features twisted in anger. “You can work faster!”

The muscular arm of the huge blacksmith brought the heavy hammer down in a mighty blow against the glowing iron link upon the anvil, and the sound rang across the darkness of the November afternoon like a vesper bell. The man’s lip curled in hatred as he watched the slender slave boy. Reaching up with a dirty hand to scratch his thick, black beard, he snarled, “You shall work harder, knave, or you shall taste the lash again!”

“Aye, my lord,” young Josiah replied wearily. “I shall work faster, my lord.” Gasping for breath, he struggled to haul the cumbersome coalscuttle across the muddy workyard. A freezing rain slashed at his back and the biting north wind sweeping down from the fells howled through his threadbare tunic, chilling his weary body. Reaching down with his free hand, Josiah grasped the heavy chain to relieve the weight of the iron shackle around his thin ankle. At the opposite end of the chain, a large iron ingot nearly half the boy’s weight slid across the muddy ground.

The evil blacksmith chuckled as he held his hammer aloft, pausing in his work to watch the feeble efforts of the boy. “The lad works hard,” he said with a sneer. “Does he not, Evilheart?”

“Aye, that he does, my lord,” Evilheart replied, fingering the lashes of his whip and stealing a quick glance at his companion, Lawofsin. “The lad does work hard.”

“But he must be pushed to work harder!” Argamor roared, striking a ringing blow to the anvil. “The lad must learn to work faster!”

Argamor’s two guards were as different from each other as two brothers could possibly be. Evilheart was clearly a descendant of the Early Kings—a stout bulldog of a man, with arms and shoulders so thick that it appeared as if he had no neck. With his shaved head and stern countenance, he struck fear into Josiah’s heart every time he came near. Lawofsin, while of the same heritage, was tall and lanky, with muscles like ropes and a mournful, melancholy expression on his thin face. He had a huge shock of unruly brown hair that was always in need of washing. Both men carried whips. Josiah was almost as afraid of the two guards as he was of their master.

Struggling against the weight of the chain and the scuttle heaped with large chunks of coal, Josiah had managed to reach the shelter of the shed. Dragging the weight of guilt across the stone floor, he approached the edge of the flaming forge and timidly moved within arm’s reach of his burly master. The forge was an open furnace nearly three yards across with a huge bellows mounted at one side. By pumping air with the bellows, Argamor could heat the forge until it was hot enough to turn iron cherry-red.

Setting the scuttle on the rock ledge at the edge of the forge, Josiah stepped up onto the ledge to empty his burden of coal into the glowing furnace. Smoke and heat from the forge billowed around him, burning his eyes and searing his lungs. The blistering heat of the open fire was worse than the cold and rain outside. Josiah took a deep breath and struggled to lift the clumsy scuttle to the red-hot lip of the forge.

“Faster, lad!” The unexpected blow across the back knocked Josiah off balance, nearly sending him into the flames. His heart pounded as he struggled to keep from tumbling forward. He threw out one hand to regain his balance, touched the edge of the forge, and recoiled with a howl of pain.

Argamor and his two henchmen roared with laughter.

Tears filled Josiah’s eyes. “I-I can’t work any faster, my lord,” he stammered, struggling to keep his voice from trembling. Turning his face to avoid the worst of the heat, he emptied the coal into the blazing forge while sparks from the fire leaped upwards and swirled around his head like glowing fireflies.

“And why not?” Argamor roared. “You must work faster!” The hammer crashed down on the anvil with a thunderous impact that made Josiah flinch.

“I’ve been working hard all day, my lord,” the boy replied fearfully, cringing at the prospect of a sudden fist. “I haven’t eaten since this morning, my lord, and I’m hungry, and tired, and cold.”

“Are you complaining?” The blacksmith’s cruel face contorted with rage and his dark eyes glittered with fury. Having completed his work on the huge chain, he hurled it onto an enormous pile of other chains.

“Nay, my lord,” Josiah replied hastily. Gripping his own chain, he dragged the weight of guilt across the floor and moved away from the huge man. “But if you would remove the chain of iniquity and the weight of guilt from my ankle, I could work faster, my lord.”

Argamor threw back his head and roared with heartless laughter. “Remove the chain? Evilheart, did you hear the lad? He wants me to remove his chain!” The blacksmith stepped closer to Josiah. His black beard framed yellow, twisted teeth as he flashed a leering grin. “You want me to remove your chain, lad? So you can make your escape?”

Fear washed over the youth as the man moved closer. “Nay, my lord. But methinks that if you were to remove the weight of guilt, I could work harder.”

Argamor loomed over Josiah and a sulphurous stench overpowered the youth, choking and gagging him. “The chain is your own, lad, of your own making. Your worthy master would never consider taking it from you. The weight of guilt is yours and yours alone.” He smiled. “It is yours forever.”

“But the chain is heavy, my lord, and the shackle chafes against my ankle. It hurts me so! And the weight of guilt slows me down and drains my strength as I drag it everywhere I go.” Trembling with exhaustion, Josiah sank to a sitting position on the warm stone of the ledge. The empty coalscuttle clattered to the stone floor.

Argamor was enraged. “Stand to your feet!” he roared. “Do you presume to slack in the very presence of your master?” A huge fist struck Josiah on the shoulder.

Josiah stood wearily, fearfully snatching the scuttle from the floor where it had fallen. “I beg pardon, sire. I am weary, and I am hungry, and I am wet and cold. I cannot carry on, sire. I must rest.”

The angry blacksmith leaped forward and seized the boy. Lifting him by one arm and one leg, he hoisted him high into the air so that the weight of guilt swung freely at the end of its chain, causing the shackle to bite painfully into Josiah’s ankle. “You are cold, are you?” Argamor roared. Snarling with rage, he held the trembling youth over the glowing, pulsating forge. “If I drop you in, you will no longer be cold!”

Josiah was terrified. The heat from the forge blistered his arms and face, singeing his eyebrows and burning his throat. He gasped for breath. If the master should release his grip, he would drop helplessly into the hungry, crackling flames…

“Not another word of complaint, churlish knave, or I shall cast you in,” Argamor growled, hurling the boy to the floor beside the forge. “Get back to work!”

Sobbing helplessly, Josiah retrieved his coalscuttle, grasped his chain with his free hand, and crept from the shed into the onslaught of cold rain. His bare foot splashed into a chilling puddle, but he barely noticed. His heart ached. Why, oh why, must Argamor be so cruel? Was he not doing his best? What more could a master ask of a slave? Was there to be no relief from the constant, backbreaking work, the sting of the lash, the cruel mocking of Argamor and his henchmen, Evilheart and Lawofsin? Was the wicked blacksmith correct—were the chain of iniquity and the weight of guilt to be his forever?

Lightning slashed across the blackness of the afternoon sky and the thunder boomed angrily in reply. The wind howled and shrieked like a living creature agonizing in pain as the chilling rain pummeled the helpless slave boy. Back bowed against the unrelenting weight at the end of the chain, Josiah slogged wearily through the mud for another load of coal. A moaning sob escaped his trembling lips. “Is there to be no escape from this misery?” he cried softly. “Must I wear this chain and serve this wretched man forever? Is there no one to care?”

Chapter Two

 

Josiah’s heart pounded against his ribs like a hammer upon the anvil as he stood breathlessly beside the crackling forge. Hardly daring to breathe, the boy slowly tugged at his chain, pulling the weight of guilt cautiously across the rough stones of the floor. Reaching Argamor’s huge iron anvil, he paused and looked around anxiously. The master had stepped from the shed for a moment, and Evilheart and Lawofsin had turned their backs. No one was watching.

The blacksmith’s file lay on the workbench beside the anvil, Josiah’s for the taking. The boy had seen Argamor use the tool to shape various projects, and he knew that it would cut iron. Dare he take it? Dare he risk the fury of Argamor, should the blame fall upon him, as it surely must? He shook his head. The risk was too great.

But then again, if he dared, and if he succeeded in the theft, would not the rewards be worth the danger he would have placed himself in? The file could be used to cut iron—why not iron bars? The simple tool, placed carelessly beside the anvil by the cruel blacksmith, was to Josiah the very symbol of freedom.

He held his breath, listening intently, watching Evilheart and Lawofsin closely. The deed would just take a moment—one step closer to the anvil, a lightning-quick snatch, and the precious file would be safely hidden away inside his tunic. Hardly daring to breathe, he inched closer.

Crack! A chunk of coal in the forge flew apart with a loud snap, startling him and causing him to jump in fright. Wilting in disappointment, he took a step away from the anvil and the file. The risk was simply too great—if Argamor discovered him with the tool, he would be beaten unmercifully. He couldn’t take the chance.

But the dream of freedom nudged him forward, causing him to step toward the workbench again. The file lay before him like a precious treasure, tempting and tantalizing in its nearness, unrelenting in its appeal. The tool seemed to call to him. “Take me! I can grant you freedom! Freedom! I can set you free!”

Josiah stepped closer. His mind was made up; the risks were enormous, but he would take the file. He struggled to will himself to reach for the tool, but found that he was paralyzed with fear. His hand simply wouldn’t obey.

He glanced toward the doorway of the blacksmith shed where Evilheart and Lawofsin stood looking out across the rainy workyard. He took a deep breath. It was now or never. If he was to take the precious file, he had to act quickly. Argamor could return at any instant.

Grimacing in fear, Josiah reached for the file. His heart leaped as his fingers closed around it. The tool was his! He snatched it from the workbench and thrust it inside his tunic, wincing as the end of the file scraped his ribs.

“What are you doing?” The words cut through the stillness like a clap of thunder.

Argamor stood framed in the opening of the shed, his huge bulk silhouetted against a sky lit by a white-hot bolt of lightning. Josiah recoiled in panic. He had been caught! Argamor had seen him steal the file, and now he would experience the full wrath of the cruel blacksmith. “My lord, I—I…” Josiah stammered. His voice failed him as terror overwhelmed him. He trembled like a leaf in a windstorm.

Argamor snatched the whip from the grasp of Evilheart and strode forward furiously. “Don’t just stand there, you idle little wretch!” the man snarled. “Get to work!” The whip lashed out like a venomous serpent to bite Josiah on the arm. Argamor raised the whip again.

Josiah lunged for the coalscuttle, snatched it up, and bolted for the doorway, dragging the chain and weight behind him with an energy that he never knew that he possessed. He pushed his way past Evilheart and Lawofsin to escape into the safety of the cold outside. The whip made a whooshing sound as it cut through the air to strike Evilheart instead of Josiah. The guard gave a startled howl of pain. “Keep working!” Argamor raged, screaming curses at Josiah. “You must never stand idle!”

The boy dragged the scuttle and the weight of guilt across the muddy workyard and gave a tremendous sigh of relief. Argamor hadn’t seen the theft, after all. He hurried to the coal pile, and, working furiously, began to load the heavy chunks into the scuttle. As he worked, his fear began to subside and his heart ceased its frantic pounding. The file was his! Tonight he would begin work on the one thing that mattered most—escape. It might take several nights’ work to cut through the bars of his cell, but one day soon he would be free of the hated Argamor. He would taste the sweet nectar of freedom!

Josiah dropped a huge chunk of coal into the scuttle, and, glancing furtively around to ascertain that he was not being watched, reached quickly inside his tunic. The file lay against his belly, safely hidden in the folds of the tunic. He pushed the file into place more securely and continued with the loading.

 

 

The gloomy daylight had faded and darkness had descended upon the Village of Despair when Argamor placed his hammer upon his anvil and strode toward the door of the shop. “See that the lad is secured in his cell,” he ordered the two guards. “We start work again at daybreak.”

Evilheart and Lawofsin both bowed low. “As you wish, my lord,” Evilheart replied. “It shall be done.” The hardhearted blacksmith disappeared into the blackness of the night.

“Come, knave,” Lawofsin demanded, shoving Josiah forward and laughing when the boy stumbled over his chain. “It’s time to return to your cell.” He led Josiah outside to a garbage pile in the alleyway behind the shed. “Make haste,” he said impatiently.

Josiah sank to his knees in the garbage and rested for a moment. Feeling cautiously about in the darkness, he found a rotting apple and a few cabbage leaves. “Make haste, knave,” Lawofsin demanded.

“It’s dark, sire,” Josiah replied. “It’s hard to see anything.”

“You have had ample time,” the guard replied curtly. “Come along.” Josiah had no choice but to follow, clutching his chain in one hand and his meager findings in the other.

Lawofsin led him through the narrow, filthy streets of the darkened Village of Despair, stopping before the imposing iron gate of the Dungeon of Condemnation. He rapped on the iron bars with the wooden handle of his whip and then waited impatiently. Moments later a light flickered faintly in the darkness of the corridor. Footsteps echoed throughout the dark passageway and a helmeted guard carrying a lighted torch rounded a corner and approached the gate with a huge ring of keys in his hand.

“Heartless,” Josiah’s escort greeted the guard, “are you on duty tonight?”

“Tonight and every night,” Heartless replied in a dismal voice. “I’ve been stationed here by his highness, Lord Argamor. The Dungeon of Condemnation is now my station, I fear.” A key turned in the lock and the heavy gate swung open.

“The lad is your responsibility,” Lawofsin declared, and then disappeared into the darkness of the street.

Knowing that it was useless to do otherwise, Josiah dragged his weight of guilt through the gate, and Heartless locked the iron barrier behind him. The prison guard held his torch high and led the way down the dank corridor. Dragging his weight of guilt behind him, Josiah followed meekly. Josiah dropped his eyes as they walked along, disheartened by the sight of the pitiful wretches imprisoned within the cells on each side of the dimly lit corridor.

Together they passed down a flight of crumbling steps and through another locked gate. Heartless paused before an empty cell, selected a key from his ring, and unlocked the door. Without a word, Josiah stepped inside. The familiar feeling of hopelessness engulfed the lonely boy as Heartless locked the door and turned away. Hopelessness turned to despair as the flickering light from the torch disappeared down the passageway.

Josiah crept to the rear of the cell and dropped wearily to his knees in a pile of filthy straw. He let the apple and the cabbage leaves fall into the straw. The cell was dark and dismal; the only light in the tiny chamber came from the sputtering torch at the far end of the cellblock. Water seeped down the cold stone wall and formed a little puddle in one corner before draining out through a crack in the floor. Sensing movement out of the corner of his eye, Josiah turned in time to see a large rat dash across the floor and disappear through a drain hole. He shuddered. The worst part of servitude to Argamor had always been the long nights of despair spent alone in the Dungeon of Condemnation.

But tonight was different; Josiah had a ray of hope. With a sigh of expectancy, he drew the stolen file from the bosom of his tunic and studied it. Unable to properly examine the tool in the dim light, Josiah crept silently to the bars at the front of his cell and held the file up to the torchlight. Five letters were engraved in the handle of the file: W-O-R-K-S. The letters were foreign and meaningless to the illiterate slave boy, but he sensed that somehow they were of great significance. Perhaps this was the key to freedom from the Dungeon of Condemnation!

He paused to listen carefully. The dungeon was silent. Holding his breath, he placed the edge of the file down low against the bar at the farthest corner of his cell and drew it gently across the cold iron. The file made a faint screeching noise and Josiah winced. He would have to be cautious; if he filed too vigorously and made too much noise, his plans for escape would be discovered!

His meager supper was forgotten as he set to work. Gripping the file at both ends to minimize the noise, Josiah drew the pilfered tool back and forth repeatedly across the cold iron of the prison bar. Back and forth, back and forth. The file whined softly as it sped to and fro across the iron. The lonely boy experienced a surge of new energy as he contemplated the details of his escape. Once he had cut through the cell bar, he would leave it in place so that the guards would not discover his efforts. He realized that the project would undoubtedly take several nights, but he was ready for that.

The problem would come when he attempted to cut through the door to the cellblock. Once he bent the bar to exit from his cell, he would have to complete his escape from the prison the same night, for the damaged bar would surely be discovered the next morning. But there would be no way that he could hope to cut through the door in one night—what was he to do?

I’ll have several days to think about it, he told himself, while I work on this bar. Pausing to examine his progress, he felt the bar with an exploratory fingernail and was dismayed to find that he had barely scratched the iron. This is going to take longer than I thought.

Placing the file carefully against the scratch mark, he resumed work on the obstinate iron bar. Back and forth, back and forth. This is going to take a thousand thousand strokes! He sighed at the thought.

Hearing a slight noise in the corridor, Josiah glanced up and was dismayed to see a shadowy figure standing less than five paces from his cell! He had been so intent upon his work that he had not been alert enough to hear the man approaching. His heart sank. His plans for escape were about to be discovered!

The figure approached the cell and Josiah was surprised to see a small golden cross suspended from a golden chain about the man’s neck. The feeble light from the cellblock torch glittered on the polished surface of the relic. When Josiah saw the man’s shaved head and his floor-length broadcloth robe, he immediately knew the identity of the visitor. This was a man of the Church.

“Friend,” the cleric whispered, gripping the bars of Josiah’s cell with both hands, “would you find freedom from the confines of the Dungeon of Condemnation?”

It took Josiah a moment to figure out the meaning of the unexpected visitor’s words. “Aye,” he said eagerly, when he realized that the cleric was asking if he wanted to escape from the dungeon. “Aye, my lord, I desire that more than life itself!”

“I am Father Almsdeeds, a man of the Church,” the cleric whispered gently. “I have the keys that will free you from this dreadful abode. Here—take them. This is the Key of Religion,” he explained, passing a shiny golden key through the bars to his young beneficiary, “and this is the Key of Penance.” He handed a second key through the bars.

Josiah was ecstatic. “Will these really get me out?” he asked eagerly.

“Aye, my son,” the cleric assured him softly. “These two, and this third one, the Key of Sincerity, will open the doors to freedom from condemnation.” After whispering these words, he passed a third key through the bars.

“I thank you,” Josiah whispered gratefully. “You have brought me hope in this lonely dungeon of despair.”

“It is my privilege,” the stealthy visitor assured him. “Go in peace, and may the blessings of the Church brighten your path forever.” The shiny cross swung back and forth as the man turned away.

“Wait!” Josiah whispered urgently.

Father Almsdeeds turned back to face him.

“What about my chain of iniquity and my weight of guilt? How must I remove those?”

The cleric seemed perplexed by the question. “You must take them with you,” he replied haltingly, as if unsure that he was giving the correct response. “Perhaps once you are free of these confines, another can help you remove your chain.” Giving Josiah a shrug and a bewildered look, he turned and hurried away.

Josiah’s heart was filled with joy and expectation as he tossed the stolen file upon the pile of straw and turned his attention to the three keys. Holding them up to the feeble light from the torch, he discovered to his amazement that all three were encrusted with glittering jewels. The exceptional beauty of the golden keys made his heart pound faster.

Listening for a moment to determine that all was quiet, he crept eagerly to the door of his cell and inserted a key in the lock. The key slid in easily. He took a deep breath. His heart pounded with anticipation. He gently twisted the golden key, which turned easily in the lock. To his dismay, nothing happened. Frowning with disappointment, he twisted the key in the opposite direction—one full turn, and then two, and finally, three. Still, nothing happened. The cell door was as tightly locked as ever.

I have used the wrong key, he told himself, withdrawing the golden key from the lock. Perhaps this is the Key of Sincerity, and I should have used the Key of Penance or the Key of Religion. This key must fit the lock on the outer gate.

Placing the first key carefully inside his tunic, he slowly inserted a second into the lock. He twisted gently, but the result was the same. The key turned easily, but the door was still locked.

He tried the third key, again with no success.

Hours later, Josiah was still standing wearily at the cell door, still trying vainly to open the lock. He tried each of the three golden keys repeatedly, twisting first one way and then another, but the door remained locked. Finally, he sank to his knees in exhausted frustration, dropping the beautiful Keys of Religion, Penance, and Sincerity to the cold stone floor.

“Father Almsdeeds must have given me the wrong keys,” he said with a sigh of despair. “I’m still the prisoner of Argamor, and these keys have accomplished nothing!” Gripping the bars of the cell door, he shook them with all his might. But the door was unyielding; the cell was still locked. Refusing to admit defeat, Josiah carefully picked up the golden keys and resumed work on the lock.

 

 

Daylight had already crept over the eastern wall of the Dungeon of Condemnation when the disheartened boy finally realized the futility of the golden keys given to him by Father Almsdeeds. He had worked all night; he had done his best; but the cell door was still securely locked. The Keys of Religion, Penance, and Sincerity had accomplished nothing. Hiding the glittering keys and the stolen file under the pile of flea-infested straw, Josiah sank to the floor in utter defeat.

Chapter Three

 

“Arise, knave! Be up and about!” A booted foot struck Josiah in the ribs, and he opened his eyes to find Heartless glaring fiercely down at him. “Arise, wretched dog! Your master awaits!”

Groaning with weariness, the boy rolled over on his belly and rose stiffly to his knees. He yawned. The long, sleepless night had taken its toll. He was tired, so thoroughly exhausted that he could scarcely function, and yet the day was just starting and he knew that he faced long hours of relentless toil and abuse.

“Here.” Heartless thrust a stoneware vessel into his hands, a bowl containing a thin, cold barley gruel. Knowing that it was to be his only sustenance that day, Josiah hurriedly gulped the watery, tasteless substance. When he finished, the guard snatched the vessel from his hands and hurled it into the corridor.

“Come.” Heartless stepped from the cell and stood impatiently in the dimly lit corridor. Josiah rose slowly to his feet, grabbed his chain of iniquity with both hands, and dragged the heavy weight of guilt across the rough stones. The cell door slammed shut behind him. Josiah followed the prison guard up the stairs.

Lawofsin was waiting at the main gate of the Dungeon of Condemnation. “There’s the worthless wretch,” he said, when he saw Josiah. He stared searchingly at the boy. “Your eyes are red and your countenance is pale,” he declared harshly. “Did you not sleep?”

“Perchance the lad stayed awake all night contemplating his escape plan,” Heartless said with a sneer, and both men laughed.

Josiah stared at the prison guard. Panic rose within his breast. He doesn’t know, he tried to tell himself. Surely he doesn’t know! No one saw me take the file! But what if he knows about Father Almsdeeds’ visit to my cell? What if he knows about the golden keys? Alarmed, he studied the man’s face, trying desperately to determine if Heartless knew what had transpired during the night. But the guard’s face was impassive, and Josiah learned nothing.

Rusty hinges screeched in protest as the prison gate swung open. “Come, knave,” Lawofsin demanded, cuffing Josiah on the shoulder. “Lord Argamor will be angry if you are delayed.”

The burly blacksmith had already fired the forge and was working at his anvil when Lawofsin thrust Josiah roughly through the doorway of the shed. Argamor looked up in irritation as the boy fell heavily to the stone floor. “Worthless knave,” the blacksmith snarled, “get up and get working! You are behind in your duties!” Snatching an iron fragment from his workbench, he hurled it at Josiah, striking the boy in the shoulder.

Josiah blinked back tears as he rose to his feet and reached for the battered handle of the coalscuttle. “Aye, my lord,” he answered feebly. “I ask your pardon, my lord.” Argamor ignored him and turned his attention to the huge iron chain that he was fashioning on the anvil.

I cannot go on in this manner, Josiah told himself, dragging his heavy chain with one hand and carrying the empty coalscuttle in the other. I cannot serve Argamor any longer! There must be a way to escape—there has to be! He reached the coal pile, dropped his chain, and began to load the heavy chunks into the scuttle with both hands. If I can just make it through today, I will sleep for a little while and then use Argamor’s file to cut through the bar. It may take several days, but I will escape! I have to!

He paused with a chunk of coal in his hands as he thought about the golden keys given to him by Father Almsdeeds. Why did they not work? he asked himself. I wore myself out trying the keys—but in vain. I am still the slave of Lord Argamor! Lawofsin stepped from the shed at that moment, and Josiah set aside his thoughts and worked faster.

The day was long. Weakened by the lack of sleep, Josiah was exhausted before mid-morning. Struggling to keep his eyes open, the boy stumbled frequently, often dropping his scuttle and spilling his load of coal. Each and every time, Argamor or one of his henchmen rewarded the weary boy with the stinging lash of the whip.

 

 

Daylight was fading rapidly as Josiah wearily carried the coalscuttle to the coal pile for yet another load. When he reached the pile, he suddenly sank to the ground, overcome with fatigue. He struggled to rise to his feet, but found that he no longer had the strength to do so. He watched the shed anxiously. If Argamor or one of the guards should see him resting, the beating that resulted would be unbearable. Gripping a huge chunk of coal with both hands, Josiah made a valiant effort to stand. He grunted with the effort as he did his best to pull himself to a standing position, but found that he could not. His strength was gone.

He managed to raise himself up on his knees. Resting his right forearm on the rim of the coalscuttle for support, he loaded small pieces of coal with his left hand. He watched the shed fearfully, terrified that his cruel master would appear at any instant.

He reached for another piece of coal. Why didn’t Father Almsdeeds’ keys work last night? he asked himself again. Should I try them again tonight, or should I work on the bars with Argamor’s file? One thing for certain—I must get some sleep tonight before I do anything!

His thoughts went back to that day so long ago when he had first met the cruel blacksmith on the streets of the Village of Despair. A gang of beggar boys had set out to thrash Josiah for intruding on their territory when a huge man with a thick beard had stepped in and saved the frightened orphan from a beating. After chasing the gang of beggars away, the man had turned to Josiah with a warm smile. “Do you not have a home, lad?”

“Nay, my lord,” Josiah replied, trembling with fear.

Argamor had seemed so friendly, almost caring, when he said, “I am a blacksmith, lad, and I am called by the name Argamor. Why not come and work for me? You shall have plenty of food and a dry place to sleep. The work is not hard, and I will pay you generous wages. There will be plenty of time for merriment; you can do whatever you want. What do you say, lad—would you be my apprentice?”

And so the trusting little boy had eagerly followed the big man with the friendly smile and the promises of a better life. At first, the work had not been hard and Josiah had been treated quite well. Argamor fed him three times a day, allowed him to sleep on a straw pallet at the rear of the shop, and even handed him a silver coin or two from time to time. At first, life with Argamor was pleasant for the little orphan boy.

Josiah shuddered as he remembered the day that Argamor had fastened the shackle around his ankle, explaining that it was only temporary and would soon be removed. And then, day by day, one link at a time, the chain had been added, and finally, the weight of guilt. On the evening that the weight of guilt had been fastened to Josiah’s ankle he had also been locked in the Dungeon of Condemnation for the first time. The terrible beatings had started the very next day.

He sighed. How long it had taken him to realize that Argamor was his tormentor, rather than his benefactor! The life of merriment that the blacksmith had promised had quickly turned into a life of misery and cruelty.

Josiah struggled to his feet. The scuttle was only half-full, but he didn’t have the strength to lift it. He strained to drag it across the workyard. After a several minutes of arduous effort, he neared the shed. Pausing to catch his breath, he heard the voice of Evilheart from within the structure.

“The lad is hardly more than a skeleton, my lord,” Evilheart said in the tone of voice one would use when appealing to a great monarch.

“What concern is that of mine?” Argamor’s voice was cold and disinterested. The hammer rang against the anvil with a steady rhythm.

“Perhaps, sire, you are driving the lad too hard.”

The sound of the hammer ceased for several long seconds. “He’s my slave; I’ll do as I please with him.” The hammer struck the anvil again.

“But my lord, the lad is ready to perish. We give him less than a pauper’s portion of gruel in the morning, and allow him less than five minutes to scavenge the garbage pit at night. What if you were to give the lad a little more food?” Evilheart’s voice faltered at that point, and Josiah surmised that he must have gotten a negative reaction from Argamor. “Perchance you gave the lad one or two brief rest periods during the day—would not he then able to work that much harder for you?”

“Rest periods?” The words came out as an indignant snarl.

“Brief ones, my lord. Perhaps even just one a day.” Evilheart was losing ground, and he knew it. His tone was conciliatory, almost apologetic.

“Why should I?” Argamor’s voice was flat and apathetic. The hammer was silent.

“Watching the lad, my lord, methinks that he is ready to die.”

“If he dies, he dies,” Argamor replied. “I simply get another slave—it matters not to me. Now, not another word about more food or rest periods!” The hammer clattered to the floor. “I’m through for the day. Take the lad to the dungeon. Speak not to me again concerning rest periods or more food.”

“Aye, my lord.”

Overcome with fatigue, Josiah sagged against the wall of the shed, still clutching his coalscuttle. Argamor strode from the shed and brushed past him, apparently not even seeing him.

“So why do you care for the lad?” Lawofsin asked Evilheart. “You took up for him as if he were your little brother.” Josiah was wondering the same thing, and he waited for Evilheart’s answer.

“The lad means nothing to me,” Evilheart told his companion. “But if he dies, his work might fall to me. And besides, better treatment of the lad might mean better treatment for us.”

Josiah’s body shook with a racking cough. Mustering his strength, he hefted the coalscuttle and entered the shed, dragging the hated chain and weight behind him. Argamor’s two guards looked at him sternly. “It’s time to return to your cell,” Lawofsin said gruffly. He peered into the half-full scuttle. “Your work is found wanting, you worthless churl. You must do better tomorrow.”

 

 

It was well past midnight when Josiah stirred from his pile of moldy straw. He listened intently for several moments to be certain that no one else was present in the cellblock and then retrieved his file from its hiding place under the straw. Silently he crept toward the corner of his cell. His heart pounded with anticipation—tonight was the night. It had taken eight nights to file his way through the iron bar, and tonight he would finish the job. Fully aware that he could never hope to cut his way through the gate in just one night, he had finally decided that was the purpose for which Father Almsdeeds’ golden keys were intended.

Kneeling beside the prison bar on which he had already spent so many hours, he carefully placed the edge of the file against the deep notch in the iron and resumed his attack on the barrier. He had already cut a deep notch in the upper end of the bar to weaken it—cutting on the back side so that the cut would not be visible to any guards passing by—so that once the bottom was severed the entire bar would easily bend out of place.

The file grew hot as he worked relentlessly at the iron. Back and forth, back and forth, steadily sawing away at the bar that stood between him and freedom. “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” the rhythm of the file seemed to chant. Within hours, he would be free of the Dungeon of Condemnation. The thought gave him new strength and determination, and the file cut through the iron even faster than it had before.

Two hours later, Josiah felt like shouting when the stolen tool finally cut through the last fragment of iron. Placing the file quietly on the cold stone floor, Josiah grasped the bar with both hands and strained upward with all of his might. To his delight, the iron bent easily out of place.

He sprang across the cell toward the straw pile, pausing in consternation when his momentum jerked the chain of iniquity across the stone with a terrible clanking sound that echoed throughout the dank corridor. Carefully he pulled the chain taut and dragged the weight of guilt across the cell as noiselessly as possible. Kneeling at the straw pile, he quickly retrieved the three precious keys and tucked them inside his tunic along with Argamor’s file.

Moments later Josiah wriggled through the space he had created between the bars. His heart was in his throat as he carefully pulled the weight of guilt out into the corridor. He stood to his feet and a feeling of exhilaration swept over him. He had done it! He had escaped from his cell!

Dragging the weight of guilt as quietly as he could, Josiah made his way down the dimly lit corridor. He paused before the iron gate and fumbled for the golden keys. He selected a key at random and inserted it into the lock. To his amazement, the gate swung slowly open even before he attempted to turn the key!

He hesitated for a moment, listening intently. The Dungeon of Condemnation was deathly quiet. Slowly, carefully, he pushed the gate open wider and crept through. He turned and pulled the weight of guilt through after him, wincing as the ingot slid across the stones with a harsh grating noise. Closing the gate noiselessly behind him, he headed for the stairs that led to the upper level.

Footsteps echoed in the corridor, and panic seized him. He was about to be discovered! Glancing wildly about, he was terror-stricken to realize that there was no convenient hiding place. There wasn’t time to attempt to return to his cell, and the sound of the weight against the cobblestones would be a dead giveaway if he tried. Not knowing what else to do, he dropped to the floor at the foot of the stairs.

The footsteps came closer. Josiah waited in terror. His stomach tightened, and his body began to tremble. The blood pounded in his head. His chest felt so tight that he could scarcely breathe. Paralyzed with fear, he knew that he was completely helpless. If they found him, they might as well kill him on the spot. Argamor would show him no mercy.

The figure of a guard appeared in the darkness of the corridor, strode straight toward him, and then turned the corner less than fifteen paces from him. The sound of the man’s footsteps receded as he disappeared down the other passageway. Josiah let out his breath in a grateful sigh of relief.

The trembling boy waited at the foot of the stairs for several moments, afraid to move lest the guard should suddenly reappear. When some time had passed and all was still quiet, he rose to his feet and cautiously dragged the weight of iniquity to the edge of the first step. Standing atop the step, he gripped the chain of iniquity with both hands and attempted to pull the weight up onto the stair.

It was then that Josiah discovered that his escape was not to be as easy as it had seemed. He pulled with all his might, but the heavy weight refused to budge. In his weakened condition, he could not lift the weight of guilt up the stairs! He gripped the chain down lower, closer to the weight, and tried again. Taking a deep breath, he threw every ounce of his strength into the effort, but the heavy weight would not move. He simply did not have the strength to pull the weight of guilt up the steep stairs.

Disheartened, he dropped to a sitting position on the second stair and pondered his predicament. His mind jumped back to that morning, when Heartless had led him from his dungeon cell. He suddenly realized that the guard had grabbed his chain and pulled the weight up the stairs for him. How many times has he done that? Josiah wondered. Here I am, growing steadily weaker, and I didn’t even realize it!

He stood to his feet. I must pull the weight up these stairs! I have to! Gripping the chain with renewed vigor, he pulled with everything he had. But it simply wasn’t enough. The weight wasn’t going anywhere.

The file! I can cut the chain with the file! I need to be free of the weight of guilt anyway; I can’t drag it all the way to freedom. Dropping to his knees, Josiah pulled the file from his tunic and set to work.

The file made a dreadful scraping, screeching sound when Josiah drew it across the first link in the chain. He stopped, panic-stricken, expecting the guards to come running. His heart pounded with fear as he waited in tense silence. But the dungeon was silent; no guards appeared. Apparently, the noise had not been as loud as he had imagined.

Holding the chain against the side of his leg to muffle the sound, Josiah again drew the file carefully across the link. There! That was much better! The screech of the file was not nearly as loud. Encouraged, he set to work in earnest. Watching the corridor and listening for footsteps, he filed furiously at the chain of iniquity.

He worked steadily for a long while without stopping. The file seemed to fly back and forth across the iron link. Metal shavings flew this way and that, and he knew that he was making excellent progress. The chain would be severed within minutes! His heart was light as he thought of the blessed relief that freedom from the chain of iniquity and the weight of guilt would bring.

After a prolonged period of energetic work on the chain, Josiah stopped to evaluate his progress. Switching the file to his left hand, he ran a finger over the link on which he had been working. He snatched his hand away. The chain was hot!

He leaned over sideways for a look at the chain. He stared, unable to believe his eyes. It was all he could do to hold back a cry of frustration. The chain was still intact! In spite of all his work, it wasn’t even scratched. His determined efforts hadn’t accomplished anything!

But I saw metal shavings, he told himself. If the file isn’t cutting through the chain, where did those come from?

With a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, he knew the answer even before he looked. He held Argamor’s file up to the dim light and examined it. Just as he had feared, he found that the tool was nearly worn in two. The file was not cutting the chain of iniquity; the chain was wearing out the file!

He bowed his head in defeat. “It’s hopeless,” he whispered aloud. “I just can’t do this! Unless someone helps me, there’s no escape! I’ll be a prisoner in the Dungeon of Condemnation forever!” Tears flowed down his cheeks and dripped from his chin to spatter on the dirty floor.

Hearing a slight noise, Josiah raised his head to find two dungeon guards staring down at him. “Going somewhere, knave?” the taller one growled fiercely.

Chapter Four

 

“You are mine!” Argamor raged, screaming in fury. He snatched his hammer from his anvil and hurled it suddenly at Josiah. The boy ducked as the heavy tool sailed past his head and struck the wall behind him. “You are mine—do you hear me? Mine! I can do anything that I please with you, wretched dog! You are mine forever! I can kill you, banish you to the dungeon forever, or do anything I please with you! Do you not understand that?”

Josiah cowered before his furious master. “Aye, my lord.”

“And yet you have attempted an escape?”

Terrified, Josiah simply dropped his gaze. The life seemed to go out of him and he swayed as though he was going to fall, but Evilheart and Lawofsin grabbed his arms and supported him.

“Answer me!!”

“Aye, my lord.” Josiah’s reply came out as a terrified little squeak.

“Why?”

“I-I simply can’t bear to live the way I do, my lord. I work from daybreak until nightfall each day with hardly enough food to keep a mouse alive. I sleep in a cold, wet dungeon that is crawling with rats and smells like a pigsty.” The words came in a rush, and now there was no stopping them. “Worst of all, sire, I bear the chain of iniquity and the heavy weight of guilt with me. I drag it with me every moment of every day. I sleep with it every night. I must be free of these shackles! I must be free! I cannot live unless I am free! I will try and try until I am free, or until I am dead! You will never—”

Josiah suddenly stopped, dismayed that he had dared say so much. He watched Argamor’s face. The blacksmith’s eyes narrowed and Josiah waited anxiously, afraid to even breathe.

Argamor abruptly turned on the two guards. “How did it happen?” he demanded.

“He cut his way out of his cell, my lord,” Lawofsin explained. In spite of his own fear, Josiah noticed that the man’s hands shook as he talked. “He made it through the gate leading to the inner ward, sire, and—”

“He what?” Enraged, Argamor took a threatening step forward, and his henchmen quickly stepped back. “Do mine ears deceive me? Did you say that this lad cut his way out of his cell?”

“Aye, that he did, my lord.” Lawofsin was actually trembling now.

“How, pray tell? How could a scrawny lad like this cut his way out of his cell?” Argamor was pacing back and forth in his rage, clenching and unclenching his fists. His swarthy face was nearly purple, and the veins stood out in his neck. Josiah had never seen him so angry.

“The blame is not ours, my lord,” Evilheart quickly assured him. “It did not happen on our watch.”

“Then whose watch was it, pray tell?” The furious blacksmith said the words slowly and distinctly, as though he was biting off the end of each word.

Evilheart hesitated. “It was—it was Heartless, my lord.”

“I want him dead,” Argamor growled. “This very day. Dispatch a message to the dungeon.”

Josiah shuddered.

Argamor suddenly pointed a thick, dirty finger at Evilheart. “You did not tell me how it happened.”

“He used a file, my lord.” The guard nervously cleared his throat. “He cut through one of the bars in his cell.”

“A file?”

“Aye, my lord. He took it from your workbench.”

Argamor fell silent at this bit of information. He paced angrily back and forth behind the workbench, eyeing his two henchmen suspiciously. Evilheart and Lawofsin fidgeted apprehensively. Tension filled the shop.

“You said that he passed the inner gate.”

“Aye, my lord.”

“And just how did he accomplish that?”

“We don’t know, my lord. We did find three keys on his person.”

“Show me.”

Lawofsin produced Father Almsdeeds’ golden keys and handed them to his master.

Argamor studied the keys for a moment. “Trifles. Worthless trifles.” He turned and tossed them into the forge, and they melted away to nothing almost immediately. “Lad, where did you get these keys?”

Josiah did not want to implicate Father Almsdeeds, but he was afraid not to answer. “They were given to me, my lord, by a kind man named Father Almsdeeds.”

“A man of the Church.”

“Aye, my lord.”

Argamor turned his attention back to Evilheart. “The lad did not open the gate with these trifles. But you have no idea how he did?”

“Nay, my lord.”

Argamor scowled fiercely at Josiah. “How did you open the gate?”

“It—it opened by itself, sire. Or perhaps it was already open. I do not know.”

To the boy’s surprise, Argamor accepted his explanation. He turned back to Evilheart. “So he passed through the gate. Then what happened?”

“The lad couldn’t climb the stairs due to the weight of guilt, my lord. We found him at the foot of the stairs.”

“I see.” Argamor was thoughtful for several long moments. Josiah stood trembling, waiting to see what would be the outcome of his attempt to escape from the Dungeon of Condemnation. He was exhausted, dreadfully so, but he stood stiffly, watching his master’s face. Tension filled the shop like smoke from the forge.

Evilheart and Lawofsin stole quick, anxious glances at each other, and Josiah knew that they were as fearful as he was. Should Argamor think about the fact that the stolen file had been in his possession while they were on guard, they would also be implicated in his escape attempt. One guard had already been sentenced to die. In spite of their cruelty to him, Josiah actually felt sorry for them.

“Lad, the charges against you are very grievous,” Argamor told Josiah, speaking slowly and deliberately as if to emphasize the importance of his words. “You have stolen tools from my shop, damaged dungeon property, and consorted with a man of the Church. But worst of all, you have attempted to escape from my domain.” A dark look of intense hatred burned in the man’s eyes. Josiah saw it and shuddered inwardly.

“I must not allow this to happen again. Ever again.”

Josiah was terrified.

Argamor suddenly seized Josiah, lifted him from the floor, and placed him none too gently on his workbench. He grabbed the boy’s leg and pulled it across the anvil. Snatching his hammer and a large chisel from the workbench, he turned and with lightning-quick movements struck several ringing blows. To Josiah’s amazement, the chain of iniquity fell to the stone floor. He attempted to sit up, but a huge hand pushed him back down across the workbench.

Clank! Clank! A huge chain, nearly three times the size of the torturous one that he had worn so long, slammed down across the workbench just inches from his face. He heard the whoosh of the bellows and turned to see Argamor pumping with all his might. The forge glowed white-hot; smoke filled the room. Moments later the angry blacksmith turned toward Josiah with a glowing bar of metal held firmly in the tongs in his hand. Before the boy realized what was happening, Argamor had fused the heavy chain to the shackle on Josiah’s ankle.

Josiah groaned inwardly. This new chain was huge; each link was nearly as wide as his hand! What a burden this would be to drag about wherever one went! But the worst was yet to come.

Argamor slammed a huge iron ingot on the workbench with an impact that seemed to shake the entire shop. He pumped the bellows again and smoke filled the room. The ringing blows of the hammer echoed in Josiah’s ears. Within moments, the enormous weight was fastened to the huge chain on Josiah’s ankle.

The cruel blacksmith dropped his hammer and tongs on the workbench. Placing a huge hand behind Josiah’s head, he pulled the boy to a sitting position. “You shall never again worry about your old weight and chain,” he said with an evil chuckle. “Behold, I have fashioned you new ones!” Seizing Josiah by the arms, he lifted him down from the workbench to stand upon the floor.

“Methinks the lad will not escape with these new fetters,” he told Evilheart and Lawofsin, and all three men roared with laughter.

Josiah was aghast. “My lord, I can hardly move with this chain! I doubt if I can move this new weight of guilt! Have mercy, my lord, I beg you!”

But Argamor merely laughed. “I have never sought a reputation as a merciful man,” he replied. His eyes narrowed. “But your work load shall not be diminished one iota, I assure you.”

He placed the hammer on the anvil and returned the tongs to their place in the tool rack on the wall. “We have remedied the problem; now for the punishment.”

Josiah’s heart sank at the words. Punishment? Would it not be punishment enough to drag this enormous chain and weight of guilt around all day? How much more could he bear?

“Tie him to the yew tree in the coal yard,” he heard Argamor saying. “A severe flogging should drive all thoughts of escape from the heart of this rebellious slave.”

“Somebody help me!” Josiah cried softly.

Chapter Five

 

Evilheart and Lawofsin seemed to take delight in their preparations for Josiah’s flogging. With broad smiles of amusement they dragged the terrified boy from the shop, pulled his tunic down around his waist to bare his thin shoulders and back, and then tied him to the sturdy trunk of the yew tree. Josiah’s hands were pulled so tightly around the tree that it felt as if his arms would be torn from his shoulders.

“A coach approaches, my lord!” Evilheart announced in a voice that demanded attention.

“So let it come,” Argamor retorted. “It is no concern to us.”

“It’s the royal coach, my lord,” the guard lamented, “the Coach of Grace!”

“Ignore it. It will pass us by.”

“My lord, the coach is turning into the yard! It is preparing to stop!” Josiah could sense the fear in the man’s voice.

“What does he want here?” Argamor muttered.

Josiah strained to turn and see the coach that had his tormentors so worried, but he was bound to the yew tree so tightly that he could scarcely move. He heard the clatter of horses’ hooves, the creaking of the axletrees, the rumble of carriage wheels upon the hard earth. The snorting and breathing of the horses told him that the vehicle had come to a stop ten or fifteen paces from the tree.

“Argamor, release the lad!” The voice was powerful, weighted with an authority that demanded obedience. Somehow the voice reminded Josiah of the power of a rushing waterfall. He longed to turn and see the speaker, but could not.

“Your Majesty, the lad belongs to me,” Argamor protested in a voice that was strangely submissive. “He has been rebellious, and we are merely chastening him for it.”

“Release the lad,” the voice commanded again. “Now.”

“Aye, Your Majesty,” Argamor replied. His voice was edged with fear and deference, and Josiah wondered who could command such respect from a man such as Argamor. “Lawofsin, release the lad.” The blacksmith’s voice trembled as he said the words, but Josiah could hear a trace of resentment.

Lawofsin stepped to the yew tree and untied Josiah’s bonds. The boy turned around, pulling his tunic up around his shoulders as he did.

A gleaming white coach resplendent with golden fittings stood less than twenty paces from the tree. Above the majestic coach flew a royal purple standard emblazoned with the emblems of a cross and a golden crown; over the door were five lustrous letters: G-R-A-C-E. The boy stared hard at the letters, wishing he could read but somehow sensing that the word was one of glorious significance. Four snowy white horses stood proudly, impressive in their glittering gold harnesses. Josiah stared in amazement, completely overwhelmed by the grand sight. The magnificent vehicle was strangely out of place in the squalor and filth of the coal yard.

Behind the coach, a cavalcade of knights in shining armor sat astride snowy white chargers. The royal purple banner flying grandly from the tip of each man’s lance carried the same cross and crown emblem as the coach. As Josiah watched, the knights dismounted and stood at attention beside their magnificent horses. The spirited chargers pranced and pawed the earth.

And then Josiah saw the King. A tall, commanding figure arrayed in an elegant scarlet robe, the King had his cloak open in the front, and Josiah could see a wide cummerbund of solid gold. The monarch was striding toward him, and his feet somehow had the appearance of polished brass. A glittering crown of pure gold rested upon his head. The King had hair like wool and eyes that burned like fire, and his countenance radiated love and concern. Josiah gazed in wonder at the King’s face. Never before had he seen such a kind face. The King smiled at him, and his eyes were filled with love.

Josiah stole a glance at Argamor, and to his amazement, saw that the cruel blacksmith and his two henchmen were trembling. Who is this King? Josiah wondered in astonishment. I wouldn’t have known that Argamor was afraid of anyone!

“I have come for the lad,” the King said quietly. “I have purchased his freedom, and I have come to redeem him.”

“Your Majesty, the lad is my slave forever,” Argamor protested. “He is not for sale.”

“That is not for you to decide, Argamor,” the regal visitor replied sternly. “That is the lad’s decision.”

The King approached the awestruck boy. “Josiah, would you be free of your chain?” The powerful voice was soft, gentle, soothing.

Trembling, Josiah stared up in astonishment at the King. “How do you know my name, sire?”

“I knew your name before I made the mountains,” the King answered graciously. “Josiah, the choice is yours. Would you be free from your chain of iniquity, free from the weight of guilt, free from the abuse of your master, Argamor?”

Josiah’s heart filled with longing, but fear and doubt gripped him. “Your Majesty, is that possible? How might I be free?”

The King smiled. “I have paid the price, Josiah, to purchase your freedom. Simply ask, lad, and you shall be set free.”

Josiah stole another glance at Argamor. The burly blacksmith was glaring at him with an intense hatred that sent a bolt of fear through Josiah’s being. A chill of terror swept over him, paralyzing him, rendering him helpless. He opened his mouth to speak, but under the malevolent eye of his abusive master, found that he could not. He longed to be free, but fear and doubt kept him rooted to the spot, unable to say a word.

The King reached out a gentle hand and touched him. “I am King Emmanuel, Lord of Creation, Lord of Eternity,” he said, gazing deeply into Josiah’s eyes. “All of Terrestria is my domain. Argamor has no claim on you. He cannot hurt you. Will you be free from his tyranny, and from your chain?”

Gazing fearfully into the gentle, loving eyes of King Emmanuel, Josiah suddenly found a deep settled peace. A gentle love radiated from the King, and he felt secure in its warmth. Finding himself drawn to the extraordinary ruler, he moved close to his side. “I must be free, Your Majesty. Please, set me free from my chain of iniquity, the weight of guilt, and from the cruel tyranny of Argamor. Please, my Lord.”

“It is done,” King Emmanuel said gently. Kneeling at Josiah’s feet, the royal visitor reached down and grasped Josiah’s chain in both hands. With one quick movement of his wrists, he twisted the sturdy iron link that fastened the chain of iniquity to Josiah’s ankle, and the chain fell to the ground! The King then grasped the shackle around Josiah’s ankle, twisted it, and shattered it into tiny fragments!

Josiah was in awe as he reached down to touch his ankle. “It is gone!” he cried in sheer delight. “It is really gone! I can hardly remember the time when I did not have a chain, and now it is gone!” Overcome with joy, he leaped high into the air. “I’m free! I’m free! My weight of guilt is gone!”

King Emmanuel smiled gently. “It is gone forever, my son. I have blotted out your sin and guilt, removed them from you as far as the east is from the west, placed them behind my back, and cast them into the depths of the sea. We shall remember them no more. Josiah, you have been justified!”

“Justified, Your Majesty?”

“Forgiven forever, Josiah. Your shackles are gone forever!”

At that moment, the leaden clouds overhead suddenly parted and a golden shaft of sunlight splashed across the coal yard, brilliant and dazzling to behold. The gleaming coach and the polished armor of the knights reflected the golden rays with such an intensity that Josiah had to turn away.

He stared at the ground where just moments before the huge chain of iniquity and the weight of guilt had lain. The torturous articles were nowhere to be seen.

Argamor stepped forward. “Your Majesty, I must protest—”

“Keep silent, Argamor,” King Emmanuel ordered. “Josiah does not belong to you. I have redeemed him, and he belongs to me.”

It was then that Josiah saw the terrible scar in the King’s right hand. On the inside of Emmanuel’s wrist was a fearsome wound, as if a large, sharp object had been driven into the King’s flesh. As the kind ruler turned, the boy saw the same wound on the back of the King’s hand, and he realized with great sadness that some sharp object had completely penetrated the hand. And then, to his dismay, he saw a similar wound in King Emmanuel’s left hand. Not understanding the significance of what he was seeing, Josiah nevertheless realized that at one time or another King Emmanuel had been severely wounded. Pain racked his heart when he thought about it.

“This is yours, Josiah,” King Emmanuel said, placing a shiny helmet on the boy’s head. “It is the Helmet of Salvation. Wear it at all times. And this—” he reached inside his cloak and pulled out a roll of parchment—“is yours as well. It is your Assurance.”

Josiah took the parchment from King Emmanuel’s outstretched hand, not yet understanding what it was. “I am grateful, Your Majesty.”

King Emmanuel turned and called in the direction of the coach, “Truth! Mercy! Bring forth the best robe, and put it on Josiah! Put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet! Josiah was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

At these words, two footmen dressed in royal blue livery hurried from the coach with the requested items. One of the servants carried a dazzling white robe shimmering with iridescent blue highlights, which he handed to King Emmanuel. “Hands over your head, Josiah,” the King commanded. When the boy complied, the King slipped the exquisite garment over his head and pulled it into place. Josiah lowered his arms. “You are clothed in my Robe of Righteousness,” Emmanuel announced.

Josiah’s heart pounded with joy as he surveyed the shimmering new garment, so pure and white that it almost hurt one’s eyes to look at it. “I thank you, Your Majesty,” he said softly. The next item of clothing was a blue-and-black striped doublet with long sleeves, which he slipped on over the Robe of Righteousness. A sleeveless jerkin of soft, pale deerskin went over that and was tied closely around the waist. After donning a pair of trunk hose and a stunning, gold-and-blue patterned cloak, Josiah bore no resemblance to the struggling slave boy who had languished under Argamor’s cruelty.

Pulling the gorgeous fabric of the robe away from his chest to examine it more closely, Josiah was amazed to find that his own dirty rags had vanished from beneath the new garments, and that he was spotlessly clean within. He stared at his hands in astonishment; even his fingernails were pink and clean. Not a trace of coal dust remained to remind him of his years of servitude to Argamor.

“This ring is the symbol of the Royal Family,” King Emmanuel said, taking Josiah’s hand and placing a glittering gold ring on his finger. “It is a token of your relationship to me.” Josiah studied the ring. A huge sapphire gleamed with a brilliant blue light. In the center of the gem, the outline of a tiny shield was etched in gold; in the center of the shield, a tiny golden crown was superimposed over a tiny golden cross. Josiah was astounded to realize that the ring bore King Emmanuel’s own coat of arms.

 

One of the footmen knelt and slipped new shoes onto Josiah’s feet, and the boy found that they fit him perfectly. “Shoes for your feet,” King Emmanuel stated, “so that you are fitted for service.”

The King looked the boy over. “Every inch a prince,” he announced grandly. He placed a strong, gentle hand on Josiah’s shoulder. “Fear not:” he told Josiah, “for I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name; you are mine. You are precious in my sight, and I have loved you.”

Tears of joy filled Josiah’s eyes and he found himself throwing his arms around his new Master. His heart overflowed. It was wonderful to be forgiven, to be free, to be loved! “My Lord,” Josiah said fervently, “I shall serve you forever!”

King Emmanuel’s strong arms returned the embrace. “I am going away, Josiah, and you shall not see my face for a time. You are traveling to the Castle of Faith; I have made the arrangements. There you shall learn to serve me. Be faithful, Josiah. Watch for my return. And you must never forget: you are free from Argamor forever; he has no authority over you.”

Truth opened the door of the regal coach and stood waiting. “Go quickly, Josiah,” King Emmanuel urged. “You have much to learn, but you shall be a faithful servant of the cross. Mercy and Truth shall go with you, and the Coach of Grace shall carry you to the Castle of Faith.”

“But when will I see you again?” Josiah asked, his heart filled with longing for the one who had set him free. “Will you not accompany me to the Castle of Faith?”

“I must go to the Golden City of the Redeemed and prepare a place for you,” King Emmanuel replied, “but I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”

“When will you come back?” Josiah begged.

“I cannot tell you, but it will not be long. Endure temptation; be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life. Josiah, you are mine. I have loved you with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn you. My father has loved you with the very same love.”

Josiah walked slowly toward the coach with his heart overflowing with love for the wondrous King who had redeemed him and set him free. Remembering that the heavy chain of iniquity and weight of guilt had been removed, he leaped high in the air for joy. At the rear of the coach, the cavalcade of knights mounted their splendid chargers and prepared to ride.

Carrying the precious parchment, Josiah stepped into the coach and timidly took a seat upon a cushion of scarlet velvet at the rear of the coach. The door closed, and the coach started forward. Seated directly across from Josiah was an elderly man with a long, white beard. The stranger was dressed in a stunning green doublet trimmed in gold braid. A black cloak patterned with gold thread hung loosely about his shoulders. Perched on the back of the seat behind the old man was a snowy white dove of unusual beauty.

“Welcome, Prince Josiah,” the old man greeted him warmly, smiling and showing a set of beautiful white teeth in the midst of his beard. “Welcome to the Royal Family.”

Josiah felt himself immediately drawn to the old man. “I thank you, sire. I don’t know who you were expecting, but I am not Prince Josiah.” He gave a nervous laugh. “Up until a few moments ago, I was just a lowly slave. Your King just set me free.”

The white-haired old man merely smiled. “Oh, but you are a prince. You are Prince Josiah, royal heir with King Emmanuel.”

Josiah laughed. “You must have me confused with someone else, kind sire. Of a truth, my name is Josiah, but I am not a prince. I am just a common slave.”

The man’s smile broadened. “Apparently you do not fully understand what has happened to you today,” he said kindly, “but I am prepared to explain it to you more fully.” He held out a slender hand. “My prince, might I see your parchment, please?”

Josiah held back, unwilling to part with the precious parchment. “Who are you, sire?”

“I am Sir Faithful, steward of the Castle of Faith. King Emmanuel has entrusted me with the keeping of the castle until his return. I serve with Lord Watchful, the castle’s constable, or castellan, who is charged with the castle’s protection.” He held out his hand again. “May I?”

Josiah studied his elderly companion. The old steward’s eyes glowed with a peace and joy that gave silent testimony to the fact that he was indeed a servant to King Emmanuel. Josiah handed the parchment to him.

Sir Faithful carefully unrolled the parchment, and Josiah saw that the page was filled with a bold, flowing script and stamped at the bottom with an official-looking seal. The document was impressive, but the words meant nothing to Josiah. “What does it say, sire?” he begged.

“‘Be it known to all men everywhere,’” the old man read aloud, “‘that from this day henceforth and forever, Josiah Everyman, of the Village of Despair, has been adopted into the Royal Family of King Emmanuel and shall henceforth be known as Prince Josiah, heir eternal with King Emmanuel.’ It’s signed and sealed with His Majesty’s own seal, Your Highness, making it official and forever unrevokeable. You are a prince, lad. Prince Josiah.”

“But—but are you certain, sire? How can that be?”

Sir Faithful laughed and pointed to the parchment. “It is written in His Majesty’s own hand, Prince Josiah.”

Josiah was awestruck. “I—I didn’t know,” he stammered. He leaned out the coach window, and, turning to the rear, watched Argamor’s loathsome shop recede in the distance, growing smaller and smaller and smaller until it was merely a speck on the horizon. “From a slave to a prince in just one day,” he said in awe. “How could such a thing be?”

“It’s called ‘grace’,” Sir Faithful said quietly.

Chapter Six

 

The Coach of Grace rolled swiftly down the driveway and turned into the lane with the cavalcade of knights riding smartly along behind. Josiah sank back into the luxurious seats and sighed with contentment. “I enjoyed the Inn of Provision, Sir Faithful. Never in my life have I eaten so much in one meal! I had more food today than I usually get in a month!”

The old steward laughed pleasantly. “King Emmanuel provides for his own. From this day forward you will dine at His Majesty’s own table and eat of his bounty.” He eyed Prince Josiah’s slender frame. “From the looks of things, I’d say that you can use it.”

He smiled. “From this day forward, my prince, your life will be completely different. Argamor had nothing but hatred and contempt for you; King Emmanuel has nothing but love and concern. Argamor searched for ways to make your life miserable; His Majesty will do everything to make your life one of joy and fulfillment. With Argamor as your master, you faced nothing but a life of futility and despair; with Emmanuel as your Lord, your future holds delights of the soul such as you cannot possibly imagine. And when someday you are called to the Golden City, you will know joy and contentment beyond measure.”

The coach rolled along smoothly, although the road was rutted and rough. Josiah fell silent. Sir Faithful watched him for several moments. “What is on your mind, Prince Josiah? The eyes are the windows of a man’s soul, and your eyes reveal that your thoughts are troubled. Tell me, my prince, what troubles you so?”

“Am I really free of Lord Argamor?” Josiah asked slowly. “I’ve been his slave for as long as I can remember. What if—” He fell silent, unwilling to continue, as if the act of verbalizing his fearful thoughts would bring them to pass.

Sir Faithful looked at him questioningly. “Please continue, my prince.”

Josiah took a deep breath. “How do I know that Lord Argamor can’t come sometime and demand that I go back to his foul blacksmith shop and work for him again? How do I know that I am really free forever? How do I know that I am a prince? I certainly don’t feel like one. I just feel like Josiah—Josiah the slave.”

“First of all, Prince Josiah, you must never again refer to that cruel taskmaster as ‘Lord’ Argamor. No longer is he your master, nor your lord. His power over you is broken forever.”

Josiah nodded silently. Reassured, his heart thrilled at the words.

“How do you know that you are really free forever?” the old man continued, and a soft light seemed to flicker in his eyes. “How do you know that you are a prince? You have King Emmanuel’s word on it, Prince Josiah.”

“But I don’t feel like a prince. How do I know that Lord Arg—that Argamor can’t come and make me work for him, or take me back to the Dungeon of Condemnation?”

“Your salvation is not based upon your feelings, lad,” Sir Faithful said quietly.

“Salvation?” The word was new to Josiah.

“It means being set free from your chain of iniquity and weight of guilt,” the old man explained. “It means being saved from Argamor, and from the Dungeon of Condemnation. It means being adopted into the Royal Family. Salvation is what took place today.”

“Oh.” Josiah was thoughtful. “Salvation. I like the word.”

“Tis a grand word, indeed,” Sir Faithful agreed. “But as I was saying, your salvation is not dependent upon your feelings.” He held up the parchment. “Your salvation, and your new position as Prince Josiah, is dependent upon the word of His Majesty. His own royal seal is upon the document.” He unrolled the parchment. “Shall I read it again?”

Josiah nodded. “Please do.”

When Sir Faithful had finished reading and had re-rolled the parchment, Josiah nodded happily. “It does say that, doesn’t it? And it’s in the King’s own handwriting.”

The old steward nodded in agreement. “Aye, that it does, lad, that it does.”

A songbird flew in through the window of the coach just then, landed upon the sill, and sang a song of praise. Josiah and the old man listened in silence. When the song was finished, the little bird flitted back through the window and was gone.

“I saw a terrible wound in King Emmanuel’s hand,” Josiah said thoughtfully. “In fact, he had wounds in both hands.”

“There are similar wounds in His Majesty’s feet as well,” Sir Faithful told him.

Josiah looked at him in alarm. “What happened, sire?”

“Did you hear what His Majesty told Argamor? ‘I have purchased his freedom, and I have come to redeem him.’ The wounds in your King’s hands are the marks of his great love for you, Prince Josiah. He received those wounds when he purchased your soul and your freedom.”

Josiah was shocked. “But how, sire? How did it happen?”

“It didn’t just happen, my prince. Your redemption was planned before the foundation of Terrestria.”

“Sire, tell me about it,” Josiah begged.

“There’s a special place outside the City of Zion,” Sir Faithful began. “It’s the place of redemption, the place where your salvation was purchased. King Emmanuel went to that place and gave his blood so that you might be forgiven and set free. He died in your place, taking the penalty for your chain of iniquity and weight of guilt.”

“But why would he die for me?”

“He loved you, Prince Josiah.”

“And that’s why he could set me free today,” Josiah whispered softly.

“Exactly.”

Josiah was puzzled as he turned and faced the steward. “But if King Emmanuel died for me, how did he come back to life?”

“King Emmanuel is not an ordinary man, Prince Josiah. He died for you outside the City of Zion, and then came back to life three days later.”

Josiah frowned. “That’s astounding!”

Sir Faithful nodded. “Indeed it is, lad.”

“How did he die?”

“He was executed, Prince Josiah, and he willingly died in your place. He died the most painful death you can imagine.” Sir Faithful quietly told the story of King Emmanuel’s death, and by the time he had finished, the young prince was in tears.

They rode in silence for a time. Josiah thought about King Emmanuel and the great sacrifice that the King had made to set him free, and his heart swelled with even greater love for his new Master. It’s hard to believe that anyone could love me so, he thought gratefully. King Emmanuel, you have my loyalty forever!

Josiah stuck his head out the coach window and watched the passing scenery. The countryside seemed so beautiful with its wooded hills, winding streams, and bright meadows. The hillsides were alive with the colors of autumn, and Josiah took a deep breath of the fragrant air. I know the one who made all this, he thought grandly. I am actually part of his family!

The coach rolled through a busy little village and the townspeople stopped in their scurrying here and there to watch the majestic coach with its escort of stately knights. Josiah watched the faces of the peasants as they lined the narrow street, staring in fascinated awe at the regal vehicle. Some wore expressions of sheer delight as they waved at the passing coach; others stared silently with rigid limbs and somber faces. In one open-sided shanty, Josiah saw a blacksmith pause at his anvil to watch the coach pass and he thought immediately of Argamor. How splendid it is to be free of that hateful place, he thought gratefully.

As the Coach of Grace left the little village behind, Josiah thought again of Father Almsdeeds. I wonder why his golden keys could not free me from the Dungeon of Condemnation. He seemed so eager to help. And yet, the three keys he gave me did absolutely nothing. He looked up to find Sir Faithful watching him closely.

“What are you thinking, my prince?” the old steward asked gently. “Your thoughts are troubled again.”

“When I was in the Dungeon of Condemnation, a man of the Church gave me three keys to set me free,” Josiah answered slowly, thoughtfully. “His name was Father Almsdeeds, and he seemed like a really helpful man. But when I tried the keys he gave me, they did absolutely nothing. They didn’t set me free—they didn’t do anything at all!”

“Describe the keys,” Sir Faithful requested.

“They were golden, set with precious jewels, and very beautiful to behold,” the young prince replied. “They had words on them that I could not read, but Father Almsdeeds told me they were the Keys of Religion, Penance, and Sincerity. Each of them fit quite nicely into the lock, but when I turned each key, it did nothing! The door was still locked!”

“My prince, did you not wonder how Father Almsdeeds got into the Dungeon of Condemnation to give you the keys?” Sir Faithful asked.

“What do you mean, sire?”

“Father Almsdeeds was a prisoner in the Dungeon of Condemnation with you. He has a chain of his own, though perhaps you did not notice it. His keys are worthless, Prince Josiah, or he would have used them to set himself free. Argamor allows him to wander the inner ward, giving false hope to other sufferers like him. But his golden keys, beautiful as they are, can never set a man free. Only King Emmanuel can do that. If the Keys of Religion, Penance, or Sincerity could set a prisoner free, His Majesty would not have died in your place.”

 

 

Late that afternoon, Sir Faithful looked out the window and announced, “We’re almost there. The Castle of Faith is just ahead.”

Josiah stuck his head out the coach window. The Coach of Grace was rolling through a pleasant little village. The townspeople looked happy as they hurried along the tidy streets; the shops and houses were neat and well kept.

Three or four furlongs away, a majestic castle of white stone glistened in the afternoon sun. Situated high atop a rocky palisade that jutted out into a sapphire-blue sea, the Castle of Faith rose majestically above the surrounding countryside. With its high walls and many towers, the castle was an imposing edifice, visible from many furlongs away. Josiah counted four round towers rising above the front wall, one at each corner and two in the middle, and he could see similar towers toward the rear of the castle. The familiar royal purple standard with the cross and crown flew grandly from the top of each tower. A winding road climbed the steep castle approach to cross a sturdy drawbridge leading to the massive front gate at the northeast corner. Below the bridge, a water-filled moat abutted the wall. The Castle of Faith was protected on three sides by the sea and on the north side by the moat.

The Coach of Grace rolled up the steep lane toward the front gate. Chains rattled as the portcullis, a massive, ironclad grating, rose slowly to allow them entrance. Behind the portcullis, immense oaken gates parted in the middle and swung open to admit the royal coach. Three trumpeters on the battlements above the gatehouse sounded a welcome.

Josiah was impressed by the security of the high walls and massive gates. “No one could ever get into the Castle of Faith unless he was invited, could he?”

“We must never take that for granted, my prince,” Sir Faithful replied quietly. “Captain Diligence and Captain Assurance work day and night to prevent that very occurrence, but we must all be alert and watchful.”

The Coach of Grace rolled to a stop and the door opened. Truth stood stiffly at attention as he held the door for the coach’s passengers to alight. Sir Faithful rose to his feet. “Welcome to the Castle of Faith, Prince Josiah,” he said grandly. “Welcome home.”

Josiah descended the steps to find himself within a narrow courtyard surrounded by the towering castle walls. “This is the west barbican,” Sir Faithful told him. “It’s like an extension of the gatehouse. When we pass through that gate to the left, we’ll be in the castle proper.”

Josiah’s heart pounded with anticipation as he followed his guide through the massive second gate and entered the corridor. Two companies of knights in shining armor, one on each side of the passageway, stood stiffly at attention. Beyond the soldiers, a throng of nearly a hundred people lined the approach to a large courtyard. They cheered at the sight of the new prince.

“This is the main bailey, or courtyard,” Sir Faithful whispered, as a tall man in a bright green jerkin and brown leggings approached. “The knights before you are the two garrisons under the commands of Captain Diligence and Captain Assurance. The people assembled in the bailey are the castle’s residents. They’re known as the ‘Ecclesia’, or ‘called-out ones’. You shall meet many of them later. The man approaching us now is Lord Watchful, the castle constable, and he’s the one responsible for the security of the Castle of Faith while King Emmanuel is away. I serve with him.”

A golden sword swung at Lord Watchful’s side as he strode briskly across the cobblestones and greeted Josiah warmly. “Welcome, Prince Josiah, to the Castle of Faith! I am Lord Watchful, at your service. And how was your journey?”

“It was magnificent,” Josiah replied. “I am delighted to be here, Lord Watchful, and delighted to be free!”

“We are delighted to have you here,” the constable replied. “Supper will be served within the hour.” He turned to Sir Faithful. “Why not take him up to his solar, sire, and let him get settled in?”

Josiah followed Sir Faithful across the bailey, through a narrow doorway, and up three flights of stairs. They came out into the open on a narrow walkway that ran along the top of the castle wall. Josiah leaned over the battlements and looked down upon the Coach of Grace parked in the west barbican. “We’re up mighty high, aren’t we?”

Sir Faithful laughed. “As you can see, the Castle of Faith is a concentric castle, meaning that there are two rings of protective stone walls. The inner wall is higher than the outer so that our castle defenders can fire at the enemy over the lower outer walls. The walls are called ‘curtains’, and they are six yards thick at the bottom.”

Beyond the outer walls of the castle Josiah saw the small town through which the coach had passed. From his vantage atop the battlements he could see the villagers as they hurried on various errands through the narrow, perfectly straight streets. They looked happy; their faces bore expressions of peace and contentment. “What village is this I see?” Josiah asked.

“That is the Village of Dedication,” Sir Faithful replied. “The townspeople are all loyal servants to King Emmanuel, and they depend upon the Castle of Faith for protection in times of danger or distress.”

He led the way along the narrow walkway. “This is called the ‘sentry walk.’ ”

Josiah ran his hand along the rough stone of the castle wall as they walked. “Why are there gaps in the battlement?” he asked. “The top of the castle wall, ah, curtain, looks like it has teeth.”

“Those gaps are called ‘crenels’, and they allow archers to shoot through. The raised parts between the crenels are called the ‘merlons’, and the archers can take cover behind them.”

They followed the sentry walk to a door in the northwest tower, and Sir Faithful opened it. “Prince Josiah, this will be your solar.”

Josiah was puzzled. “Solar?”

“Your quarters,” the steward explained. “This is where you will stay.” Josiah stepped into a round room with a fireplace on one side and a narrow window on the other. Fragrant reeds covered the wooden floor. Colorful tapestries graced the stone walls between the fireplace and the window. Beneath a large tapestry of a lion was a huge, soft bed. Nearby stood a bench and a chiffonnier with three drawers. A washbasin and ewer sat on a small wooden stand beneath the window. To the right of the fireplace, a narrow, winding staircase disappeared through an opening in the ceiling.

Glancing up at the stairs, Josiah was surprised to see a dove just like the one that he had seen in the Coach of Grace. The beautiful white bird was perched on the top stair, looking down at him with dark, unblinking eyes.

Josiah sat on the edge of the bed, marveling at the way his body sank into the soft mattress. “Is this where I am to sleep, sire? I am unaccustomed to such finery.”

The steward laughed. “It is pleasant, is it not? King Emmanuel prepared it for you.”

After a moment Josiah stood to his feet and gazed about the room. His face took on a somber, thoughtful look, and Sir Faithful noticed. “You are thinking of your cell in the Dungeon of Condemnation, are you not?”

Josiah nodded. “Aye. When I left my cold, dark cell this morning, I never dreamed that I would never have to occupy it again. I hated that place! It was so dark, so cold, so… so dreary and lonely. I am thankful to be here.”

He stepped to the narrow window and looked out at the sea. Far below, golden sunlight shimmered on the surface of the water. “What have I done, Sir Faithful, to deserve all this?”

The steward slipped over beside the young prince and put a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Nothing, Prince Josiah, absolutely nothing. This was provided for you simply because King Emmanuel loved you. Take my advice, lad, and be careful to always remember what our gracious King has done for you.”

“Oh, I will never forget, sire,” Josiah said easily. “I am grateful, forever grateful, for the grace that King Emmanuel has bestowed upon me. I can never forget.”

“Don’t say that so hastily,” Sir Faithful warned. “Today your heart is full of wonder and awe at the grace of King Emmanuel and what he has done for you, but how easily that is lost. If you lose the wonder of your salvation, your heart can quickly become cold, and the enemy will have the advantage over you. Be careful; guard your heart for your King.”

At that moment, footsteps sounded on the sentry walk outside, and there came a sudden knock on the door.

Chapter Seven

 

Josiah and Sir Faithful turned at the sound of the knock at the door. The steward opened it to find a slender youth standing on the sentry walk. “Begging your pardon, Sir Faithful,” the boy said, bowing low, “but supper is served in ten minutes.”

“I thank you, Mathias,” the steward replied. The boy bowed again and hurried away.

The prince and the steward stepped out onto the sentry walk and closed the solar door behind them. The sun was disappearing behind the forest to the west, and as the purple twilight and blue shadows descended over the land, the castle walls turned golden with the refracted light. Sir Faithful paused with his hand upon the door latch. “Let’s go up on the roof of the tower for just a moment. This is my favorite time of the day.”

Josiah followed him back into the solar, up the narrow stairs by the fireplace, and out onto a narrow sentry walk on the roof of the tower. The Castle of Faith lay below them, glowing pink and amber in the rays from the dying sun. “You can see the entire castle from here,” the old man told Josiah.

“That’s the great hall to the right,” he said, pointing to a large structure against the south wall of the bailey. “That’s where the castle meals are served, and that’s where King Emmanuel holds court when he is in attendance at the castle. The kitchens are right across the bailey from the great hall.”

He leaned over the tower battlements. “The tower farthest from us, on the southeast corner, is the King’s tower. His solar is just this side of it. See the archways across the east end of the bailey? They lead to the east bailey, which is another courtyard identical to the one directly below us. The stables, blacksmith shop, and armory are all located at the end of the east bailey. I know the castle is a bit confusing at first, with all the different levels, doors, towers and passageways, but you will soon learn your way around.”

He turned toward the stairs. “Let’s head down to the great hall, shall we? We don’t want to miss supper at the King’s table!”

Moments later Josiah and Sir Faithful entered an immense, open room with a high, expansive ceiling supported by massive beams. At one end of the great hall, a huge hearth blazed brightly with a warm fire. Immense wrought iron chandeliers ablaze with numerous candles hung over the hall from heavy chains. Three rows of long trestle tables flanked by benches occupied the center of the room. A long table at right angles to the others enjoyed a place of prominence in front of the huge fireplace. The table was ornate, set with silver service, and flanked by upholstered chairs in place of benches. Josiah guessed immediately that it was King Emmanuel’s table.

Knights and their ladies were strolling casually into the great hall, laughing and conversing warmly with each other. Squires and pages called to each other, and children laughed and chattered happily. Ladies-in-waiting exchanged greetings with members of the castle staff while servants and scullions hurried here and there, filling goblets and bearing platters of food. A minstrel stood in one corner, frowning in concentration as he tuned the strings on his lute. In the noisy hustle and bustle of the preparation for the evening meal, the atmosphere in the great hall was one of anticipation, happiness, and contentment.

Attendants and pages stood at attention along the walls, and above their heads, the high stone walls of the great hall were adorned with brightly-colored vertical banners of silk and satin. The banners had various emblems embroidered into the fabric, each banner unique and different from its neighbors. Josiah gazed in fascination at the colorful banners.

Sir Faithful noticed his interest. “The banners are taken from the constellations,” he explained. “Each banner is a reminder of King Emmanuel, and depicts an aspect of his royal character.”

Josiah was puzzled. “I don’t understand.”

“See the banner with the loaf of bread? King Emmanuel is the Bread of Life; we can’t live without him. The banner with the lantern reminds us that he is the Light of Terrestria, and guides us on our path in life.”

Josiah pointed to a banner with the image of a shepherd. “So that one means that His Majesty is also a Shepherd, who takes care of us?”

Sir Faithful nodded. “Aye, that’s exactly right.”

“What about that one, the one with the door on it? What does that mean? And what is that one, with the flower on it?”

“That flower is the lily of the valley. Think about them for a while.”

The prince and the steward made their way to the King’s table. Lord Watchful, Captain Assurance, Captain Diligence, and their ladies joined them at the table. An attendant rang a silver bell, and the castle’s residents quickly took their places around their respective tables. A hush fell across the great hall.

Lord Watchful stood to his feet. “We wish to honor our King and show our gratitude for his provision,” he announced. The constable held a rolled parchment in his right hand. He opened his hand, and to Josiah’s astonishment, the parchment vanished.

Moments later, attendants swarmed around the tables, bearing platters and chargers and large bowls of food. The great hall was filled with tantalizing aromas. Josiah sat back and watched in amazement. This was more food than he had ever seen in his entire life!

An attendant appeared at his left elbow. “At your service, Your Highness.” He handed Josiah a small platter with a large, flat piece of brown bread upon it.

“I thank you,” Josiah said politely, disappointed that he was being served bread when there were so many different foods to choose from. He placed the platter in front of him and picked up the slice of bread, preparing to take a bite.

Sir Faithful noticed. “Prince Josiah,” he whispered, “don’t eat that bread. It is your trencher. Place your food upon the bread. It will absorb the juices.”

A regular procession of attendants filed by, bearing platters of miniature meat pastries, pheasant in cinnamon sauce, beef fritters, eels in spicy puree, loaches in cold green sauce, slices of roast mutton, filets of saltwater fish, and various garden vegetables. Josiah took some of each, completely filling his platter. “I’ve never seen so much food!” he whispered to Sir Faithful.

The steward smiled. “You are at His Majesty’s table,” he whispered back.

Josiah reached in with both hands and began to eat, enjoying the rich and unusual delicacies of the royal feast. The flaky pastries filled with tender venison, the hot, spicy fritters, the steaming vegetables smothered in butter, the succulent slices of mutton—it was indeed a feast fit for a king, and Josiah was enjoying every morsel. The minstrel strolled among the tables, strumming his lute and singing ballads that told of the greatness of King Emmanuel.

One song in particular caught Josiah’s attention:

 

“I sing the greatness of my King, my Lord Emmanuel

His power is great and far exceeds

What mortal tongue or pen can tell.

My heart is full; I sing for him,

And trust that I may serve him well.

 

I sing the love of my great King, my Lord Emmanuel

His lovingkindness ransomed me,

But why he did, I cannot tell.

His love led him to die for me.

I trust that I may serve him well.”

 

The song went on to tell of the horrible dungeon of sin in which the minstrel had once been imprisoned, the pain and agony of servitude to sin, and how the gracious hand of King Emmanuel had reached down and set him free. Listening to the story presented in song, Josiah found his own eyes filled with tears. That’s exactly what happened to me! His heart throbbed with love and adoration for his King.

Josiah reverently touched the golden ring upon his hand, using his fingertip to trace the design of the King’s coat of arms in the center of the magnificent sapphire. He sat back with a sigh of contentment, thoroughly enjoying the warmth of the crackling fire upon the hearth, the exquisite food, the cheerful, loving companionship of those about him, and the beautiful music praising his King. His soul was at peace.

By the time he had emptied his platter his hunger had vanished. Just then, another procession of attendants filed in. The steaming platters bore roast lamb, cuts of freshwater fish, bacon with broth, veal basted in almond sauce, chicken pasties and crisps, and bream pasties. Josiah stared. “Sire, where did all this food come from?” he whispered to Sir Faithful. “We already have enough.”

“This is just the second course,” the steward explained.

“The second course, sire?”

“There’s a third course to follow,” Sir Faithful said with an amused twinkle in his eye, “followed, of course, by the sweets and confections.”

Josiah filled his plate with various items from the second course, being careful to take smaller portions. An attendant appeared at his elbow with a huge silver platter. In the center was the figure of a lion sculpted from fruit jelly. “Would you care for some, Your Highness?”

By the time the feast was over, Josiah felt as if he would never need to eat again. As he wiped his hands on a stiff linen napkin, his eyes filled with tears. “I had half a bowl of cold barley gruel this morning,” he whispered to Sir Faithful. “That’s all that Argamor ever gave me—just enough to keep me alive. But now, sire, look at the feast that King Emmanuel has provided for me!”

“Aye,” the steward agreed. “King Emmanuel is a better master by far, is he not?”

 

 

Josiah was thoughtful as he climbed the stairs to his solar that night, carrying a lamp to light his way. King Emmanuel has been so good to me and I really haven’t done anything to deserve it! Setting me free from the chain of iniquity and the weight of guilt—he reached down and felt his ankle as if to reassure himself that it was really true—bringing me here to the Castle of Faith, making me a prince, even though I don’t feel like one! He reached the sentry walk just then. Overwhelmed by the events of the day, he paused and looked up at the starry sky. “I thank you, my King,” he whispered softly. “I know you cannot hear me, but I am grateful. I will serve you the rest of my life!”

As he gazed in silence at a group of stars glittering against a backdrop of dark velvet directly overhead, he slowly realized that together they formed the image of a man—a shepherd holding a staff, just as he had seen on the banner in the great hall. “Emmanuel,” he breathed in awe. “Emmanuel, the Great Shepherd. The image of my new Lord is in the heavens above me. I wonder why I never saw that before.”

Fascinated, he studied the starry heavens for several moments, overwhelmed with wonder as he began to recognize the various constellations. To the north he found a group of stars that very clearly formed the shape of a lantern, and to the south, a glittering cluster that depicted a loaf of bread. In the east, the twinkling stars formed a beautiful image that he recognized as a lily of the valley. Enthralled, the young prince scanned the starry skies for several long moments, trying to find the other constellations that he knew depicted the various aspects of Emmanuel’s character, but could find no others. With a long sigh of contentment and wonder, he turned toward his solar. The witness of the glittering celestial bodies above the castle created within him a deep sense of satisfaction—his new master was not only Lord of all Terrestria, but also of the vast heavens above him.

Just then the sentry passed him on the top of the battlement. “Good night, Prince Josiah.”

Startled, Josiah looked up. “Good night, sire.”

Reaching his solar, he opened the door and slipped inside, then set the lamp on the stand with the washbasin. What an unforgettable day this has been, he told himself as he slipped out of his new clothes. I got up this morning as a slave in a dungeon, and I’m going to bed tonight as a prince in a castle! I am now the son of the Lord of all Terrestria! He slipped into the bed and then leaned over and blew out the lamp. I just hope I don’t wake up in the morning to find out that it’s all just a dream.

 

 

Josiah awakened the next morning to find sunlight streaming in through the narrow window. He lay still for a moment, staring at the unfamiliar surroundings, trying to figure out where he was. Suddenly it all came back. I am a prince! I am no longer the slave of Argamor! The chain of iniquity and the weight of guilt are gone forever! Cautiously, almost fearfully, he drew back the bedclothes until he could see his ankle. It was true after all—the dreadful shackle was gone forever. He jumped out of bed and leaped to the window to gaze down at the azure blue sea below. “What a glorious day!”

He dressed hurriedly. Just as he finished, he heard a gentle knock at the door. He opened it to find a twisted, bent little man standing on the sentry walk. The little man bowed low. “Your Highness, I am Sir Preparation. I have come to outfit you with armor. If you are ready, there is time to equip you before breakfast.”

Josiah was surprised. “I just got here yesterday evening!”

Sir Preparation nodded. “But it is wise to be prepared as soon as possible, my prince. Remember, we are in a war.”

A nearby door opened just then, and Sir Faithful appeared. “Good morning, Prince Josiah,” he said. “I see you have met Sir Preparation, the Castle of Faith’s chief armorer.”

Josiah and Sir Faithful followed Sir Preparation along the sentry walk on the south side. The little man walked with a strange, hopping gait, causing his head to bob up and down with each step. Josiah watched him, amused by the spectacle. Sir Faithful noticed. “Any man may serve King Emmanuel,” he whispered sternly, “not just the tall and the strong. This man is one of the best armorers in all Terrestria.”

Reproved, Josiah nodded meekly.

The trio took four flights of stairs down to the armory, which was located in the basement beside the southeast tower. “I believe I have everything in your size,” the armorer told Josiah, “but if not, I can readily make what you require.” As Josiah entered the armory, his eyes were drawn to the glowing forge along one wall. Helmets, weapons, and various pieces of armor lined the other three stone walls.

“You already have your salet, or Helmet of Salvation,” the little man said, looking over his display of assorted pieces of armor. “That is good.” He selected a shiny piece of armor and turned toward Josiah. “Here—try this. It is the Breastplate of Righteousness. It will protect your heart from the weapons of the wicked one.” Sir Preparation held the breastplate against Josiah’s chest, looked it over, and then strapped it into place. “A perfect fit!”

He selected a wide belt and handed it to the young prince. “I know this will fit. Gird your loins with Truth.” Josiah fastened the Belt of Truth around his waist.

“Be seated, please, Prince Josiah.” Kneeling on the floor, Sir Preparation selected two sabotons, steel shoes with sharp spiked toes. The armorer slipped a saboton on Josiah’s left foot, and then one on his right. “Your feet,” he announced, “are shod with the Preparation of the Gospel of Peace.”

He stood to his feet and selected a shield from a huge assortment high on the wall. As he turned, Josiah saw the coat of arms emblazoned on the front of the shield: a cross and crown, like King Emmanuel’s coat of arms, but with a second crown below it. “This is the most important of all,” the armorer said, “the Shield of Faith, wherewith you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” He held it up, and Josiah slipped his left arm through the straps on the back.

“The coat of arms on the shield is similar to King Emmanuel’s,” Josiah said, “but with an additional crown. Pray tell, sire, what is the significance?”

“One day you shall reign with King Emmanuel. The second crown is a symbol of the rewards that lie ahead for you.”

Josiah held the shield in front of his chest and stepped over in front of a full-length looking glass to see his reflection. “All I need now is a sword.”

“The Sword of the Spirit,” Sir Preparation agreed. “And here it is.” With these words, he handed Josiah a thick book bound in black leather.

Josiah frowned. “Sire, I cannot read.”

“We shall start your lessons today.”

“I need a sword,” the boy protested, “not a book!”

“This is the finest sword ever made,” Sir Preparation declared, taking the book from Josiah’s hand. “When you know how to use it, you can defeat any foe!” Raising the book and holding it to one side, he slashed through the air with it. In an instant, the black book became a glittering sword, and the sharp point of the blade passed within inches of Josiah’s face.

Josiah leaped backwards in alarm, and the armorer laughed. “There is no finer sword than this, my prince. Learn to use it and use it well, and no enemy shall be able to stand before you.”

He handed Josiah the sword, and it became a little book again. Josiah swung the little book as he had seen Sir Preparation do and the book became a sharp sword. “Hold it to your side, and it becomes a book again,” Sir Preparation instructed, “and then you can stow it within your doublet.”

Josiah looked from one man to the other. “Why am I being equipped for battle? We are not in a war.”

“Oh, but we are, Prince Josiah!” Sir Faithful answered swiftly. “The Castle of Faith may be attacked at any time. When you became a prince yesterday, you entered into that war with us. Our enemy is now your enemy.”

“So who is this enemy?” Josiah inquired casually. “The Castle of Faith would keep him out, would it not?”

“Our enemy,” both men replied in unison, “is Argamor!”

“Argamor?” Josiah echoed, with some confusion. “The mean-tempered blacksmith who spends his days forging chains and shackles of slavery?”

“Aye, the very same,” Sir Faithful told him. “But he is more than just the mean-tempered blacksmith who forges chains. Argamor is actually a powerful warlord. He’s known as the Prince of this World, Lord of the Realm of Darkness. In the ancient language, his name is Apollyon, which means ‘Destroyer’. He is the sworn enemy of King Emmanuel, and he is determined to take the Castle of Faith and everyone in it.”

Josiah took an experimental swing with the sword. “But why, Sir Faithful? What does he want with the Castle of Faith?”

“Many, many years ago, Argamor was actually the servant of King Emmanuel,” the elderly steward explained, stroking his beard as he talked. “This was in the First Age of Terrestria, long before the Great Battle of the Kings. Argamor was the chief musician for His Majesty, I believe, and served faithfully in the Golden City, the City of the Redeemed. But after a time he decided to try to usurp King Emmanuel’s throne.”

“And become the king of Terrestria?” Josiah asked.

“Aye, lad,” Sir Faithful responded. “And when he revolted against King Emmanuel, he took one-third of His Majesty’s army with him!”

“Sire, how did he do that?”

“Those troops decided that Argamor would win and they sided with him, I suppose. They joined in the revolt and fought against the King. There was a fierce battle in the Golden City, which we now refer to as the First Great War, and Argamor’s forces were defeated. King Emmanuel banished Argamor and his followers from the Golden City and there has been war ever since.”

“That’s why the Castle of Faith was built,” the little armorer added, “to protect this region of Terrestria against an attack by Argamor and his forces.”

Josiah was amazed. “I had no idea,” he said slowly. “I always thought that Argamor was just a blacksmith! He was brutal. He was vicious. He was a cruel slave master, and I knew that we were making chains to enslave other poor souls, but I had no idea who Argamor really was!”

“All of Terrestria is divided,” Sir Faithful went on. “Some are loyal to King Emmanuel, while others have sided with Argamor. There are those who think that they’ve not chosen sides, but no one is neutral. You are either for His Majesty, or for Argamor. Those who have rejected King Emmanuel have chosen to side with Argamor, whether they realize it or not.”

Prince Josiah took another mighty swing with the sword. “I’m beginning to understand why we have the castle, and why I need the armor. I had no idea that a war was coming.”

“The Great War has been raging for centuries,” the elderly steward told him, “but it is going to get worse. There’s a fierce battle coming soon that will make everyone in Terrestria decide once and for all which side they are on. We need to be ready.”

Chapter Eight

 

Josiah sat on a stone bench under a eucalyptus tree in the east barbican. In one hand he held the book, in the other, a writing slate, which he glanced at nervously from time to time. A sparrow chirped cheerfully in the branches overhead.

“Read the next line,” Sir Faithful instructed.

Josiah looked up from the slate with a mournful expression on his handsome features. “Isn’t it time for my instruction in swordsmanship?” he pleaded.

The old steward laughed and scratched at his long beard. “Not for another hour yet,” he replied. “You are doing quite well in your use of the sword, Prince Josiah. It is your reading that is wanting.”

“But it is so hard,” the boy protested. “I struggle to remember the sounds of the letters, and I read so slowly!”

“Aye, but that will improve with time,” Sir Faithful said patiently. “And your learning to read is so very important!”

“Why, sire?”

“King Emmanuel gave you the book that you might know him,” the old man replied. “The book is your guide for life. It not only tells of your King; it can also guide your path. You must learn to read, and read well, if you would be a faithful servant of your King.”

Josiah sighed. “Forgive me for complaining, sire. It’s just that we’ve been at this all morning, and my mind is weary.”

The white-haired old man stood to his feet. “Let’s take a brief recess from your lessons, then. Perhaps a walk would clear the cobwebs from your head.”

As Josiah placed his slate on the bench and stood to his feet, the old man suddenly wheeled and drew a sword on him. Josiah’s own sword slashed through the air, meeting steel with steel to repel the blow. “Well done, my prince,” Sir Faithful said, beaming with approval. “You have learned well.” He lowered his blade.

“And you have taught well, sire,” the boy responded. He laughed suddenly. “You know, Sir Faithful, when you first started teaching me the use of the sword, I thought that you were too old to fight well, or to teach me anything. But I still have much to learn before I could hope to wield a sword against you.”

The old man smiled as he sheathed his sword. “No one is ever too old to serve King Emmanuel. Some of His oldest warriors are among the best.” He looked Josiah over. “You have gained weight in the few weeks that you have been here. You have filled out nicely!”

“I weigh more than seven stone now,” Josiah said proudly. “I weighed only five-and-a-half when I first came to the Castle of Faith.” He laughed. “No one can be undernourished for long if he eats regularly at the King’s table!”

It had been just five short weeks since Josiah had been set free from Argamor’s Dungeon of Condemnation and become a prince. During his brief stay at the Castle of Faith, daily exercises in horsemanship, sword handling, and reading and writing had taught him much, and he was well on his way to becoming a valiant warrior for the King. Through it all, young Josiah’s love for King Emmanuel had deepened and grown.

Castle life was far better than anything that he could have imagined. The Ecclesia, or residents of the Castle of Faith, were all in various stages of growth and development, but they all had one thing in common—a deep, abiding love for their matchless King. Josiah spent time talking with almost every person in the castle—from Lord Watchful who protected the castle to the lowest scullion in the kitchen—and he soon knew most of them by name. He basked in the love of King Emmanuel and his people, and the wounds of the past healed quickly.

The young prince paused. “Sire, there is something that I must do before another day passes.”

Sir Faithful studied his face. “And what is that, Josiah?”

“In my limited reading of the book I have learned that when King Emmanuel was here, he allowed another to dip him beneath the waters of a river. I have also noted that in the second section of the book his followers did the same. Should I not also do that, since I am following him?”

The old steward smiled. “His Majesty’s words have spoken to your heart, my prince. Your King would be honored if you would follow him in this way. This ordinance is called ‘immersion.’ Do you understand its significance?”

Josiah frowned. “I’m not sure, sire. Explain it to me.”

“Immersion in water is an act of obedience to your King, for his book commands it for his followers,” Sir Faithful explained. “The act itself is symbolic of Emmanuel’s death for you.”

“How, sire?”

“When a follower of Emmanuel is placed beneath the water, it symbolizes the King’s death and burial. When the follower is raised from the water, that symbolizes His Majesty’s victory over death when he came to life again. In the same way, the follower dies to the old life and rises to live a new one.”

Josiah nodded. “I think I understand. May I do it now, in the Sea of Conviction, before another day passes?”

The old man smiled. “There is no better time, my prince.”

A short while later, as the young prince and the castle steward emerged from the waters of the Sea of Conviction, they looked up to see many of the residents of the Castle of Faith watching from the shore. “My heart is full, Sir Faithful,” Josiah said joyously, “for I have obeyed my King. And now I am ready to serve His Majesty.”

 

 

Sir Faithful strolled across the barbican and climbed the steps leading to the sentry walk. Josiah walked beside him. “Where did the book come from?” Josiah asked. “How did we get it?”

“King Emmanuel commissioned more than three dozen men to write it. The writing took place in a number of regions, and took a millennium and a half to complete.”

“So ordinary men wrote it, sire?”

“Aye, lad, but each and every word was carefully supervised, and the writing came out flawlessly. The book is completely accurate and without error. The first division of the book tells the history of Terrestria before the coming of King Emmanuel, and the second division gives the history after he came.” He looked at Josiah. “Study the book, my prince. Your King will speak to you through the pages of the book, and he will reveal his plans and desires for you. It is only through the book that you will learn to serve His Majesty faithfully.”

“King Emmanuel will speak to me through the book?” the young prince asked, with a look of awe on his eager face.

The steward nodded. “It is through the book that His Majesty has chosen to reveal his will for you. As you read the book and learn to obey it, King Emmanuel will guide you and direct you. Then your life will be pleasing to him.”

“I want that more than anything else!” Josiah exclaimed earnestly. He paused, and a wistful look crossed his face. “I just wish that there was some way that I could speak to the King.”

Sir Faithful looked surprised. “There is a way, my prince. Did you not know?”

Josiah shook his head.

The old man held out his hand. “Give me your book.” Josiah pulled the volume from within his doublet and handed it to his friend, who opened it to the last page. As Josiah watched, Sir Faithful lifted a small parchment from the book. Written across the top of the parchment in bold script were the letters “P-R-A-Y-E-R.”

The young prince stared at it. “What is that?”

“As a child of the King,” Sir Faithful replied, “you have the right to send a petition to His Majesty at any time. Let me show you how to do it.”

“Sire, what is P-R-A-Y-E-R?” Josiah interrupted, pointing to the letters at the top of the parchment.

“Providential Resources Attending Your Every Request,” the old man replied. “Any time you wish to send a message or request to your King, simply write it on this petition, and it will be delivered immediately to His Majesty at the Golden City.”

Josiah was puzzled. “How?”

Sir Faithful smiled. “I’ll show you. Is there a message that you would like to send to His Majesty right now?”

Josiah’s face lit up with delight. “There certainly is!” He thought for a moment. “I’d like to thank him for setting me free from Argamor and from my chains, and I’d like to thank him for adopting me into his family.”

The old man handed him the parchment and a quill pen. “Then why not send the message to him right now?”

The young prince took the parchment and began to write, laboriously spelling out the words of the following message:

My King,

Thank you for freing me from my chans and from the evel blaksmth. Thank you for leting me be a prins in yur famly. I will serv you forever. Yur son, Josiah.”

 

He looked up at Sir Faithful. “There. I just hope that King Emmanuel can read my writing.”

The old man smiled. “He will understand you perfectly. Send it to him.”

“How do I do that, sire?”

“Roll the parchment up and then release it,” Sir Faithful replied.

Josiah rolled the parchment tightly and then gave the steward a puzzled look. “What do I do now?”

“Just open your hand, my prince, and see what happens.”

Josiah did, and to his astonishment, the tightly rolled parchment shot from his hand and disappeared over the castle wall faster than an arrow from a longbow. He stared after it. “What happened to it?”

“Your petition is now in the hands of His Majesty,” Sir Faithful answered, his eyes twinkling with amusement at the look of astonishment on Josiah’s face. “He has received it already.”

The idea was almost more than the young prince could comprehend. “You mean that the parchment has already reached the Golden City?” he blurted, shaking his head as if he just could not believe it. “Sire, that’s—that’s incredible! How could it travel that fast?”

“Any petition you send to His Majesty will reach him in an instant,” the old man replied softly, “and he receives and welcomes every one of them. Prince Josiah, any time that you have a need or a request, or simply want to communicate with your King, you may send a petition.”

“But where will I get another parchment like that one?”

“Look in your book.” The young prince did, and to his surprise, found a parchment identical to the one he had just sent. “You will never be without a petition,” the old man explained, with eyes twinkling. “There is no limit to the number that you can send. In fact, your King delights in hearing from you in this way. I dare say that the petition you just sent brought a thrill of delight to His Majesty’s heart.”

“Then I should send petitions often,” Josiah remarked. He closed the book and placed it within his doublet. “Suppose that I have a need, or suppose that I desire an answer to a question?” he asked. “Will His Majesty send a petition back to me?”

Sir Faithful laughed. “He will answer you, lad, but not in that way. Sometimes he will speak to you through your book. Sometimes he will send someone to help you or guide you.”

“Can I ask him for anything?” Josiah asked eagerly. “Anything at all?”

“There are some things that you might ask for that would not be good for you, or do not fit into His Majesty’s plan for you. In those instances, he will answer ‘no’.”

Josiah was thoughtful as he and Sir Faithful climbed the castle stairs. “This whole matter of sending petitions to His Majesty is simply amazing,” he declared. “I’m going to send him another tonight and tell him that I love him.” He turned and looked at the old steward. “Will that thrill King Emmanuel’s heart?”

Sir Faithful nodded. “I’m sure that it will, my prince.”

They had reached the battlements of the northeast tower just then, and Sir Faithful leaned out into the crenel, placed his elbows on the stone ledge, and rested his chin in his hands. From their elevated position in the tower he and Josiah could see a great distance across the moors and forests. The old steward stood quietly for several moments, gazing off into the distance.

“What are you looking for, sire?” Josiah inquired.

“I can see a score of furlongs from here. I was watching the roadway and hoping to see King Emmanuel returning.”

Josiah gazed expectantly up the roadway. “Is he coming back today?” he asked anxiously.

“He might. I hope he does.”

“But didn’t he tell you when he will come?”

The old man shook his head. “He didn’t tell anyone.”

“What about Lord Watchful? Doesn’t he know?”

“King Emmanuel didn’t tell any of us exactly when he’s coming. He just gave orders to occupy the castle until he comes, and to be ready at any moment.”

Josiah felt a warm glow as he thought about the King’s return. “Won’t it be grand,” he said aloud, “having King Emmanuel here in the castle with us?”

“Oh, he won’t stay here,” Sir Faithful told Josiah, turning to look at him. “He’s just coming back to take us away.”

“Take us away? Away to where?” Josiah couldn’t imagine any place as grand as the Castle of Faith, and he was disappointed at the prospect of having to leave.

“To the Golden City of the Redeemed, of course. He’s preparing places for us there right now, even as we speak. The City of the Redeemed is our eternal home.”

“Sir Faithful?” Josiah was hesitant to ask the next question. “Do you think that the Golden City of the Redeemed will be as delightful as the Castle of Faith? Will we be as happy there?”

The old man smiled at the boy’s earnestness. “When you have read the book, you will know the answer to that question.”

“But sire, I need to know now.”

“I won’t make you wait, lad. But allow me to answer you in this way. Our King built Terrestria, beautiful as it is, in just six days. The Castle of Faith was built in three days and nights. King Emmanuel has been working on the City of the Redeemed for nearly two thousand years. Does that not tell you anything?”

The young prince thought it through. “Then the Golden City must be absolutely splendid!” he decided.

“Oh, it is, lad, it is. The street of the City is made of pure gold. The walls are of jasper, with foundations of gems. There are twelve gates, each made from a solid pearl. The river of life flows through the center of the City, and there will be no more death, pain, or sorrow of any kind. Best of all, we’ll be with King Emmanuel forever! Now, does that sound as if the City of the Redeemed is as grand as the Castle of Faith?”

Josiah’s eyes were wide. “Aye!” he exclaimed. “It sounds far grander!”

Sir Faithful laughed. “I didn’t even tell you the half of it, Prince Josiah. The City of the Redeemed is far grander than either of us could ever imagine.” He turned away from the battlements. “Come on; let’s get back to the reading lesson, shall we?”

Josiah’s heart was full as he followed the steward down the winding stairs in the tower. “I’ve decided that I like being a prince. It’s far better than being a slave, any day! I’d much rather get to do what I want to do than to be ordered around all day. Aye, the life of a prince is the life for me.”

Reaching the battlements on the east wall, they crossed the sentry walk, passed through a door, and descended three flights of stairs. “I feel rather sorry for those poor scullions in the kitchen,” Josiah continued. “All day long, the cook orders them about as if they had no rights of their own. ‘Do this! Don’t do that! No, not that way, you drudge, do it this way!’ I’d get mighty weary of that. Who wants to be a servant when he can be a prince?”

He was surprised when Sir Faithful walked right past the bench beneath the eucalyptus tree. “Sire, where are we going?”

The old man stopped at the well in the bailey. “Draw me a bucket of water, Your Highness,” he said stiffly, handing the wooden bucket to Josiah. “Then wait for me here.”

Puzzled by Sir Faithful’s actions, Josiah took the bucket and stared at the old man’s back as he disappeared through a doorway. Dropping the bucket into the well, Josiah turned the windlass and slowly lowered it down to the water. When the bucket filled he cranked the windlass and winched the bucket back up.

As he pulled the bucket over to the side of the well, Sir Faithful reappeared with a basin and a towel. “Fill the basin,” he ordered. Josiah complied and then set the half-full bucket on the stone wall of the well.

The old man handed him the towel. “Wash my feet,” he ordered.

Josiah stared at him. “What?”

“I have been walking in the moors outside the castle this morning, and my feet are dirty. Wash them for me.”

Josiah laughed. “I am a prince, remember? I had a hard time getting used to the idea at first, but now I rather like it. And princes don’t go around washing other people’s feet.”

“Prince Josiah, are you better than your King?”

The question shocked the boy. “Of course not, Sir Faithful. Why do you ask that?” Josiah saw tears in the old man’s eyes, and suddenly he knew that he had made a very tragic mistake, but he wasn’t quite sure just what it was. He waited anxiously.

“When you first came to the Castle of Faith, Prince Josiah, you had the heart of a servant. Your heart was full of wonder at the grace of your King, and you saw yourself as being unworthy to be invited into his castle. Had I asked you to wash my feet that first day, would not you have done it gladly? But now, you see yourself as being too good, too important, to do the job of a servant. You have mocked the kitchen scullions because they are servants and have to take orders all day.”

Josiah hung his head. “I didn’t mean it that way, sire.”

“King Emmanuel is the King of kings and Lord of lords, yet he has the heart of a servant. One night His Majesty took a basin of water and some towels and washed the feet of his followers to show them what servanthood really is. If King Emmanuel is not too great to be a servant, then surely servanthood is good enough for you and me.”

Josiah studied the old man’s face. “King Emmanuel actually did that? He actually washed their feet?”

“You can read about it in your book. The story is found in the second section.”

He smiled sadly. “Oh, Josiah. You were not saved from the Dungeon of Condemnation to be important or to become great, my prince. You were saved to be a servant, though you are a prince. Your chief goal in life should be to glorify your King.”

Josiah bowed his head. “Forgive me, Sir Faithful. I shall wash your feet now. I want to be a servant like King Emmanuel.”

But the old man shook his head. “Not now, Prince Josiah, not now. It wouldn’t mean as much now.” He turned and walked away, and Josiah watched him with a heavy heart.

Chapter Nine

 

Prince Josiah was thoughtful as he sat alone in the east barbican, pondering what had just transpired. I want to be a servant, he told himself, and I want my heart to be yielded to King Emmanuel, that I might serve him with gratitude. He bowed his head. Oh, to have the heart of a servant!

Hearing a slight noise, he looked up, startled, to see a young man standing before him with a sword in his hand. Tall and slender, the stranger was a year or two older than Josiah, and dressed in regal garments which told Josiah that he also was a prince. “Who are you?” the tall prince demanded, with a note of derision in his voice and a scornful look on his face.

“My name is Josiah, and I live here at the Castle of Faith.” Josiah stood to his feet and extended his hand.

The newcomer ignored the hand. His lip curled in exaggerated disgust. “What are you doing at the Castle of Faith?”

“His Majesty adopted me into the Royal Family,” Josiah replied brightly. “I’ve been here at the Castle of Faith for just a few weeks.” He lowered his hand, realizing that the tall youth had no intention of shaking it. “Who are you?”

“I’m Prince Thomas,” the youth said, with a condescending air that was intended to put Josiah in his place. “I’ve been a member of the Royal Family for years and years.”

“Don’t you love being a prince?” Josiah asked enthusiastically. “Don’t you love this castle? The Castle of Faith is a wondrous place to live, and I love serving King Emmanuel!”

Prince Thomas snorted. “You really think you’re something, don’t you, now that Emmanuel has adopted you?” He looked Josiah over from head to toe, and his eyes were filled with contempt. “You were a slave before you came here, weren’t you?”

Josiah was stunned by the hostile attitude displayed by the other prince. “Aye, that I was, but—”

“It shows,” Thomas said derisively. “Look at your hands! They’re rough and callused, like the hands of a peasant, rather than smooth and refined, like the hands of royalty should be.” At this point, Thomas lifted his own left hand and examined his fingernails, as if to make sure that Josiah noticed that his hands were smooth and attractive. He smiled condescendingly. “Emmanuel may have adopted you—what did you say your name was…Joseph?”

“Josiah.”

“Aye, Josiah. Emmanuel may have adopted you, Josiah, but you still have the look of a peasant! It’s all over you. Your hands…your hair…your posture—everything about you still says ‘peasant’.”

“I am now the son of His Majesty, King Emmanuel,” Josiah replied evenly, trying to keep his voice from shaking, though he was very upset by the young stranger’s words. “Aye, perhaps I still look like a peasant, but I am royalty, every bit as much as you.”

 

Thomas snorted again. “You think you’re really something.”

Josiah shook his head. “I’m just thankful to be adopted into the Royal Family, thankful to be the son of King Emmanuel, and thankful to live in the Castle of Faith.”

“I saw you with Sir Faithful,” Thomas said. “You think you’re pretty good with the sword, don’t you? You think you’re pretty fast.”

Josiah shrugged. “I am still learning.”

Thomas suddenly raised his sword and brought the point to bear against Josiah’s throat. The move caught the young prince off guard. His heart pounded with fear. What did this arrogant young stranger intend to do?

“You’re not as fast as you think you are, peasant boy! I took you easily. What do you think of that?”

“I had no opportunity to draw my sword,” Josiah replied calmly, though his heart raced. “You didn’t challenge me fairly.”

Josiah winced as the blade pressed harder against his throat. “Are you saying that you think you could take me in a sword fight?” Thomas asked in an incredulous voice. “Do you really think that you could take me?”

Josiah leaned back slightly to relieve the pressure of the menacing blade. “Nay, I’m not saying that. But I am saying that you took advantage of me when I was not ready. That proves nothing as to your speed or skill. Any child with a sword could do what you have just done.”

Thomas flinched at this, and Josiah could tell that his words had stung. A look of fury crossed the youth’s sullen features, and for one brief instant, Josiah feared that Thomas would actually do him harm with the sword.

Abruptly, Thomas lowered the weapon. “Have you no sense of fun, peasant boy? I was merely jesting.” He twirled the sword two or three times in the air above his head and then slashed the air in front of Josiah several times in a display that was intended to intimidate Josiah. But the boy’s movements were awkward and clumsy, and Josiah was not impressed.

Thomas held his sword against his side, transformed the weapon into a book, and then placed it within his doublet. “Someday, peasant boy, I’ll actually challenge you to a real duel, and then you’ll see just what this sword can do.”

For several minutes, the tall youth plied Josiah with questions, demanding to know where Josiah was from, how he had come to live in the Castle of Faith, and what right he had to call himself a prince. His tone of voice was still hostile. His mannerisms and his questions made it very clear that he did not consider Josiah his equal, though they were both princes.

He then began to question Josiah as to his swordsmanship, wanting to know how much experience Josiah had had with the sword, how many lessons he had taken from Sir Faithful, and how much he practiced each day. None of the questions were asked in a friendly manner, and Josiah began to wonder if Thomas was actually sizing him up with the idea of challenging him to a duel.

“So, peasant boy,” Thomas said finally, “do you think you could take me in a sword fight?”

Prince Josiah stared at him. “We’re not enemies, Thomas. Why would I want to fight you? We both serve the same King. If you are the son of Emmanuel and I am the son of Emmanuel, that makes us brothers. Why can’t we just be friends?”

“Friends with you, peasant boy?” Thomas sneered. “I think not.” Sweeping Josiah from head to toe with an exaggerated look of disdain, Prince Thomas turned on his heel and walked away.

Josiah dropped to a seat beneath the eucalyptus tree and let out his breath in a long sigh. What was that all about? He watched as Thomas climbed the stairs to the sentry walk atop the inner curtain wall. I don’t even know him, but he acted as if he resents my presence here in the castle. Why would he care whether I am here or not, or how fast or slow I am with a sword? We both serve the same King and fight the same enemy!

Still perplexed by the hostile actions of Thomas, Josiah stood and hurried up to Sir Faithful’s solar. The steward opened the door at his first knock. “Come in, Josiah, come in! What’s on your mind, my prince?”

“I just met a young prince by the name of Thomas,” Josiah replied hesitantly.

An understanding look crossed Sir Faithful’s face. “Ah, Prince Thomas.”

“Who is he?” Josiah asked. “I’ve never before seen him here at the Castle of Faith.”

“The young prince that you just met is here for a brief visit,” the steward told him, and Josiah felt a surge of relief. “He’s the nephew of Sir Pretentious, and he’s actually from the Castle of Excellence. Thomas will just be here for a few days.”

“Why is he so…?” Josiah paused, not sure how to phrase the question.

“Arrogant?” Sir Faithful finished for him.

Josiah grinned and nodded. “Aye, sir.”

The steward chuckled. “You saw the real Thomas then. He’s a prince, the adopted son of King Emmanuel, just as you are, but he seems to think that he deserves the title.”

“Sir Faithful, he acted as if he was better than me. He called me a peasant, and he talked like I didn’t deserve to be here in the Castle of Faith.”

“None of us do,” the old man said quietly. “It is only by His Majesty’s grace that any of us are here, including the pompous young Prince Thomas.” He studied Josiah’s face. “What did he say?”

“He asked who I was and what I was doing at the castle,” Josiah replied thoughtfully, “and every one of his questions was a put-down. He then reminded me that I used to be a peasant. He told me that I still look like a peasant.”

The castle steward snorted at this.

“Sir Faithful, he drew a sword on me without warning, and then acted as if it was some great feat that he had caught me off guard. What would make him act that way?”

Sir Faithful sighed. “I’m afraid that young Prince Thomas has lost the wonder of his adoption,” he replied slowly, thoughtfully. “He was once the slave of Argamor, just as you were, and languished in the Dungeon of Condemnation, just as you did, and yet somehow he seems to have forgotten that it was the grace of King Emmanuel that set him free.”

He gestured toward a chair. “Josiah, be seated. Just for a moment.”

The young prince dropped into the chair that was offered.

“Josiah, you’ve been a member of the Royal Family for just a few weeks, and the very thought of your redemption is a thrill and a wonder to you. You haven’t quite gotten used to living here at the Castle of Faith, and your heart beats with intense gratitude to your King for what he has done for you. Am I correct?”

Josiah nodded. “Aye, sir.”

“Your life as a child of King Emmanuel is a wondrous adventure that has just begun,” the steward continued. “You’ve just started on an incredible journey that will one day lead you to the beautiful gates of the Golden City of the Redeemed. Along the way you’ll meet many other children of the King—some of them thrilled with their redemption and serving Emmanuel with all their hearts, and others who seem to have lost the wonder of their redemption and are serving Emmanuel half-heartedly or even not at all. I think the second group is where we find young Prince Thomas.”

Josiah was silent for several moments as he thought it through. “You are correct, Sir Faithful, in saying that I am still in awe at the idea of being set free from the chains of slavery. I do thrill to be the child of Emmanuel, and I am eternally grateful for what he has done for me. But how do I keep that gratitude alive within my heart and soul? Might I also one day lose my sense of wonder, as Thomas has done?”

Sir Faithful nodded. “Aye, it is possible, my prince. It has happened to many others of His Majesty’s children.”

“Then what shall I do, sire? I must never forget what my King has done for me! I must never lose the wonder of being his son! How can I protect that?”

“You must be careful to guard your heart, my prince. Be careful to read the King’s book daily and send frequent petitions to the Golden City.” Sir Faithful smiled at Josiah, and the beautiful white teeth flashed within his beard. “It sometimes helps to stop and imagine the shackles of slavery chafing around your ankle once again, to picture yourself back within the dungeon again, to imagine yourself as Argamor’s slave once again—just so that you never forget from whence you came. It helps to visualize that day when King Emmanuel came in the Coach of Grace and set you free.”

Josiah nodded as he stood to his feet. “May I never forget what Emmanuel has done for me.” He turned to the door and then paused and turned back. “Sire, how shall I deal with Thomas? What if he actually challenges me with a sword?”

Sir Faithful smiled. “I think our young friend is a bit of a coward, though he likes to bluster a bit.”

“I’ve been learning the use of the sword for just a few weeks,” Josiah remarked. “How would I fare against Thomas? He’s handled the sword for several years.”

Sir Faithful snorted. “You’ve applied yourself, Josiah, and you’ve learned more in a month than that buffoon has in several years since he was adopted into the Royal Family. He’s actually quite slow and clumsy with a sword, for he never applies himself. To be honest, an ape with a broomstick would pose more of a threat.”

Josiah laughed and turned to the door. “Thank you for your time, sire.”

Moments later, as Prince Josiah walked across the west bailey, he looked up to see Prince Thomas arguing with a sentry on the battlements. “May I never lose the wonder of my adoption,” he breathed. “King Emmanuel, you have my heart and my gratitude forever!”

He watched Thomas for another moment and then turned away, never realizing that the arrogant young prince’s brashness would one day soon place them both in mortal danger.

Chapter Ten

 

Prince Josiah stood with Lord Watchful on the sentry walk atop the northwest tower of the Castle of Faith. The afternoon was warm and the castle buzzed with activity. Maids were busily hanging linens on lines in the west bailey; stablehands were exercising a pair of horses in the bailey; servants called to each other as they performed various duties and ran errands around the castle. A small group of ladies-in-waiting chatted with each other as they watched the castle carpenter repair the windlass on the castle well. The constable and the prince could see much of the hustle and bustle from their position in the tower, and Josiah watched in fascination.

Josiah glanced down to the barbican just outside the inner curtain wall, where Sir Preparation was helping the farrier shoe a horse, and then beyond to the main castle gate. The drawbridge was down and the gates were open, and merchants and castle residents were coming and going. Several squires on the moors across from the main gate were practicing their swordsmanship.

“You’ve learned the use of the sword, my prince,” Lord Watchful said, “and you are becoming quite skilled. You’ve learned to send petitions to the Golden City. You’re making excellent progress in your horsemanship. Now it is time that you learn the duties of a sentry. Though you are a prince, at times you will take your turn as a sentry upon the walls of the castle.” He gestured toward the three knights who at that moment were pacing back and forth along the battlements atop the castle walls. “The sentries are the castle’s first defense against the enemy. When you serve as a sentry, you will have three main duties. Do you know what they are?”

“I know that the sentries watch the castle gate for the approach of an enemy,” Josiah replied.

The constable nodded. “The weakest part of the castle wall is the entrance,” he told the young prince, “and it must be guarded day and night. The sentries must be diligent to watch for the approach of the enemy.”

“What are their other duties?” Josiah questioned.

“If an enemy should approach the castle,” Lord Watchful replied, “the sentry is to immediately seal off the entrance by raising the drawbridge, lowering the portcullis, and closing and barring the gates. He is to do everything possible to keep the enemy from entering the castle.”

“You said that there are three duties, sire. What is the third?”

“In the event of an attack,” Lord Watchful continued, “after the sentry has sealed off the castle entrance, he is to notify the castle commander immediately. A sentry never attempts to fight the enemy forces by himself; he always leaves that in the hands of his commander. Here in the Castle of Faith, of course, that would be me. Once the sentry notifies me of an attack, I would then muster the two garrisons of knights and put into place a plan to defend the castle.”

“So the sentries are to watch for the enemy, close the gates in the event of an attack, and then notify the castle commander?”

“Exactly,” the constable replied. “Much in the same way, the child of the King must be careful to guard his own heart. He must be diligent to watch for the enemy, seal off the entrances in the event of an attack, and then notify his commander.”

Josiah nodded. “I’ll remember that, sire.”

Lord Watchful turned toward the spiral stairway. “Let’s go down to the main gate. It’s almost time for the changing of the sentries and I want you to serve one watch with Sir Humility.”

Josiah followed him down the stairs. “How long is one watch?”

“Four hours.”

They reached the sentry walk atop the outer curtain wall and began to stroll along it. “Has the Castle of Faith ever been attacked?” Josiah asked.

Lord Watchful stopped and stared at him as if he could not believe that the young prince had asked the question. “Has the Castle of Faith ever been attacked?” he echoed. “Prince Josiah, Terrestria is at war, and has been for centuries! Aye, the castle has been attacked numerous times! Argamor hates your King and he hates the Castle of Faith. He and his forces have attacked the Castle of Faith repeatedly, but they have been repelled each and every time, praise the name of Emmanuel.”

He resumed his walk toward the main gate. “And the castle will be attacked again in the future, mark my word. The Great War will continue to rage until King Emmanuel comes and takes his children to the Golden City.”

Moments later they reached the sentry post directly above the main gate of the castle. “I’ll take your watch until Sir Humility arrives,” Lord Watchful told the knight on duty. “We’re training Prince Josiah as a sentry.”

“Aye, sire, thank you, sire,” the sentry replied, saluting smartly. “I am grateful, sire.” He nodded respectfully to Josiah. “A good day to you, my prince.” He turned and hurried away.

“I thought I was early,” a tall knight said, as he hurried along the sentry walk toward Josiah and Lord Watchful. “Am I late, sire?”

“Aye, you are early, Sir Humility,” the constable replied, and the tall knight was visibly relieved. “I want you to train Prince Josiah in the duties of a sentry. He will serve with you for the entire watch.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Sir Humility is one of the finest sentries,” Lord Watchful said, turning to Josiah. “If you have any questions, be sure to ask him.”

Josiah nodded, and the constable hurried away.

Sir Humility stepped to the edge of the battlements and peered down at the approach to the castle. Josiah joined him. “Our job is to visually check each and every person entering the castle,” the tall sentry told Josiah. “We are watching for any person or persons who could be a threat to the castle.”

“What would you do if you spotted a suspicious person?” Josiah asked.

“I would call down to the sentry posted at the entry to the gatehouse and he would question or even search that person,” Sir Humility replied, continuing to watch each person coming and going from the castle. “If the perceived threat was immediate, we would seal off the castle entrance before that person or persons even approached the drawbridge.”

“What do you mean, sire?”

“For instance, suppose a score of mounted men approached the drawbridge. If we did not recognize them, we would lower the portcullis and bar the gates until we identified them. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.”

Sir Humility gestured toward the roadway below. “Take a good look at the people preparing to enter the castle. Would any of them pose a threat to the Castle of Faith?”

Josiah quickly scanned the various people traveling up the steep approach to the castle. “I don’t know, sire.”

“Look at each one, Josiah. What do you see? Would any of the people approaching the castle possibly pose a threat?”

Josiah shrugged. “I—I still don’t know, sire.”

“Take them one by one,” the sentry urged. “Tell me what you see.”

“The closest one is a merchant leading a worn out mule,” Josiah replied.

“Could he pose a threat to the castle?”

“I suppose he could,” the young prince answered slowly. “He could have a weapon hidden in the pack upon the mule’s back.”

“The merchant’s name is Josiah, the same as yours,” Sir Humility told him. “He is a loyal subject of Emmanuel’s, and he has been trading at the Castle of Faith for a number of years. He is no threat to the castle. Now—who else do you see?”

“There are two women approaching, and one of them is carrying a baby while the other carries a cloth sack.”

“Miriam and Esther, from the Village of Dedication,” the sentry replied. “They come every week to sell mushrooms to the cook. Who else do you see?”

For the next half hour, Sir Humility kept Josiah busy as he studied each person approaching the castle and tried to identify anyone who might possibly threaten the safety of the castle residents. Finally, the young prince turned to the sentry with a weary sigh. “I never knew that serving as a sentry was this much work!”

“A sentry has to be extremely alert,” Sir Humility replied. “The enemy is crafty, and the castle entrance must be guarded carefully. After a time, it does become easier, though, as you learn to identify the persons who visit the castle on a regular basis. After a while, you’ll get to the point where you can glance across any number of people approaching the castle, automatically dismiss those who are known to the castle or pose no threat, and focus only on those who are unfamiliar or pose a possible threat.” He grinned at Josiah. “Try it. Look at the people who now approach the castle and see if you can pick out at a glance only those who might pose a threat. Who are they?”

Josiah studied the castle approach for a few seconds. “There is an old farmer with a wagon load of hay,” he replied. “Not far behind him are two tinkers with their wagons of goods to sell. Everyone else looks all right.”

“Would the farmer or the tinkers pose any threat to the castle?”

“I don’t think so,” Josiah said slowly, “though I suppose the tinkers could hide dark warriors within their wagons.”

He frowned as he studied the hay wagon. “Why would that farmer bring a load of hay to the Castle of Faith?” he wondered aloud. “Yesterday I heard Sir Preparation tell Sir Faithful that the castle has enough hay stored to last through the entire winter.”

Sir Humility gripped his arm. “Josiah, are you certain?”

“Aye, sire,” Josiah replied, taken back by the intensity of the man’s reaction. “He told Sir Faithful that the castle was ready for the coming winter.”

Sir Humility studied the approaching farm wagon for a long moment. Leaping forward, he seized a trumpet and blew a loud blast, which echoed across the castle. “Close the gates!” he cried to the sentry below. “The enemy approaches the castle!”

Josiah heard the clatter of chains and the whir of pulleys as the enormous portcullis came crashing down to seal off the entrance to the castle. “Yee-haw!” The hay wagon lurched forward as the farmer whipped his team and shouted at them to goad them to action. To Josiah’s dismay, the hard-running horses thundered onto the drawbridge before the sentry could raise it.

The mound of hay on the back of the wagon seemed to explode as a dozen knights in dark armor burst from it carrying long pikes and battle axes. The driver of the wagon leaped from the wagon seat, hurling his yeoman’s hat and cloak to one side to reveal glistening black armor. At the same time, the side panels of the two tinker’s wagons fell away to reveal a dozen dark knights in each wagon. Screaming with rage, the enemy knights rushed for the castle entrance.

Josiah heard the castle gate slam closed and heard the heavy bars fall into place. The drawbridge is still down, he thought, but at least the gates are closed and the portcullis is in place.

Two of the dark knights ran forward with large iron wedges and heavy mallets. Working swiftly, they used the mallets to drive the wedges into the crack separating the drawbridge from the castle proper, effectively blocking the drawbridge so that it could not be raised. One of the men backed the wagon off the drawbridge as scores of dark knights rushed from the woods carrying a huge battering ram.

Sir Humility blew another long blast on the trumpet. “The Castle of Faith is under attack!” he cried.

Josiah dashed for the stairs. “I’ll notify Lord Watchful!” he called to Sir Humility, but at that moment the castle constable was dashing up the stairs toward the sentry walk.

Lord Watchful blew three shorts blasts on a trumpet. “Archers, to your stations!” he cried.

Confusion reigned in the castle for a few frantic moments as knights rushed to their battle stations, servants ran for shelter, and desperate mothers tried to gather their crying children. Within moments, the bailey and the barbican were deserted. Archers lined the north curtain wall, pouring a barrage of arrows into the ranks of the attackers. Knights in the gatehouse directly over the gate dropped large boulders through murder holes onto the heads of the dark knights manning the battering ram.

Josiah joined the archers on the sentry walk. Seizing a longbow and a clutch of arrows, he joined in the battle for the Castle of Faith, releasing arrow after arrow as fast as he could launch them. His heart pounded with fear as he watched scores of dark knights rush toward the drawbridge, screaming with rage and cursing the name of Emmanuel.

Scores of enemy archers bearing large war shields rushed toward the castle. Stopping at a point less than twenty yards from the moat, they dropped to one knee and positioned themselves behind their war shields to form a solid, unbroken line of dark shields. A barrage of arrows shot from their ranks to soar silently over the castle wall.

“Stay low,” Sir Humility cautioned Josiah. “The enemy archers often fire with deadly accuracy.”

Moments later, Josiah realized that he had already run out of arrows. He looked around desperately, but could see none close by. “I’ve run out of arrows,” he called to Sir Humility.

“Prince Thomas was assigned to this section of the wall,” the sentry answered with a sigh. “He was to keep us supplied with arrows.”

A petition! I must send a petition to His Majesty! Josiah reached within his doublet and withdrew the book, opened it, and hastily wrote a message to King Emmanuel upon the parchment:

To His Majesty,

The Castle of Faith is under attack, my lord, and we need your assistance. The drawbridge is down and the dark knights are assaulting the main gate.

Your son, Josiah”

 

Rolling the parchment tightly, he raised his hand and released the petition, watching in wonder as the message shot over the castle walls like an arrow from a longbow. My petition is already in the throne room of the Golden City, he thought gratefully.

“I’ll get more arrows,” he called to Sir Humility, dashing for the stairs as he said the words.

Moments later he raced across the barbican toward the armorer’s cart. Spotting movement beneath a small yew tree, he glanced over and to his astonishment saw Prince Thomas kneeling upon the ground. White-faced and trembling, Thomas clutched several large bundles of arrows.

“What are you doing?” Josiah demanded. “We need those arrows!”

“Th-they’re s-shooting at us,” Thomas quavered. “I’m n-not going on the w-wall while they’re s-shooting at us.”

“Give me the arrows,” Josiah growled, disgusted at the other boy’s cowardice. Seizing the bundles, he carried the arrows hurriedly back up the stairs to the sentry walk. “More arrows,” he called to the archers nearby.

“The enemy is in retreat!” Lord Watchful suddenly shouted. “Praise the name of Emmanuel! The castle is safe!”

A rousing cheer went up from the battlements as Prince Josiah leaned over to see scores of dark knights running from the castle. Dozens of dark forms lay motionless upon the ground and upon the drawbridge. The battering ram floated harmlessly in the moat.

“Gather round, men!” Lord Watchful called. The knights of the castle clustered together on the sentry walk. “Praise the name of His Majesty for a quick victory,” the tall constable said. “This was an unusual battle. One moment the dark knights were battering the portcullis, intent on gaining access to the castle; in the next moment, they’re running for their lives as if they couldn’t get away fast enough.”

I wonder if it had anything to do with my petition, Josiah thought. Perhaps King Emmanuel answered by fighting for us.

Lord Watchful looked across the group of warriors. “Who sounded the alarm?”

“I did, sire,” Sir Humility replied.

“We can be thankful that you sounded it as you did,” Lord Watchful said quietly. “Mere seconds later, and the dark knights would have been able to brace the portcullis open, possibly even block the gates open. If they had done that, they would have penetrated the castle and the battle might have had an entirely different outcome.”

Josiah shuddered at the words.

“We have Prince Josiah to thank in that regard,” Sir Humility replied. “He was the one who pointed out that the hay wagon really had no reason to enter the castle. Had he not said that, I might have realized too late that the wagon was a ruse.”

Lord Watchful smiled at Josiah. “We are grateful, Prince Josiah.”

“I am thankful that I was able to serve my King in this small way,” the young prince said humbly.

Lord Watchful took a parchment from his book and wrote a petition of gratitude to King Emmanuel. “Praise the name of His Majesty, King Emmanuel,” the warriors cried as the constable released the petition. “All glory to Emmanuel!”

“We do indeed have much for which to be grateful,” Lord Watchful told the men. “This was a very clever ruse, and it nearly worked. Some of you may remember that the Castle of Confidence was taken by Argamor’s dark forces in this very same way.”

“What happened, sire?” Josiah asked.

“They used a hay wagon, just as they did today,” the constable replied, “with a number of dark knights hidden in the hay. The sentries on duty were not alert enough to spot the ruse.”

“They took the castle in just a few minutes, didn’t they, sire?” one knight recalled.

“Aye, that they did. The dark knights managed to drive the hay wagon onto the drawbridge without being challenged by the sentries. The knight masquerading as an elderly farmer stopped the wagon directly under the portcullis and more than a dozen knights leaped from the hay. By the time the castle defenders realized that the castle was under attack, it was too late. The sentries could not close the castle gates, for the team of horses blocked it open. They dropped the portcullis, but the wagon load of hay held it open with nearly five feet of space at the bottom, and the combined weight of the portcullis and wagon kept them from raising the drawbridge.”

Lord Watchful sighed. “At that point, hundreds of dark knights came swarming in from the woods surrounding the castle. They raced across the drawbridge, ducked under the portcullis, and stormed into the castle. The Castle of Confidence was taken almost without a fight, all because the sentries failed to recognize the enemy.”

As the men continued to discuss the assault on the Castle of Faith, Josiah slipped quietly down the stairs and entered the east barbican. Dropping to a seat on the stone bench under the eucalyptus tree, he sent a petition of gratitude to King Emmanuel.

Moments later, he was approached by one of the knights. “Lord Watchful wants to see you, Prince Josiah. He has a special quest for you and Prince Thomas.”

Chapter Eleven

 

“I want you to ride to the Castle of Assurance and warn the constable of the ruse that Argamor’s men used in the attack this afternoon,” Lord Watchful told the two young princes. “Possibly they are planning to use it again, and soon, and I think it best that the castle be warned. I’m sending other riders to many of the other outlying castles as well.”

Prince Josiah glanced at Prince Thomas with misgivings and then addressed Lord Watchful. “What if we encounter some of Argamor’s men, sire? We are both young and inexperienced in battle.”

“Aye, and yet you are both armed with His Majesty’s mighty sword and his invincible Shield of Faith,” the constable replied. “Should you encounter any of Argamor’s dark knights, simply trust in Emmanuel and fight in the power of his name. The victory is already yours.”

He put a strong hand on each of the youths’ shoulders. “You’ll do well, I know. I have confidence in you. Simply tell the castle commander about the attack this afternoon and especially about the hay wagon ruse. There are two horses ready for you at the stables, already saddled and waiting. If you ride out immediately and return quickly after delivering your message, you’ll be back at the castle before nightfall.”

Five minutes later, Josiah and Thomas rode from the castle, Josiah on a powerful white warhorse, Thomas on a swift gray mare. As soon as the horses had crossed the drawbridge, Thomas put the spurs to his horse and leaped ahead, riding at a full gallop. Josiah put the spurs to his own mount and soon caught up.

“We shouldn’t run the horses this hard,” he called to Thomas. “We’ll wear them out before we get there.”

“Don’t tell me how to ride,” his companion responded, spurring his horse to even greater speed. He raced at a full gallop through the Village of Dedication. Villagers scattered left and right as they saw him coming. Josiah reined his horse in and rode through the village at a more sensible pace. As he left the village behind he found Thomas waiting for him at the side of the road.

“If you’re going to ride this slow, perhaps you should turn back and let me ride on alone,” Thomas scornfully told Josiah. “At this pace, we won’t make it back by nightfall. You ride like a timid old woman.”

“We’re not on that tight a schedule,” Josiah retorted, doing his best to keep his anger in check. “Riding through the village at the speed you just did was risky; you could have very easily injured or killed somebody.”

“No one got hurt, did they?” Thomas replied angrily. “I know what I’m doing.”

I doubt that, Josiah thought, but said nothing.

“Well, let’s keep riding or we’ll never get there,” Thomas told Josiah, spurring his horse to a canter. Josiah rode beside him.

Twenty minutes later, Josiah reined to a stop. “Hold on,” he called to Thomas. “I want to check our map.”

“I know the way,” his companion called contemptuously, turning his horse to ride back to Josiah. “I’ve been to the castle before with my uncle. If we stop every two minutes to check the map, we’ll never get there.”

“I think we should have gone north at the river crossing,” Josiah said, taking his book from his doublet and opening it. “When Sir Faithful gave us directions, he said nothing about crossing the river.”

“I’ve been to the castle before, remember?” Thomas retorted. “Just follow me and I’ll get us there.”

Josiah spread the map across his saddle. “Aye,” he said a moment later, “it’s just as I thought— we weren’t supposed to cross at the river. Well, let’s head back to the crossing.”

“Not unless you’re planning to get there after dark,” Thomas growled. “Put the map away and follow me. I told you before—I know how to get there!”

Josiah shook his head. “The wisest course is to follow the map.”

“I’m not going to lose time by doubling back,” Thomas insisted. “Do as you wish, but I’m going the way that I know leads to the Castle of Assurance.”

“Lord Watchful told us to stay together,” Josiah replied quietly.

“Did he, now?” the other boy sneered. “Well, I reckon that means that you had better follow me, for I am not going back the way we came. This is the way. Come on!” He wheeled his horse around and rode down the trail.

With a sigh, Josiah followed.

Half an hour later, Prince Josiah was positive that he and Thomas were not on the right road. The trail led through a dense, dark forest. Josiah rode forward to catch up with his companion. “This is not the right way,” he called. “We need to head back.”

“I told you already—I know the way and I’m not turning around,” Thomas said stubbornly. “Besides, we’re almost there, just another furlong or so.” He grinned triumphantly. “I told you I knew the way.”

Josiah fell silent.

Fifteen minutes and twenty furlongs later, Josiah knew for certain that Thomas had led him down the wrong path. “We’re not going any further,” he told Thomas firmly. “You took us the wrong way. I’m turning around right now and heading back, with or without you.”

Thomas suddenly reined to a stop and pointed. “Look!”

Josiah frowned. “Look at what?”

“That canyon,” Thomas said, pointing again. “The Castle of Assurance is just on the other side of it. I knew we were close.”

Josiah snorted. “Are you sure?”

“Positive,” Thomas said with a wide grin. “I told you that we had nothing to worry about!” He turned his horse into the narrow canyon and Josiah felt compelled to follow.

As they emerged from the other end of the canyon several minutes later, Thomas reined to a stop and looked about uncertainly. “I-I thought this was the way,” he said. “I was sure of it!”

“Well, if it isn’t two of Emmanuel’s lads,” a voice called derisively, and the two young princes looked ahead in alarm to see four dark knights mounted on powerful warhorses blocking the trail. Panicked, Josiah and Thomas reined abruptly to a stop.

“W-what shall we do?” Thomas quavered. He turned toward Josiah, and his eyes suddenly grew wide with terror. “There are three more knights behind us! Josiah, what are we going to do?”

Josiah drew his book from within his doublet. “We’re going to fight in the name of Emmanuel,” he replied fiercely, though his heart pounded with fear. “We have the sword of His Majesty and the Shield of Faith.” He swung the book to transform it into the sword.

“B-but there are s-seven of them!”

“Draw your sword,” Josiah said sternly. “Without your sword you are as helpless as a newborn baby.”

Shaking with terror, Thomas complied.

“Surrender, foolhardy knaves,” one of the dark knights called as they closed in around the two princes, “or we will feed your carcasses to the buzzards!”

“We had better do as he says,” Thomas told Josiah in a quavering voice, “or they’ll kill us.”

“Never in a thousand years,” Josiah replied fiercely. “Stand and fight, and Emmanuel will give us the victory.”

“Throw down your swords, lads,” a dark knight called, “or you will never leave this spot alive!”

“We serve King Emmanuel,” Josiah replied evenly. “By whose authority do you seek to detain us?”

“By the authority of Lord Argamor,” the knight answered, “sovereign ruler of the Land of Unbelief and Lord of all Terrestria!”

“King Emmanuel is Lord of Terrestria,” the young prince cried, “and Argamor is merely a usurper who would attempt to seize His Majesty’s throne!”

“Hold your tongue, lad!” the dark knight shouted. “Drop your sword— or prepare to die!”

Josiah glanced at Thomas and saw that his face was white and that his sword was trembling. “Trust in your King,” Josiah whispered.

“Th-there are s-seven of them,” Thomas stammered.

“And they are doomed to defeat,” Josiah replied. Raising his sword aloft, he shouted with all his might, “We fight in the name of His Majesty, King Emmanuel, and for the honor of his name!”

Both groups of dark knights came charging in at that instant, and the battle was joined. Gripping his invincible sword with both hands, Prince Josiah swung the mighty weapon with all his strength. The gleaming blade cut cleanly through the armor of the nearest dark knight, inflicting a mortal wound. The man retreated quickly.

A second knight came dashing in, swinging his sword furiously, and steel clashed against steel as Josiah met the assault. Josiah fought furiously, meeting each thrust of the enemy’s sword with a parry of his own blade. Within moments, the second knight was seriously wounded and retreated hastily.

Josiah glanced over at Thomas and saw to his relief that his companion was beating back the advances of two dark knights.

Screaming furiously, the entire band of enemy knights charged in. Prince Josiah and Prince Thomas stood shoulder to shoulder, meeting each blow of the enemy swords with the Shield of Faith and the Sword of the Spirit. The clearing rang with the sounds of the conflict—the clash of sword against sword, the shouts and cries of the combatants, the dull clank of swords striking shields and armor. Argamor’s band of dark knights could not stand before the invincible power of the mighty swords wielded by the two young princes. Shouting the name of their King and swinging their swords with all their might, Thomas and Josiah drove the enemy backwards.

“We have them on the run, Josiah!” Thomas exulted, his eyes wide with astonishment. “There are seven of them, but they cannot stand before us!”

“They cannot stand before the power of Emmanuel’s sword,” Josiah replied, thrusting with his sword and dealing an enemy knight a mortal blow. “Remember that we battle in his strength and for his glory.”

For a moment, a trace of arrogance appeared on Thomas’ face. “Aye, it is the power of his sword,” he agreed, “but the victory comes from knowing how to use it!” He laughed. His face was flushed with excitement, and he was clearly enjoying the sweet taste of victory.

At that moment the tide of the battle seemed to turn, and the two young princes suddenly found themselves driven backwards by an unexpected assault. Within moments they had lost every bit of ground that they had gained and found themselves forced back against a rocky ledge.

“What happened, Josiah?” Thomas cried in dismay. “We were easily winning the victory over these evil ones, and now they are about to overcome us!”

An enemy knight swung a vicious blow just then, and Thomas failed to get his Shield of Faith up in time. The sword pierced his armor, inflicting a serious wound to his shoulder. Thomas reeled in pain. Anxious to follow through, the knight lifted his sword for a second blow. Josiah came to Thomas’ rescue, leaping in and desperately swinging his sword as he drove the knight back. He swung the sword with both hands, inflicting a mortal wound to the enemy knight. With a crash of armor, he fell to the ground.

“This is it, Josiah,” Thomas panted. “We can’t take much more, and I am wounded. We’re losing the battle. The enemy knights have won!”

“Oh, no, they haven’t,” Josiah declared fiercely through gritted teeth. “We are losing because we grew overconfident and started trusting in ourselves and our own abilities. Our pride has been our downfall. We must trust in our King, Thomas, for only then shall we win the battle. But we are not yet defeated.”

Raising his sword high, the young prince cried, “For the honor and glory of King Emmanuel!” His shoulder throbbed with pain but he gritted his teeth and charged forward, swinging the glittering weapon with all his strength. Thomas was at his side. Shoulder to shoulder, the two young princes valiantly fought their way through the band of dark knights. “Fight in the strength of King Emmanuel,” Josiah called to his companion. “We cannot win the battle in our own strength!”

A tall knight leaped forward swinging a heavy mace at Josiah’s head. Josiah took the blow with his Shield of Faith, and then put the enemy knight to flight with the Sword of the Spirit.

“His strength becomes our strength as we trust him for it,” Thomas agreed, swinging his sword furiously to meet the attack of two dark knights. “We dare not attempt to fight this battle in our own strength, for then we must surely be defeated.” One of the enemy knights leaped forward at that instant, thrusting viciously with his sword as he attempted to run the blade through Selwyn’s heart. The young prince met the attack with his Shield of Faith and then used his sword to vanquish the adversary.

“And King Emmanuel must receive the glory when we are victorious,” Josiah said, “for in reality, the battle is his.” He lifted his sword high. “For the honor of King Emmanuel!”

Shouting the name of their great King, Prince Josiah and Prince Thomas advanced steadily forward, driving the enemy before them. The clearing rang with the sounds of the conflict. Within moments, all seven dark knights lay dead upon the ground.

“Emmanuel be praised, for the victory and the glory are his!” Thomas cried, raising his sword high in the air. He turned to Josiah. “You saved my life, my friend,” he said quietly, humbly. “I owe my life to you.”

Josiah smiled.

“I’m sorry that I placed you in this perilous situation,” Thomas continued, bowing his head contritely. “Had I been wise enough to listen to you and consult the map, we would not be here. We would be instead at the Castle of Assurance where we belong. Josiah, I’m sorry.”

Josiah nodded. “You are forgiven.”

“I’ve been unkind to you from the start,” the tall prince confessed. “To be honest, I was jealous of you. You have been a prince just a few weeks, and yet you already possess more skill with the sword, though I have been a prince for several years. Josiah, I am sorry for the way I have treated you. Will you forgive me—can we be friends?”

Josiah embraced him. “Of course.”

“I go back to my own castle the day after tomorrow,” Thomas told Josiah, “and I would like to go knowing that you and I are friends.”

“Friends and brothers,” Josiah replied sincerely, “since we both have been adopted by Emmanuel.” He glanced at the sky. “We had better ride. We have a long way to go to get to the Castle of Assurance before nightfall.”

Chapter Twelve

 

Winter passed quickly, and warm weather came to the Land of Terrestria. The moors and the meadows were bursting with color and the trees of the forests came alive with new greenery. Songbirds heralded the coming of spring as butterflies danced in the warm sunshine.

Prince Josiah and Sir Faithful walked single file down the narrow path across the crest of the hill, dodging branches and forcing their way through dense undergrowth in places where the path all but disappeared. The indistinct trail crossed a small stream, and the man and the boy traversed it by jumping from one steppingstone to another. The trail wound its way up the side of a rocky hillside, becoming progressively steeper and more treacherous as they walked.

Josiah used his hands and feet to scramble up a steep embankment. A projecting spur of rock broke loose when he trusted his weight to it, and he tumbled a short distance to the bottom. “How much farther?” Josiah called, dusting himself off and retrieving his walking staff. He hurried to catch up to his friend.

“We’ve got a long day ahead of us yet,” Sir Faithful replied. He turned, and, realizing that Josiah had fallen behind, waited for him to catch up. “This is the Forest of Decision,” he told the young prince, “and it’s not a friendly place after dark.”

Josiah leaned his staff against a tree and paused with his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath. “I can’t believe how quickly you can still move for—” He hesitated, searching for the right words.

“For an old man?” the steward finished with a laugh. “You may be young, lad, but you will have to keep putting one foot in front of the other to keep pace with me.”

Josiah nodded. “I know, sire,” he puffed. “I’m finding that out.”

“Can you tell yet why we couldn’t take the horses?”

“They’d never make it up this pathway,” Josiah said, eyeing the hillside above him. “I’m really not sure that we can, either. It looks like it gets even steeper ahead.”

“Our path will level out after a time,” Sir Faithful assured him. “It’s not all this rough.”

“The forest certainly is dark and gloomy here,” the boy observed. “The trees are so thick that the sunlight can barely get through.”

“Be thankful that we have a sunny day. If it were overcast, we could hardly see the trail. Now if you have caught your breath, we should be off. We have at least twenty furlongs yet ahead of us.”

“I’m ready.” They climbed in silence. Just as Josiah had feared, the trail soon grew steeper.

The boy’s Breastplate of Righteousness was coming loose and striking against his ribs with every stride. He paused to tighten the straps. Sir Faithful, apparently unaware that he had stopped, kept right on hiking.

Josiah struggled to untie the knot that fastened the breastplate at the bottom. The knot was behind him, and he fumbled with it unsuccessfully for two or three minutes. Finally, he grasped the armor with both hands and twisted it sideways, moving the breastplate around so that it slid to one side, covering his left shoulder. There. Now I can at least see the knot.

Gripping the troublesome knot with his fingernails, he tried again. The knot was tight, but he worked at it relentlessly. He was unable to loosen the knot by pulling on it, so he grasped the straps on each side and attempted to push them into the knot and thus loosen it. Twisting back and forth repeatedly, he continued to push on the thongs. The knot loosened, and moments later, he had it free.

Twisting the breastplate back into place, he hastily retied the leather straps. There. That was better. He retrieved his walking staff and started forward. It was then that he realized that Sir Faithful was out of sight. The forest was dark and the undergrowth was dense, but as far as he could see, the hillside above him was deserted. “Sir Faithful!” he called, “wait for me!”

“For me!” the forest echoed, throwing his words back in his face to taunt him. “For me! For me!”

He tried again. “Sir Faithful! Please wait!”

“Wait! Wait! Wait!” the echo replied.

“Sir Faithful!” Josiah scrambled up the trail, forcing his way through the bushes and briars that reached for him as if determined to slow his progress. “Sir Faithful! Wait!” Lowering his head, he charged up the mountainside, running as hard as he could. He tripped over a root and fell, cutting his hand and scraping his knees. Afraid to stop, he leaped to his feet and fought his way forward.

Moments later he stopped and looked around in confusion. The trail was gone. The undergrowth was so thick he could hardly force his way through, and there was no evidence of a path. “Sir Faithful! Where are you?”

“Are you? Are you?” the forest mocked him.

Panic threatened to overtake him, but he fought it off. “The trail can’t be far,” he reasoned, talking out loud just to hear his own voice. “I’ll just backtrack until I find it again, and then I’ll be on my way. Sir Faithful can’t be too far ahead.”

Heading downhill again, he found the going much less strenuous. I think the trail is this way, he told himself when he came to an area where the undergrowth was thinner and the walking was easier. It can’t be far now.

He paused to catch his breath and heard a strange clanking sound coming from across the hillside. The noise was as if someone had put a number of cooking pots into a large bag and was shaking them about. How strange, he thought, but it has to be another human being. He hurried toward the sound.

Moments later he came upon the source of the unusual noise. A tall, blond-haired man with long muttonchop whiskers was hiking merrily along. Battered pots and pans of every shape and size were tied to the pack on his back, clanging and banging with every step. But he was on the trail.

“Sire, can you help me?” Josiah called, stepping from the bushes onto the trail. “Is this the right path?”

The traveler stopped and stared at him in surprise. “That depends on where you are going,” he replied, giving Josiah a strange look.

Josiah walked closer. He could now see that the man’s face was wrinkled and lined, although he moved with the energy of a much younger man. “I am Prince Josiah from the Castle of Faith, and I have lost my way. Can you help?”

“I am Palaios, the tinker. I make, sell, and mend pots and pans. Are you looking for a quality cooking vessel? Perhaps a skillet?”

“Paloss? Paliess?” Josiah echoed, trying to pronounce the man’s name.

“Palaios,” the tinker corrected him. “It’s from the ancient language. But maybe it would be easier if you would just call me ‘Pal’. I like that just as well.”

“Pal,” Josiah repeated. “Can you tell me if I am on the right path?”

“That depends on your destination,” Pal replied. “Where are you going?”

“We’re going to the Village of Indifference,” Josiah said brightly. “But we’re only going to visit. We don’t plan to stay. Sir Faithful wants me to see how the villagers live, because he says it will teach me something.”

“We?” Pal echoed, looking around in confusion. “I see only one of you. Are you not traveling alone?”

“There are two of us, but I got separated from my friend and I lost the trail. I figure if I can find the trail again, I will meet up again with Sir Faithful.”

The tinker nodded. “That makes sense. Allow me to show you the way.” Josiah and Palaios started walking along the trail as they talked, and within moments, they came to a fork in the path.

Josiah stopped. “Which way?”

Palaios immediately pointed a long, bony finger. “That way.” He indicated the path to the left, which angled downward at a rather steep angle and then disappeared around a sharp bend. “I must leave you at this point, but have a pleasant journey.”

“And you’re sure that this is the right path?”

“Of course. Trust me. In fact, this is a shortcut that will get you there much sooner than you had expected.” The tinker turned away to take the other path.

“Wait, lad!” a voice shouted. Josiah and Palaios both turned at the interruption. A dark-haired young man with a longbow in his hand and a quiver on his shoulder came dashing down the trail. He was clad from head to toe in green, and was obviously a hunter. “Is this man giving you advice or counsel?”

“I just asked him for directions,” Josiah replied.

“Don’t listen to a thing he says!” the newcomer shouted, waving his arms about as if to emphasize the urgency of his warning. “This man will lead you astray.”

“Who are you?” Josiah asked, puzzled by the hunter’s excitement.

“I am Neos,” the man in green replied, “and I say again, don’t listen to this man.”

“The lad didn’t ask for your help,” Pal told him curtly. “Be on about your business.”

“Where are you going?” Neos asked.

“I’m trying to find the Village of Indifference,” the young prince declared, “but I’ve been separated from a very good friend of mine and I’ve lost my way.”

“Wherefore would you want to go to the Village of Indifference?” Neos inquired. “There’s not much for you there.”

“In a way, I’m on an errand for the King,” Josiah replied, beginning to wish that neither man had come along so that he could be on his way and catch up to Sir Faithful. “A friend of mine is taking me there to teach me something.”

Neos nodded at the explanation. “Then take this path,” he said, pointing to the trail that led uphill. “But beware when you arrive in the Village of Indifference, for the town is not a healthy place to visit.”

“This is the way!” Pal shouted, pointing to the downhill path. He shot an angry look at Neos. “Be off with you, knave, and leave the directions to me.”

“He’s leading you astray,” Neos warned, stepping closer to Josiah. “Take no heed to what he says. You want the path to the right.”

“The path to the left!” Palaios shouted. “Now leave the lad alone!” He shook his fist in Neos’ face. “Be gone with you.”

“And I say to cease leading the lad astray.” Neos replied. “I know these woods like the back of my own hand. The lad wants the path to the right.”

“The left.”

“The right.”

“The left!”

“The right!”

At that point, Palaios took a flying leap and landed on Neos, knocking him to the ground. The two men tumbled over and over, fighting furiously. The tinker’s pots and pans clattered and clanked as he fought, raising a horrible racket that echoed throughout the woods. Josiah stood breathlessly watching the spectacle before him.

Neos pulled free of the tinker’s grip and struggled to his feet. But the tinker grabbed him by the ankles and pulled him down again. He began punching the younger man as hard as he could, again and again. Neos blocked his punches and began throwing some of his own. Fighting furiously, the two men rolled over against Josiah, who hastily scrambled out of their way.

The young hunter was clearly getting the worst of it, and Josiah felt sorry for him. “Come on, Neos,” he called, “don’t let him beat you! Thump him! Harder! Harder!” To his amazement, at that instant the tide turned and Neos began to prevail. Within moments, he had managed to flip Palaios over on his back. Sitting astride the older man, he grabbed the hood of his tunic and began to shake his opponent with all his might.

Josiah saw no reason for the ferocity of the hunter’s actions, and he called, “Neos! You have him under your power! Why not let him be?”

Suddenly Palaios twisted over, grabbed Neos by the throat, and threw him bodily to one side. Springing to his feet, he leaped on the hunter and began to pummel him mercilessly. In a flash, the tall tinker had again seized the advantage.

The fight went back and forth time after time, with first one man and then the other getting the upper hand. Josiah called out encouragement to the hunter when he was getting the worst of it; and then rooted for the tinker when it looked as if he was getting a beating. Never did he notice that whichever combatant he sympathized with immediately began to dominate; never did it occur to the young prince that he actually had control of the outcome. The hunter and the tinker fought and fought, thrashing around through the undergrowth, hurling each other about, throwing and receiving punches repeatedly without growing weary.

Josiah was considering taking his walking staff and joining in the fray when a loud, ferocious roar stopped him in his tracks. He whirled about. Like an apparition from a nightmare, a huge black bear rose above the bushes! With an angry roar that shook the forest, the furious beast charged out of the brush, heading straight for him! Dropping his staff, Josiah turned and ran. His heart pounded with fright.

The path to the right was closest, and the terrified boy followed it without thinking, though it led uphill. He ran as hard as he could, leaping over fallen logs that lay across the path, scrambling over boulders, plunging through briars. He ran until he thought his lungs would burst. Finally, when he could run no further, he fell to the ground behind a log, waiting with pounding heart for the enraged bear to catch him.

He listened, but heard nothing. The forest was silent; the bear was gone. He lay still for several moments, catching his breath, and then stood slowly to his feet. He glanced around him. He was standing in a huge patch of thick ferns. Gigantic trees lay rotting upon the ground like fallen soldiers from some long forgotten battle. The forest was sparser here, allowing more sunlight to strike the earth, and the atmosphere was bright and cheery.

Josiah cupped his hands to his mouth to call Sir Faithful, and then thought about the bear. With a sigh, he dropped his hands. Better to be lost than to be eaten by a bear.

He surveyed his surroundings, suddenly realizing that he had no idea from which direction he had come. There was no path. He glanced at the sun to get his bearings and then remembered that he and Sir Faithful had not been able to see the sun in the darkness of the forest. Checking the position of the sun now would give him a sense of direction, but would not tell him in which direction to head.

The position of the sun did tell him one thing, however: he was almost out of time. Night was coming fast, and he was alone, lost on the side of the mountain with no way of finding his way home to the Castle of Faith. What was it that Sir Faithful had said less than an hour ago? “This is the Forest of Decision, and it’s not a friendly place after dark.”

Chapter Thirteen

 

Darkness descended over the Forest of Decision as quickly as if it had been poured from a flask. Prince Josiah sat on a huge log as he tried to figure out what to do. He was lost, with no idea in which direction the castle lay, or how to go about finding it. The situation was hopeless. He dared not try to find his way in the darkness.

He thought about Sir Faithful. “Where are you, sire?” he said aloud. “I need your help.” His thoughts turned to the book. What was it that Sir Faithful had said? “When you need direction, turn to the book. It will guide you.”

Josiah drew the book from inside his doublet and stared at it in the darkness. In the black of night, the book was just a shadowy form; it would be impossible to read its pages. Josiah made a slashing motion with the book, transforming it into a sword. “I don’t need a sword,” he said aloud, “I need a light.” He held the sword against his side, changing it back into the book again, and then tucked it back inside his doublet.

The moon came out at that moment, brightening the mountainside somewhat with its silver beams. Josiah reached for the book again. He held the volume in the moonlight, but the light was still too dim to see it well. Disappointed, he opened the pages of the precious volume. In the pale illumination from the crescent moon, the pages were indistinct and difficult to see. With a sigh, he closed the book.

“What will I do now?” Josiah said aloud. “I can never find my way off this mountainside in the darkness.” A petition! The idea struck him like a bolt from a crossbow. Now would be the time to send a petition to King Emmanuel. He opened the back cover of the book and pulled out the small parchment, then closed the book and replaced it within his doublet. Lacking a quill to write with, he used a stick to scratch a simple message: “King Emmanuel, I am lost. Josiah.”

The young prince held his breath as he rolled the parchment tightly and then opened his hand. Like an arrow from a longbow, the petition shot from his hand with a streak of light and disappeared over the treetops. He let out his breath in a long sigh. “I have sent my petition,” he said aloud, “but how will King Emmanuel answer?”

“Use the book,” a quiet voice seemed to say, and Josiah looked around in surprise. But the night was dark, and he saw no one. The words had been spoken so softly that he really couldn’t tell whether he had heard an audible voice, or whether he had simply heard the voice in the inner chambers of his mind.

“Who’s there?” he whispered timidly, but there was no reply. Josiah waited in silence.

“Use the book,” the same quiet voice repeated. Glancing nervously around, the young prince drew the book from within his doublet and opened it across his knees. He waited, looking fearfully about in the darkness, but there were no further instructions. The voice was silent.

Josiah glanced downward, and was astounded to see that the pages of the book were glowing with a soft white light. As he watched, the pages glowed brighter and brighter until they were blazing with a pure white light that was dazzling in its intensity. Josiah turned the book, and the glow from its pages illuminated the clearing around him.

His heart leaped. Here was the light he so desperately needed. “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path,” he quoted. Standing to his feet, he began walking slowly through the ferns.

The book glowed brighter and brighter until its pages were illuminating the path for several paces ahead of him. Josiah went forward confidently, encouraged by the light. He entered the denser part of the forest and began to wind his way through the trees. It was then that he made an amazing discovery. When he turned the book in one particular direction, the pages glowed with an intense, bright light. But when he turned the volume in another direction, the light diminished and glowed feebly. The book was actually showing him which way to go—it was guiding him.

He walked faster, following the light from the book, using it to discern which direction he should take. Soon he saw a bright yellow glow through the trees ahead and he hurried toward it. The book shined brighter and brighter, reassuring him that he was on the right path. Moments later, he came upon a blazing campfire at the edge of a lean-to shelter built of logs. The delicious aroma of roasting meat drew his attention to a makeshift spit suspended over the flames. Seated before the fire was a familiar figure.

Josiah hurried forward. “Sir Faithful!”

The steward looked up with a welcoming smile. “My prince! You have learned to use the book, I presume.”

The young prince laughed in relief as he closed the pages of the glowing volume. “It was indeed a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. I would never have found my way without it.” He placed the volume inside his doublet and sat down beside Sir Faithful.

“I must beg your pardon,” the steward said quietly. “When I planned this trial for you, I did not foresee the bear.”

Josiah laughed. “He scared me out of my wits, I must admit.” He picked up a stick and poked it into the fire. “I met two men, and they got into a fierce fight. They were—”

“Aye,” the old man interrupted him. “I know. Palaios and Neos.”

Josiah stared at him. “You saw them?”

“I not only saw your encounter with them; I planned it.”

“Planned it? How?”

“Why do you think that your breastplate came loose?” the old man asked with a mischievous twinkle in his clear blue eyes.

Realization dawned upon the boy. “You loosened it,” he accused, “so that I would stop and fix it, and you could leave me.”

“Only so that you would meet Palaios and Neos,” Sir Faithful said gently. “I was close by the entire time so that you would come to no harm.” He chuckled. “But I didn’t plan on the bear. Palaios and Neos made so much noise that the sleeping bear couldn’t take the racket any longer.”

“Why did you want me to meet Palaios and Neos?”

“The tinker did not tell you his surname. His full name is Palaios Anthropos, which is an ancient name meaning ‘old man’. Neos’ full name is Neos Anthropos, and his name means ‘new man’.”

“So they are brothers?”

“Not at all,” the steward replied, “though they share the same surname.”

“So why did you want me to meet them?” Josiah asked again.

“When King Emmanuel saved you from the Dungeon of Condemnation, he gave you a new nature. This new nature desires to please and glorify your King. But you still have your old nature, which is selfish and rebels against serving King Emmanuel. Each and every day, you must decide to which of your natures you will yield.”

Josiah thought it through. “What would have happened,” he asked slowly, “if I had followed the path that Palaios had wanted me to follow?”

“I would have done everything in my power to keep you from following that path,” Sir Faithful told him, “because it led to a precipice from which you would have fallen. Palaios Anthropos is a treacherous individual; you must never trust him.”

“I hope I never see him again!”

The old steward smiled ruefully. “I’m afraid that you have not had your last encounter with Palaios. He will plague you until you reach the Golden City.” He reached for the spit on which the meat was roasting. “Let’s eat and then get some rest, shall we? Tomorrow we shall continue our journey to the Village of Indifference.”

 

 

An hour after sunrise the next morning, Prince Josiah and Sir Faithful approached a small village at the foot of the mountain, situated on the banks of a slow moving river. To Josiah’s surprise, the stone wall surrounding the town had not been completed, and was only waist high. Piles of stone lay here and there in the weeds, abandoned along with rusting stone mason’s tools, as if the wall builders had simply lost interest. In places, the wall was crumbling and falling down, and in others, it was missing altogether.

Josiah stared at the decaying wall. “This wouldn’t keep anyone out,” he told Sir Faithful. “Why didn’t they finish building it?”

The steward smiled sadly. “In the next few minutes you will see why the wall was never finished.”

Together the man and the boy strolled through the town gate, stepping carefully over piles of rubble and rotting timbers. Scraggly chickens ran about in the road, clucking and squawking irritably as they darted around huge holes in the cobblestone pavement. Grunting pigs rooted through piles of rotting garbage and refuse that lay in the street. Josiah held his nose. “This place has a foul odor.”

He studied the humble houses that lined the narrow street, appalled at the condition of the tiny dwellings. Walls were cracked and crumbling; chimneys were falling down; thatched roofs were caving in. Doors and shutters hung precariously from broken hinges, or were missing entirely. Refuse littered the yards. In the center of the street, an open sewer ditch swarmed with flies. The wind howled mournfully through the branches of trees, barren in spite of the arrival of spring. The atmosphere in the neglected village was that of decay and death.

Josiah turned to his companion in disgust. “What is our business here, Sir Faithful? Can’t we leave this dreadful place?”

The steward shook his head. “There is a lesson to be learned here, my prince. We must stay until you have seen that for which we have come.” He led the way down the loathsome street, stepping carefully to avoid the worst of the filth and clutter.

Josiah had been watching for the residents of the Village of Indifference, but up to this point had seen no one. The entire hamlet seemed to be deserted. They reached the wall on the opposite side of the village, and Josiah realized that they had passed through the unsavory little town without seeing a single soul. “Where are the villagers, Sir Faithful?” he asked. “We haven’t seen anybody.”

“They are here,” the old man replied, striding determinedly down the lane, “though you have not noticed them.” He pointed. “There is one yonder.”

Looking in the direction that Sir Faithful indicated, Josiah saw a sleepy figure in the doorway of one of the hovels. He stared at the man in surprise; the morning was young, and yet the man was sleeping. Glancing about, he began to spot villagers sleeping under trees and shrubs, huddled under decaying farm wagons, and sprawled in doorways. He even saw a young man sprawled upon the thatched roof of his house, sound asleep. He glanced at Sir Faithful. “Is the entire town asleep?”

“Nay, my prince. There are others whom you shall meet shortly.”

At that moment, Josiah heard a rumbling noise like thunder, and several large boulders tumbled into the street. Josiah looked up in alarm. The mountainside loomed over the village, terminating in a sheer slate cliff that towered a hundred feet above the wall. As Josiah watched, several more boulders broke free and crashed down into the street. A portion of the bank suddenly crumbled away and slid down toward the village in a confusion of boulders, dirt, and small bushes. The landslide stopped just short of the village wall.

“That whole mountainside looks as if it could come crashing down upon the village at any time!” Josiah cried in alarm. “Where are the people? We need to warn someone!”

“There’s the reeve now,” Sir Faithful said, pointing to a figure advancing toward them. “He’s in charge of the village, and his name is Sir Neglect.”

Josiah ran toward the man. As he got close, he saw that the reeve’s clothing was tattered and dirty. He was unshaven and in desperate need of a bath. A foul stench surrounded him, overwhelming the young prince.

“Sir Neglect!” Josiah shouted, grasping the man’s sleeve in his excitement. “The mountainside is crumbling! The whole thing could come crashing down upon your village at any moment. You must warn the inhabitants of the village!”

Sir Neglect looked at him with filmy, lifeless eyes. “Why are you so agitated, my young friend? Calm down and relax. It’s a beautiful day for a sailing.”

Josiah pointed at the treacherous cliff that threatened the existence of the village. “The rocks are falling, sire! I just saw a small landslide. Your village is in danger, sire, and someone must warn your people!”

The reeve glanced up at the cliff and then back at Josiah. He smiled nonchalantly. “Don’t be troubled, lad. If the mountain should fall, some of us would undoubtedly survive.” He ambled away.

“Wait, sire!” Josiah started after the man, determined to impress upon him the seriousness of the danger threatening the town, but Sir Faithful grasped his sleeve.

“Let him go, lad. He will not listen to you.”

“But someone has to warn the villagers,” Josiah protested. They’re in extreme danger!”

The old steward sadly shook his head. “This is the Village of Indifference, my prince. The townspeople will not hear you, either.” He nodded with his head toward the river. “Come along, now, there is more that you must see.” He led Josiah to the brink of the clay bank overlooking the river.

Prince Josiah looked down to see a huge crowd of men, women, and children assembled on the bank below him. Dressed in dirty, tattered clothing like Sir Neglect, the peasants were clustered at the water’s edge, eagerly watching the river and shouting and cheering excitedly. In the middle of the crowd, two women were slapping each other and screaming insults, while a small group around them was urging them to fight. Downstream a short distance, two men fought in the shallows, each trying to hold the other’s head under water. No one paid them any attention. Josiah stepped to the very brink of the bank and peered down at the noisy throng. “What are they doing?”

“You are watching a sailing race,” the old man answered soberly. “The villagers make tiny boats from the reeds that grow along the water’s edge, and then they race them down the stream to see who has built the fastest boat.”

Josiah stared at him in astonishment. “That’s what this excitement is all about? The villagers get this excited over little reed boats?”

Sir Faithful nodded sadly.

“But this is child’s play!” Josiah exclaimed. “What does it matter who has the fastest boat?”

“The villagers think that it is important. Some of them spend all day, every day, building and racing the little reed boats.”

Josiah shook his head. “This is the most foolish thing I’ve ever seen. These people should be building their town wall, and repairing their houses, and—and doing something about the mountain that is slowly falling on their village. They’re in danger! Their children are in danger! But they’re busy building foolish little boats.”

“You are learning the lesson for which we came,” Sir Faithful said softly.

“I can warn these people that the mountain is falling upon their village,” the young prince said suddenly. He cupped his hands to his mouth. “People of the Village of Indifference! Hear me! The mountain is coming apart, and is falling upon your village! Your children are in danger! Leave the village and take your children to a place of safety!”

To Josiah’s dismay, not a single soul looked up or acknowledged his warning. “They didn’t even hear me.” He cupped his hands to his mouth again.

Sir Faithful put a hand on his arm. “Save your breath,” he advised. “They didn’t want to hear you.”

“Who are these people?” Josiah questioned. “Where did they come from? And how have they gotten into this sorry state of affairs?”

“Believe it or not, these people are subjects of King Emmanuel. If you were to ask any one of them, he or she would claim loyalty to His Majesty. In fact, every person here used to dwell in the Village of Dedication.”

Josiah looked at him in astonishment. “The village by the Castle of Faith?”

Sir Faithful nodded. “Some of them used to dwell in the castle itself.”

“What happened to them? If they used to live in the Village of Dedication and they served King Emmanuel, why would they want to leave there and come to this dreadful place?”

The old man sighed. “Perhaps they grew weary in their service to their King. Perhaps they simply forgot what King Emmanuel had done for them and somehow lost the wonder of their deliverance. I don’t know how it happened, but it did. One by one, these people chose to leave the blessings of the Village of Dedication and come to this place of apathy and indifference. They now lead empty, useless lives, and, as you can see for yourself, they are not happy.”

Josiah shook his head as he watched the villagers leap about in their childish fervor over the little reed boats, fighting and squabbling with each other. “Why would anyone want to come to the Village of Indifference? It’s such a dreadful place.”

“I don’t suppose that anyone ever plans to come here, but, as you can see, it has happened to many. It could happen to anyone. Anyone at all.”

“Oh, it would never happen to me,” Josiah assured him. “I love King Emmanuel, and I love living in the Castle of Faith, and I love serving our King. I would never come here to the Village of Indifference. When we leave here, I never want to come here again. Nay, this would never happen to me. Not in a thousand years!”

“Don’t say that, my prince,” Sir Faithful pleaded. “This could happen to anyone. You should not say, ‘This will never happen to me’. Rather, you should say, ‘With the help of King Emmanuel I will stay faithful and never come to the Village of Indifference again.’”

Josiah watched the villagers as they raced about on the riverbank below, totally absorbed in their empty, frivolous boat races, oblivious to the danger that threatened their families. Two of the villagers engaged in a heated argument over the outcome of a race, and the rest of the townspeople began to take sides. “How sad,” the young prince whispered. “How empty.”

Sir Faithful took him by the arm. “You have seen that for which we have come,” he said softly. “Let’s head back to the Castle of Faith.”

Chapter Fourteen

 

Prince Josiah sat astride a powerful white horse in the shadows of the castle gatehouse. The handsome steed pulled at the bit and stomped the ground, eager to start moving. Josiah held him back.

“You have a flask of water and provisions for your trip,” Sir Faithful told him, “so there is no need to stop to eat or drink. When you reach the Castle of Unity, the steward will see that you are properly cared for tonight, and will give you provisions for your return journey tomorrow.” He handed Josiah a small parchment. “This is your map; it will guide you to the castle.”

The young prince nodded. “I will be careful to follow it.”

The old man then handed him a larger parchment, stamped with the seal of King Emmanuel. “This is a message of instruction and encouragement for the residents of the Castle of Unity. It must reach the castle by nightfall.” He glanced at the sun. “If you will ride without delay, you will easily reach the castle before sundown.”

Josiah took the parchment and tucked it carefully inside his doublet. “I shall not fail you.”

“This mission is not for me, my prince; it is for King Emmanuel himself.”

“I shall not fail my King, sire.”

Sir Faithful gripped his arm. “Prince Josiah, I remind you—you must reach the Castle of Unity before nightfall! It is imperative that the parchment be delivered before the sun goes down. Remember, the King’s business requires haste.”

Josiah nodded and gripped the reins. “I shall not fail my King, sire. The parchment shall be delivered to the Castle of Unity ere the sun goes down in the west.” He shook the reins, and the horse leaped forward. The clatter of hooves on the drawbridge echoed across the morning air.

Josiah watched the townspeople as he rode through the Village of Dedication. Men, women, and children scurried about, busy in the service of their King. The looks of contentment on their faces told him that their lives were fulfilled and satisfying. The young prince couldn’t help but contrast them with the empty, frivolous lives of the inhabitants of the Village of Indifference. “Help me, my King,” he whispered, “to never lose the wonder of what you have done for me, or to become like the people in the Village of Indifference.”

The young prince rode steadily for several hours, glancing from time to time at Sir Faithful’s map to be certain that he was following the right road. The sun was bright and his heart was light. He sang songs of praise as he rode, delighted to be on an errand for his King. When the sun was high overhead, he paused beside a quiet stream to rest his horse and eat the provisions from his saddlebag.

The clatter of hooves arrested his attention and he looked up from his meal to see a mounted knight approaching. The man was arrayed in dark armor. Josiah stood to his feet anxiously with his hand upon the book, ready to draw the sword if necessary.

The knight reined to a stop less than five paces from where Josiah stood. He drew a short sword. Josiah responded by drawing his own sword, and the glittering blade caught the bright sun.

The stranger flipped back the visor of his helmet, and Josiah saw dark eyes that glittered with amusement. “I come in peace, my lord,” the knight said, lowering his sword. “My name is Relevance.” He looked with amusement at the huge weapon in Josiah’s hand. “You have quite a sword there, my lord. It appears to be quite cumbersome and heavy.”

“It was provided by my King,” Josiah replied, slashing the air to show his ability with the weapon. “It suits me fine.”

“Would not you care to have one that is less cumbersome and heavy?” the knight pressed. “I have one that is lightweight, yet sharp and effective in battle.” He extended his sword to Josiah. “Here. Try it for yourself.”

Josiah stepped close to the horse and took the sword from the knight. The weapon was nearly a foot shorter than his. It was lighter, and the jeweled handle felt good in his hand. He swung the sword a few times to get the feel of it.

“Pleasant, is it not?” the dark knight said. “It is so much easier to handle than the long blade that you are carrying. This lighter sword will not weary you in battle like yours would.”

Josiah looked longingly at the smaller sword. The jeweled handle and shiny blade glittered and sparkled enchantingly in the bright sun, drawing the young prince mysteriously to it. He found himself wanting the beautiful jeweled weapon. “How could I get a sword like this?”

The knight hesitated. “This sword is valuable to me, my lord, but I suppose that you might talk me into trading for your sword.” He stopped and held up one hand as if he had changed his mind. “Nay, nay, I beg pardon; I must change my mind. I cannot part with this sword.”

Josiah held his own sword up to the knight. “I am willing, if you will trade.”

The dark knight paused and seemed to be thinking it through. Josiah waited anxiously. “Aye, my lord,” Relevance said finally. “This fine sword is yours; I will make the trade.” He handed the short sword to the boy and took the much longer one.

Josiah swung the new sword, enjoying the feel of the jeweled handle. “I thank you, sire.”

The knight lifted one hand to his visor. “My pleasure, my lord.” Turning his horse, he rode away, taking Josiah’s sword with him.

The young prince held the new sword against his side, but it did not change into a book like his other one did. Unsure what to do with it, he tucked it under the cantle of his saddle, wondering if he had made a good trade after all. He walked back to the stream and finished his meal.

Less than an hour after making the stop for his noonday meal, Josiah found himself riding along a narrow roadway bordered on both sides by forests of tall oaks, poplars, and willows. In a small clearing just about a furlong ahead, he could see a humble farmhouse surrounded by a split rail fence.

“Greetings, my lord.”

Josiah reined to a stop and looked around, trying to discover the owner of the voice. A peasant dressed in a dirty, threadbare jerkin stepped from the woods and hurried to the roadway. His eyes were wide as he gazed in wonder at the magnificent horse and Josiah’s fine clothing. “Begging your pardon, my lord, but I could use your help for a moment or two. Would you spare the time?”

“What do you need?” Josiah asked pleasantly, trying not to show impatience at the delay. “I am on business for the King.”

“My name is Distraction, and I need your help,” the man told him. “One of my chickens has escaped, and I can use your help in catching it.”

“The King’s business requires haste,” Josiah replied, quoting Sir Faithful, “and I must be on my way. Perhaps another can help you with your chicken.”

“This will just take a moment of your time, my lord,” Distraction replied with a beseeching look on his thin face. “Please help.”

The young prince hesitated. Indeed he was on business for Emmanuel, and yet, somehow, he found it difficult to resist the pitiful farmer’s pleas. “Just for a moment, then,” he agreed, climbing down from the saddle and throwing the reins over a nearby bush. “Where is this chicken?”

“She went into the woods about here, my lord,” the farmer told him, leading the way into the forest. “I’ve been chasing her all morning, but perhaps the two of us can corner her quite quickly.”

Josiah and Distraction pushed their way through the dense weeds and undergrowth as they searched for the errant chicken. The woods were dark and gloomy, and Josiah peered anxiously about. “What color was the chicken, sire?”

“She was white, my lord. She should be quite easy to spot.”

The young prince and the farmer searched unsuccessfully for nearly half an hour. The missing hen was nowhere to be found. Josiah suddenly remembered that he was on the King’s errand. “I must leave you, Distraction,” he told the farmer. “I am on business for His Majesty, and I must hasten on.”

“My lord, don’t leave me,” the farmer begged. “I pray you, stay just a moment longer. This chicken is precious to me, my lord, and we must find her.”

Josiah could not resist the pleading look in the man’s eyes, and he reluctantly agreed to stay. “All right,” he promised, “but just another minute or two. I really must be on my way.”

They searched unsuccessfully for several more minutes. “I must leave—” Josiah began, but the farmer cut him off.

“There she is, yonder. We found her!” He rushed forward, and Josiah felt compelled to follow.

The chicken was hiding under a thicket and as the prince and the farmer approached, she exploded from her hiding place and half flew, half ran through the woods, squawking loudly. Josiah and Distraction gave chase. They ran as hard as they could, dashing around trees and crashing through thickets in pursuit of the elusive hen. Their feathered foe continued to evade them, darting forward like a bolt from a crossbow each time they had her within reach.

They chased the fugitive fowl for more than an hour, following her deeper and deeper into the forest. Finally, Josiah managed to corner the bird against an outcropping of rock. But as he reached for her, she fluttered up into the branches of a tree. “Can you climb for her, my lord?” the farmer begged. “At my age, I don’t dare.”

Josiah obligingly began to climb the tree. The chicken flapped her wings and scrambled higher. The boy soon found himself twenty feet above the ground. As he reached for the chicken, he glanced across the forest. His heart sank. The sun was dropping rapidly toward the hills to the west. There was less than an hour of daylight left.

The prince seized the hen by one wing. “Got you!” Pulling the reluctant fowl to him, he tucked her inside his doublet and climbed down quickly. “Here,” he said, thrusting the runaway chicken into the farmer’s hands. “I must get back to my horse and get on with His Majesty’s business.”

Josiah felt a pain in his heart as he hurriedly tried to retrace his steps through the forest. He watched the setting sun while he scrambled toward it, dodging trees and bushes as he ran. With a growing sense of dismay, he realized that the night would overtake him long before he reached his destination. You should never have stopped to help Distraction, he chided himself. You will never make it to the Castle of Unity before the sun goes down! His Majesty’s business should have come first. Sir Faithful told you that the parchment must reach the castle before nightfall. You have failed your King.

Filled with remorse, Josiah ran faster. His heart was pounding and his lungs were burning by the time he reached the roadway. He burst from the woods and glanced at the sky. His heart sank. The sun was quickly sinking behind the trees on the other side of the road. Night was coming fast.

He ran to the bush where he had left his horse. To his alarm, his steed was gone. He looked up and down the roadway in desperation, but the horse was nowhere to be found. A flash of silver reflected the rays of the dying sun and he hurried over to it. The sword he had received from the unknown knight lay in the dust, and he stooped and picked it up.

“Forgive me, my King,” he whispered contritely. “I have failed you, my Lord, and have not completed my mission for you.” The pain in his heart was increasing. Filled with remorse, he set off down the road on foot.

Moments later the sound of pounding hooves caused him to turn around. His heart leaped with fear. Bearing down on him at full gallop were two knights in black chain mail!

Josiah leaped to the side of the road. Gripping his sword tightly, he stood ready to defend himself. One knight spurred his horse forward and raised his lance. Josiah raised the sword to repel the blow. The lance came flashing down, and Josiah met it with the blade. To his horror, the lance bent the blade of the sword as if it were a reed! Josiah stared in dismay at the ruined weapon. The lightweight sword was worthless!

He felt the cold edge of steel against his neck. “Don’t move, knave!” a harsh voice commanded.

The knight with the lance dismounted, threw Josiah face down to the ground, and bound his hands behind him. His captors jerked him to his feet, and then raised the visors on their helmets. Josiah gasped in alarm. The two knights in black chain mail were none other than Evilheart and Lawofsin!

Evilheart laughed at the expression of disbelief that appeared on Josiah’s face. “Glad to see us, my lord?” he taunted.

“Untie me!” Josiah demanded, when he had recovered from the shock of coming face to face with Argamor’s henchmen. “You have no power over me. I am a prince, heir to King Emmanuel Himself.”

Lawofsin laughed and bowed low. “Forgive us, Your Highness,” he mocked. “We didn’t realize that we were in the presence of royalty.”

“Untie me!” Josiah demanded again. “I am no longer the slave of Argamor and he has no power over me. I now serve King Emmanuel and have been adopted into his Royal Family.”

“Save your pleading for the ears of Lord Argamor,” Evilheart growled. “It is at his orders that we have seized you.”

“But Argamor has no power over me!” Josiah protested. “I no longer serve—”

“Silence!” Lawofsin roared. “Not another word from you!”

Evilheart lifted Josiah and threw him over the front of his saddle, then mounted quickly. The horse leaped forward into a gallop. With each stride the young prince was thrown about and bounced painfully up and down against the pommel of the saddle. Where are they taking me? he asked himself in terror. How can they do this to me? Don’t they see that I am a prince?

An hour later, his belly was sore from the constant pounding when the horsemen finally reined up in front of a formidable gate. Josiah lifted his head, and despair swept over him. His captors had brought him back to the Dungeon of Condemnation!

Chapter Fifteen

 

Prince Josiah’s heart pounded with fear as he looked up at the entrance to the Dungeon of Condemnation. His mind immediately recalled the countless nights of torment in the darkness of that dreaded place, and he recoiled in horror. At that moment an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and despair overwhelmed him, crushing in its intensity, so complete and so dreadful that it seemed as if he could not breathe.

“Are you not glad to be back, Your Highness?” Lawofsin mocked him, pulling him from the saddle and standing him upon his feet. “Welcome home, knave.”

The two men dragged him to the gate of the dungeon. Evilheart banged on the gate with the hilt of his sword, and a guard that Josiah had never seen before came and unlocked it. A feeling of desperation swept over Josiah as Evilheart and Lawofsin dragged him through the gate, down to the lower level through the iron gate, and into the inner ward. They took him to the dismal cell that he had occupied before and he noted that the damaged bar had been replaced. This can’t be happening! Josiah’s heart cried out. I don’t belong here! I’ve been set free!

The men pounced on him and tore his breastplate away and then removed his belt. Lawofsin grabbed his cloak and ripped it from him. Evilheart seized his doublet and ripped it to shreds, tearing it from his body. Josiah was in tears as they snatched the shoes from his feet and even pulled the King’s ring from his finger. When they had finished, he was standing barefoot on the cold, damp floor, clad only in the robe that the King had given him.

Both guards were grinning broadly as they pushed him into the darkness of the cell and locked the door. “It’s good to have you home again, Your Highness,” Lawofsin sneered, and both men laughed mockingly.

An overwhelming sense of dread seized Josiah as the footsteps of the two guards echoed down the empty corridor. He gripped the iron bars of the cell. “Wait!” he screamed, “I don’t belong here! There’s been a mistake! I belong to King Emmanuel—he set me free!” In answer, laughter rang through the corridor, echoing and re-echoing to mock and torment him.

Josiah sank to his knees. It had all happened so quickly. One moment he was Prince Josiah, heir to King Emmanuel, enjoying the blessings of being a member of the Royal Family. In the next moment he was a prisoner, locked securely back in the Dungeon of Condemnation.

The parchment! My Assurance parchment will prove that I really am a prince, and that Argamor has no right to hold me here! But as he reached for the parchment, he knew already that the precious document was not there. Not only had he lost his sword and his ring, he had lost his parchment as well.

Moments later heavy footsteps sounded in the corridor as several men approached the entrance to the inner ward, and Josiah’s heart filled with terror. Before the gate even opened he knew who was coming. He dropped his head in abject defeat.

“On your feet, wretched knave!” the hateful voice roared, and Josiah looked up to see the fearsome figure of Argamor at the bars.

“M-my lord!” The words were out even before Josiah was aware that he was saying them. He sprang to his feet, trembling in terror. Argamor glared at him with hatred blazing in his evil eyes.

“So, lad, you thought that you might escape, did you?” Argamor’s cruel laugh rang throughout the dungeon. “You are mine, knave! Mine! You are mine forever, and now not even your King can set you free! You are mine forever!” He threw back his head and roared with heartless laughter.

“My lord,” Josiah gasped, hesitantly approaching the bars. “My lord, there has been a mistake! I am now a prince! I belong to King Emmanuel, and you have no right to keep me here!” Even as he said the words, his heart filled with terror at the rage upon Argamor’s face.

“You were a prince,” Argamor roared, “but no longer! You have betrayed your King, and you are mine again! You have failed, lad!” His eyes glittered with a cruel hatred as a triumphant leer crossed his features. “You are mine forever!”

“But I had a parchment from the King,” Josiah argued, surprised at his own boldness. “It decreed that I was adopted into King Emmanuel’s Royal Family forever!”

“Where is this parchment?”

“I-I lost it, sire,” the boy stammered. “But I-I had it once, and it was s-signed and sealed by the King Himself!”

“Is this your parchment?” Argamor roared, unrolling a document and holding it up to the bars.

Josiah could see just enough in the dim light to recognize the parchment. He sprang forward eagerly. “Aye! That is it!”

“Be it known to all men everywhere,’” Argamor read aloud, “‘that from this day henceforth, Josiah Everyman, of the Village of Despair, has been adopted into the Royal Family of King Emmanuel and shall henceforth and until such time as this document is revoked, be known as Prince Josiah, heir with King Emmanuel.’”

“It says ‘forever’,” Josiah protested, “and it says ‘eternal’. You did not read those parts!”

The huge man scanned the parchment. “It says no such thing, lad.” He looked hard at Josiah. “Can you read?”

Josiah nodded. “Aye.”

“Then, wretched one, see for yourself!” Argamor thrust the parchment at him.

Josiah took the precious document with a trembling hand and held it up to the dim light. To his great dismay, the wording on the document was exactly the way that Argamor had read it. “But sire, it said ‘forever’,” Josiah protested. “I know it did!” His eyes dropped to the bottom of the parchment, and his heart sank. King Emmanuel’s signature was no longer there, and His royal seal was missing.

Argamor seized the parchment from Josiah’s trembling fingers. “You are mine forever, knave,” he gloated. “Welcome back to the Dungeon of Condemnation.” He crumpled the parchment in his dirty fist and dropped it to the floor.

Josiah heard the metallic clank of a heavy chain, and remorse filled his heart as his former master entered the cell and fastened a sturdy shackle to his ankle. Forged to the shackle was a huge chain of iniquity, and at the other end, the heavy weight of guilt. Tears rolled silently down Josiah’s cheeks and spattered on the cold stone floor.

“Welcome back, my prince!” Argamor sneered, locking the cell door. His laughter filled the corridor as he, Lawofsin, and Evilheart strode from the inner ward and headed for the upper level of the dungeon.

Chapter Sixteen

 

“Make haste, lad!” Argamor roared, looking up from the huge chain he was making on the anvil. Anger was written across his swarthy features. “You can work faster! Faster! Faster!” The muscular arm of the huge blacksmith brought the heavy hammer down in a mighty blow against the glowing iron link upon the anvil, and the sound rang across the darkness of the afternoon like a vesper bell. The man’s lip curled in hatred as he watched the hapless slave boy. Reaching up with a dirty hand to scratch his thick, black beard, he snarled, “You shall work harder, knave, or you shall taste the lash again!”

“Aye, my lord,” young Josiah replied wearily. “I shall work faster, my lord.” Gasping for breath, he struggled to haul the cumbersome coalscuttle across the muddy workyard. A freezing rain slashed at his back and the biting north wind howled through his grimy robe, chilling his weary body. Reaching down with his free hand, Josiah grasped the heavy chain to relieve the weight of the iron shackle around his thin ankle. At the opposite end of the chain, a large iron ingot nearly half the boy’s weight slid across the muddy ground.

The ache in Josiah’s heart had increased until he could hardly bear it. “I failed my King,” he wept quietly, struggling against the heaviness of the loaded coalscuttle and the weight of guilt. “I failed King Emmanuel. Oh, my Lord, forgive me!”

“Faster, knave, or you shall taste the lash!” Lawofsin loomed over him with his whip raised.

Josiah blinked back the tears and tried to summon the strength to move faster. He threw back his head to take a deep breath, noting that the branches of the trees overhead were still bare and lifeless. Spring had already come to the Castle of Faith and the Village of Dedication, but here in the Village of Despair, it was still winter. The freezing rain fell faster.

Struggling against the weight of the chain and the scuttle heaped with large chunks of coal, Josiah managed to reach the shelter of the shed. Dragging the weight of guilt across the stone floor, he approached the edge of the flaming forge and timidly moved within arm’s reach of the burly blacksmith.

Setting the scuttle on the rock ledge at the edge of the forge, Josiah stepped up onto the ledge to empty his burden of coal into the glowing furnace. Smoke and heat from the forge billowed around him, burning his eyes and searing his lungs. The blistering heat from the open fire was agony. Josiah took a deep breath and struggled to empty the clumsy scuttle into the red-hot forge.

As he dragged the empty coalscuttle across the yard for yet another load, his thoughts returned to the happier days he had known at the Castle of Faith. “I was loved,” he whispered to himself, and the tears of remorse started again. “I was free. I was a prince, a child of the King!” He choked back a sob. “But I failed my King, and I lost it all.” He dropped to his knees in the filthy coal yard and began to load the scuttle.

Josiah’s heart ached with guilt, loneliness and remorse as he worked through the long, exhausting day. I failed my King, he told himself again and again. The ache in his heart grew each time he thought about King Emmanuel, the Coach of Grace, and the Castle of Faith.

Finally, the long hours of cruelty were over and he was led to the Dungeon of Condemnation and locked into the darkness of his cell. “Pleasant dreams, Your Highness,” the guard sneered. His heartless laughter rang throughout the dungeon as he walked away.

 

 

Josiah shivered as he once again pillowed his head in the lice-infested straw. It had been a fortnight now—two long, exhausting weeks of cruelty and abuse during the day, and loneliness and condemnation at night. He sighed. The worst punishment of all was the huge chain of iniquity and weight of guilt fastened to his ankle. Having once tasted freedom from the chain, he now found that he could hardly bear the shackles.

A faint sound in the corridor outside his cell caught his attention, and he quickly sat up. “Who’s there?”

A shadowy figure stood outside the bars. “I can help you, lad,” a gentle voice whispered.

New hope sprang into Josiah’s heart. He leaped to his feet, grabbed the heavy chain, and pulled the weight of guilt noiselessly across the cold stone floor. His pulse quickened with anticipation as he approached the bars.

“Oh.” His heart sank. The man in the corridor was Father Almsdeeds. Disappointment flooded over Josiah like a cascade of cold water dumped from a bucket.

“I am Father Almsdeeds, a man of the Church,” the cleric whispered gently. “I have the keys that will free you from this dreadful abode. Here—take them. This is the Key of Religion,” he explained, passing a shiny golden key through the bars. “And this is the Key of Penance—”

“I know who you are,” Josiah said coldly. “I tried your keys before. They didn’t work! I was still a prisoner in the Dungeon of Condemnation!”

Father Almsdeeds seemed genuinely concerned by Josiah’s statement. “But I don’t understand,” he said quietly, thoughtfully rubbing his chin. “These are the very keys I always use! I’ve given these same keys to many other folk as well!”

“But has anyone ever been able to use them to escape the Dungeon of Condemnation?” Josiah demanded bluntly.

Father Almsdeeds was perplexed. “I really don’t know,” he answered slowly.

“And why are you here, sire, if your keys can set a man free?”

“Of a truth, I really don’t know,” the cleric said again.

“Sire, I don’t want your keys,” Josiah told him. “They are quite useless, though they are beautiful and gave me false hope for a time.” As Father Almsdeeds moved meekly down the corridor, Josiah was surprised to see that the cleric had a heavy chain fastened to his ankle. With a heavy sigh, the defeated youth sank to his knees in the pile of filthy straw.

A petition! What if I could somehow send a petition to King Emmanuel? If His Majesty knew that I was once again locked in the Dungeon of Condemnation, would he not make a way to set me free? Josiah’s shoulders sagged as a tormenting thought came back to haunt him. But I have failed my King. I am no longer a prince. Argamor has recaptured me, and I am bound to serve him again. He sighed. And since I am no longer a child of the King, I have no right to send His Majesty a petition.

Josiah’s heart was heavy as he looked around the cold, dark confines of his lonely cell. “Perhaps it doesn’t really matter anyway,” he whispered aloud, bitterly, “for I no longer have my book, and therefore I have no parchment with which to send a petition.”

His eyes fell upon the crumpled parchment that Argamor had hurled to the floor a fortnight before. His heart leaped. Perhaps… The lonely youth crawled across the cold stones and picked up the document with trembling fingers. Smoothing it out, he tore a long strip from one edge. He felt around in the darkness until he located a small, sharp stone. Smoothing the strip of parchment across his thigh, he used the stone to scratch a desperate message:

King Emmanuel,

I have failed you, and I am sorry. Please forgive me. I would do anything to become your son again.

Prince Josiah.”

 

He pondered the words he had written, and then, with a heavy sigh, used the stone to scratch out the word “Prince”. Rolling the despairing message into a tight roll, he shook his head. His eyes filled with tears. “It’s no use,” he whispered, though his heart ached within him. “King Emmanuel will not receive a petition from me, for I have failed him and am no longer a part of the Royal Family.” Hot, bitter tears flowed freely down his cheeks as he opened his hand and allowed the scrap of parchment to fall to the floor.

To Josiah’s astonishment, the petition shot from his fingers, and, in a thin streak of silver light, vanished from the cell! It seemed that it had passed right through the wall of the dungeon. His heart pounded fiercely as he stared at the cold, gray stones of the wall. Was it possible? Had King Emmanuel received his petition?

He waited breathlessly, his pulse quickening with anticipation, hope, and at the same time, fear. A rat emerged from a hole in the wall and scampered across the cell, disappearing under the edge of the door. Josiah scarcely noticed. Will King Emmanuel receive my desperate petition? Will he free me from this miserable dungeon?

But nothing happened. At last, Josiah sank to the straw and slowly closed his eyes, disheartened and bitter. There had been no reply from King Emmanuel.

 

 

Three nights later, after a particularly hard day at the cruel hands of Argamor, Josiah lay shivering in the darkness of his cell. He tried to go to sleep, but his thoughts once again kept returning to his golden days of freedom at the Castle of Faith. What happiness he had known! What joy, what peace he had experienced, knowing that he was a child of the King and that his iniquity and guilt were gone!

He sighed, remembering the joyous feasts he had enjoyed at the King’s table in the great hall. The warmth of the fire on the hearth, the aroma of fresh-baked bread, the laughter of happy children, the love and fellowship of the other residents of the castle—the meals in the great hall had been divine. But all that was gone now and he hurt inside to even think of such things.

Oh, that I could attend just one more King’s Supper, he thought wistfully. What joy, what delight I experienced each time we gathered for that special time. The King’s Supper, a simple meal of unleavened bread and juice from the fruit of the vine, was a sacred event when the castle residents gathered to commemorate King Emmanuel’s death for them. The juice, symbolic of the King’s blood, and the bread, symbolic of his body, reminded them of the tremendous sacrifice their sovereign had made when he purchased their freedom.

“One of the things I miss the most,” he said aloud, trying to quell the dreadful loneliness in his soul, “is the music. What lovely music we enjoyed during the feasts in the great hall!” In his imagination, he could almost hear the minstrel’s golden voice as he softly strummed his lute and sang melodies of praise to King Emmanuel.

The words of one of the minstrel’s songs went through his mind, and he tried to sing them.

“I sing the greatness of my King, my Lord Emmanuel

His power is great and far exceeds

What mortal tongue or pen can tell.

My heart is full; I sing for him,

And trust that I may serve him well.”

As Josiah came to the last line in the verse, the song died in his throat and he fell silent. What was there to sing about in the Dungeon of Condemnation? He had not served his King well. He had failed miserably, had failed his gracious King, and the blissful days among King Emmanuel’s loyal followers were gone forever. The pain in his heart intensified until he thought he could bear it no longer.

“Prince Josiah!” The whisper in the corridor was soft and gentle, but it came without warning and it startled him.

He sat up. The dim glow from the torch in the corridor silhouetted the figure of a man against the bars of his cell. “Are you Prince Josiah?”

“I am a prince no longer,” Josiah answered coldly.

“But are you the prince?” The whispered voice was eager, insistent.

“I am Josiah, though I am no prince.”

“His Majesty be praised! I have found you!” the mysterious visitor whispered. “I have searched high and low for you. Prince Josiah, I have been sent to get you out. I can help you.”

“I want no help,” Josiah replied. After the letdown he had experienced following the initial visit from Father Almsdeeds, he was not going to risk getting his hopes up again.

“Prince Josiah, I have come to help you,” the visitor insisted.

“Go away!”

“Prince Josiah—”

“Leave me alone,” Josiah retorted bitterly. “I am not a prince, and I do not desire your help. Now, leave me alone.”

“But you do not belong here,” the visitor insisted. “Prince Josiah—”

“Do not call me that!” Josiah exploded. “I tell you, I am not a prince! Princes do not slave all day carrying coal for the blacksmith’s forge, and they don’t spend their nights languishing in dungeons. I tell you, I am not a prince.”

“Oh, but you are still a prince.”

“I failed my King,” Josiah replied bitterly. “I was distracted from the King’s business and I failed in my mission. I lost a valuable horse. I lost my sword. I failed to deliver a vital message to the Castle of Unity, and I allowed myself to be captured by Argamor’s cohorts, Evilheart and Lawofsin. I have failed, and I am no longer a prince.”

“Failure doesn’t end any relationship with King Emmanuel,” the stranger said softly. “He adopted you into the Royal Family forever.”

“That’s what I thought,” Josiah shot back. “But look.” Stooping, he picked up the crumpled parchment from the floor where Argamor had tossed it earlier. Smoothing the document out, he thrust it toward the mysterious figure. “Read it for yourself, sire. It doesn’t say ‘forever’. I tell you, I am no longer a prince.”

The man glanced at the parchment. “Where did you get this?”

“It was given to me by King Emmanuel,” Josiah said slowly, “on the very day that He set me free. Somehow I lost it, and Argamor brought it here again.”

“This is not the parchment that was given you by King Emmanuel.”

Josiah looked at the man in surprise. “How do you know, sire?”

“His Majesty’s signature and seal are not here,” the man replied, pointing to the bottom of the document. “This document did not come from King Emmanuel.”

“Then where did it come from?” Josiah challenged. “And how did Argamor get it?”

“Argamor is a liar and a deceiver. This is simply a clever forgery. He copied the Parchment of Assurance that King Emmanuel gave you, but he left out certain parts to lead you astray. He wants to keep you as his slave, but he has no hold on you. Prince Josiah, I am come to show you the way out of the Dungeon of Condemnation.”

Josiah’s heart leaped at the words, but then doubt crept back in. “Who are you, sire?” he asked suspiciously. “Are you a friend of Father Almsdeeds?”

“My name is Sir Reconciliation,” the visitor replied softly. “I was not sent by Father Almsdeeds; I was sent by King Emmanuel in answer to your petition.”

Josiah wept softly.

He looked up in surprise as Sir Reconciliation appeared at his side. The visitor had entered Josiah’s cell without even opening the door. “Prince Josiah, you do not belong in the Dungeon of Condemnation,” the man said quietly. “I have come to help you return to the Castle of Faith.”

“How do I know that this is true?” Josiah asked, weeping. “Sire, I have failed my King.”

Sir Reconciliation put a gentle hand on his shoulder. He pulled a copy of the book from his bosom and opened it. The pages began to glow with a heavenly light that illuminated the cell. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them who belong to King Emmanuel…” he read quietly.

Josiah’s head shot up. “No condemnation? Does it really say that?”

“Right here in His Majesty’s own words,” the gentle visitor responded. “You have the King’s promise on it, Prince Josiah. There is no condemnation for you; therefore, you do not belong in the Dungeon of Condemnation.”

Josiah wept with joy at the words. “But sire, how do I get out?” he asked. “The bars and doors are strong and I have no key.”

“The Key of Faith is always found in the book,” Sir Reconciliation replied. “These bars and doors have no power over you, my prince. Simply walk out and leave the Dungeon of Condemnation behind you forever!”

“If only it were that easy,” Josiah replied, still weeping. “If only it were that easy.”

“But it is, my prince,” Sir Reconciliation told him. “The Dungeon of Condemnation cannot hold you. As a child of the King, there is no condemnation for you. Simply walk out of this dungeon by faith!”

“And what about the chain of iniquity, and the weight of guilt?”

“King Emmanuel set you free forever, Prince Josiah. The book says so.” Sir Reconciliation turned the pages of the book. “Here it is. Listen to this.” He read a passage promising eternal freedom from the chain of iniquity and the weight of guilt.

Josiah was amazed. “So I am free, sire? I can just walk out?”

Sir Reconciliation nodded. “It’s that simple, Josiah. Argamor cannot hold you in this dungeon of his, because you have been set free forever by King Emmanuel.”

Josiah shook his head. “I’d like to believe that, sire, but there’s a heavy chain upon my leg. I can feel the weight of it. And there are bars—I can see them.” He sighed. “How I wish that what you are saying were really true.”

Sir Reconciliation leaned forward. “It is true, Prince Josiah,” he said earnestly. “It’s in the book, written by King Emmanuel, and His Majesty would never lie. He cannot lie. What I’m telling you is the truth. If you will only believe it, you can be free! If you know the truth, the truth shall make you free.’”

“I wish I could know that. Sir Reconciliation, I have failed my King! And I’m afraid that means that I have lost my salvation, that I am no longer a prince.”

“What is that upon your head?”

Josiah reached up. “Why, it is my helmet of salvation!”

“Exactly,” Sir Reconciliation said, with a note of triumph in his voice. “Argamor and his henchmen took your parchment of assurance, and your shoes of service, and your ring symbolizing your relationship to the King. But they could not take your helmet of salvation, nor your robe of righteousness. They could take your assurance, and they did, but they could not take your salvation.”

“But they took my ring,” Josiah argued, “and my relationship to King Emmanuel.”

“They took your ring, ‘tis true, but not your relationship. The ring was merely the symbol of your relationship.”

Josiah sat quietly thinking it through. “Then I—” he hesitated, afraid to voice the question he was longing to ask— “then I am still a prince?”

“Aye, Prince Josiah, every bit as much a prince as the day that King Emmanuel adopted you into the Royal Family.”

Josiah hesitated. “I’m afraid to try,” he said finally. “If it’s not true, my heart shall not be able to bear the disappointment.”

“Believe your King’s word, Prince Josiah,” Sir Reconciliation pleaded. “By faith, believe your King. Argamor has no power to keep you here. You are a prince forever, and the Dungeon of Condemnation has no power over you.”

He thrust the book into Josiah’s hands. “Here. This is now your sword. Use it. Trust your King’s promises and walk free this very night.”

The young prince was trembling as he stood to his feet. “I will believe my King,” he said softly, “because he would never lie to me. I will be free again!”

“Use the Key of Faith,” Sir Reconciliation urged. “It is found within the pages of your sword.”

Josiah reverently opened the book. To his astonishment, a golden key lay within, glowing with a warm, golden light. His fingers trembled as he picked it up.

Holding the book in one hand, he reached down with the key. The instant the key touched the shackle attached to his ankle, the chain and shackle fell to the stone floor with a crash that reverberated throughout the ward. The thrill of freedom swept through his soul. Striding confidently forward, Prince Josiah grasped the locked door of the prison cell. He inserted the Key of Faith into the lock, turned it, and easily pulled the door open. “I thank you, my King,” he whispered, rushing to the locked iron gate and unlocking it.

Sir Reconciliation was at his side as he took the stairs two at a time and reached the upper level in triumph. His heart pounded with rapturous joy. Confident in the promises of his King, he hurried to the main gate.

The dungeon guard met him with a drawn sword. “Hold it right there, Your Highness,” he sneered. “You are not going anywhere!”

Chapter Seventeen

 

The burly prison guard advanced toward Prince Josiah with a snarl of rage contorting his features. The blade of his sword reflected the feeble light from his torch. “Get back to your cell,” he snarled, “before I run you through!”

Josiah hesitated, and his faith wavered.

“Use your sword, my prince!” Sir Reconciliation called. “He cannot stand before you if you use your sword.”

With trembling hand, Josiah clutched the book and swung it in a wide arc. In an instant, a blade of polished steel cut through the air. “There is therefore now no condemnation,” Josiah quoted, “to them who belong to King Emmanuel.”

At these words, the menacing guard threw down his sword and bolted away through the darkness of the corridor. Sir Reconciliation turned to Josiah with a smile. “Open the gate, my prince, and walk out. You are a free man!”

As Josiah approached the main gate, the huge iron barrier opened of its own accord and swung to one side with the squeal of protesting hinges. With a shout of joy, Prince Josiah stepped outside. Sir Reconciliation was at his side.

“The victory is yours, my prince,” Sir Reconciliation told him. “Go in faith, trusting in your King. And now, I must leave you. Make your way back to the Castle of Faith. A warm welcome awaits you there, I assure you.”

“Sire, how will I find my way back?”

“Your book will guide you, Prince Josiah. Simply walk in its light.”

Josiah seized his benefactor and hugged him. Tears of joy flowed down his cheeks. “I thank you, Sir Reconciliation. I am forever indebted to you for what you have done for me tonight.”

“Thank your King,” Sir Reconciliation answered. “He is the one who has provided the Key of Faith to set you free. Farewell, my prince.”

Prince Josiah’s heart was singing as he set off through the darkness. He walked quickly, determined to put as much distance as possible by daybreak between himself and the Dungeon of Condemnation. He clutched the book to his side. “I’m free!” he whispered gratefully. “Forever free!”

The roadway grew darker, so Josiah opened the book and allowed the light from its pages to guide him. Just as he had expected, the pages glowed with an intense white light that dimmed each time he turned to one side or the other. As long as the light glowed at full intensity, he knew that he was on the right path to the Castle of Faith.

He came to a fork in the road. Uncertain as to which direction to go, he held the book high and turned to the left. The book’s pages began to dim; the light grew so feeble that he could scarcely see the roadway. He turned to the right. The pages began to glow brightly again; the intense white light clearly illuminated the roadway to the right. Without hesitation, Josiah took the road to the right.

After traveling for several hours, the young prince crawled into a haystack at the edge of a humble farm. Clutching the precious book to his bosom, he curled up in the hay and closed his eyes. “I’m free,” he whispered softly. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them who belong to King Emmanuel.” Within moments, he was fast asleep.

 

 

The sun was just beginning to peek over the eastern horizon when Josiah crawled stiffly from the haystack, brushing bits of straw from his robe. He turned to find a peasant farmer watching him suspiciously. “What are you doing, lad?” the farmer asked.

“I am making my way to the Castle of Faith, sire,” Josiah answered. “I stopped for a rest in your haystack.”

A look of concern swept across the man’s features. “The Castle of Faith is many furlongs from here,” he said. “You have a long journey ahead of you. Here.” He thrust a loaf of bread and a large wedge of cheese into Josiah’s hands. “Sustenance for your journey.”

After thanking the generous farmer, Prince Josiah continued his journey, munching contentedly on the bread and cheese as he walked. The sun was bright, and the day was warm. “I sing the greatness of my King, my Lord Emmanuel,” Josiah sang. His heart overflowed with joy. As he sang the last line, “And trust that I may serve him well,” he was overcome with emotion, and his voice broke.

The journey was long. By early afternoon, Josiah was weary and his feet ached from the many furlongs on the dusty road. He had finished the last of the bread and cheese, and he began to grow hungry again. Soon he found himself passing through a small village. He sniffed the air, enjoying the aroma of the rich foods that the merchants along the street displayed so attractively, and he found himself wishing that he could stop and purchase some. But he had no money and he walked resolutely on, sustained by the anticipation of his welcome at the Castle of Faith.

As he left the little town behind, a discouraging thought began to nag at his mind. What if he was no longer welcome at the Castle of Faith? True, he was free of the weight of guilt and the Dungeon of Condemnation, but one fact remained—he had failed King Emmanuel. What if Lord Watchful, aware of his failure, refused him entrance to the castle? What would Sir Faithful say?

His steps faltered as he thought about it, and he found himself walking more slowly. Sir Reconciliation had assured him that all would be well, but what if he were wrong? Josiah sighed. He would not know for sure until he actually reached the castle.

“Wait for me, my lord!” a pleasant voice called, and Josiah turned to see a cheerful little man in a golden tunic and green leggings. He was carrying a lyre under his arm. As Josiah waited in the roadway, the little man hurried to catch up with him. “If it pleases you, my lord, may I share the journey with you?”

Josiah’s thoughts were still focused on the possibility of being rejected at the castle and he was in a melancholy mood. He really didn’t care for company at the moment, but he answered stiffly, “It makes no difference to me, sire.”

“I thank you, my lord,” the little man said, beaming as if he had received a warm welcome. He took a deep breath as he fell into step beside Josiah. “My, what a wonderful afternoon! His Majesty’s blessings are manifold, are they not?”

Josiah shrugged. “Aye, I suppose.”

“My name is Encouragement,” Josiah’s new companion said. “I see from your countenance that you are downcast and worried. Might I play a melody for you on my lyre? It might lift your spirits.”

Josiah shrugged again. “As you wish.”

Encouragement began to strum the strings of his lyre and a peaceful melody flowed from the instrument, soothing and gentle as it floated across the countryside. To Josiah’s astonishment, the little man began to sing a familiar song of praise. “I sing the greatness of my King, my Lord Emmanuel…”

Josiah’s eyes filled with tears as he listened to the beautiful melody. Encouragement sang the entire song as they walked along. When he had finished, he paused in the roadway and looked directly into Josiah’s eyes. “Young friend, why not tell me what is troubling you so? Perhaps my King can use me to be an encouragement to you.”

“I am Josiah, and I have been told that I am a prince, although I do not look or feel like one.” Without hesitation, Josiah told Encouragement the entire story of his adoption by King Emmanuel, his days of service at the Castle of Faith, and his failure on the King’s errand. “I was on an important mission for the King,” he said sadly, “but I stopped to help a peasant farmer catch a chicken, and look what happened. We caught the chicken, but I failed King Emmanuel. I was trying to do good but I failed in the most important business of all, and I disappointed my King!”

Encouragement nodded soberly, but his eyes were filled with compassion and understanding. “As servants to King Emmanuel, that is something we have to constantly guard against. Sometimes our adversary does not tempt us with evil; sometimes he allures us with something good to draw us away from that which is best, service to our King. We get so busy doing good things that we simply have no time for that which is best.”

Josiah sighed. “Aye, that is what happened to me.”

“Perhaps Argamor planned it that way.”

The young prince looked at his companion in surprise. “Do you think that Argamor sent that farmer to distract me and draw me away from my mission for King Emmanuel?”

Encouragement smiled. “His name was Distraction, was it not? Without a doubt, he was sent by Argamor.”

Josiah shook his head sadly. “I didn’t know. I was just trying to do something good for someone else.”

“That is a worthy motive, my young friend, indeed it is. But we must always guard against distraction from His Majesty’s business. As I said, at times when Argamor cannot tempt us with evil, he will often tempt us with that which is good, in order that he might distract us from our service to Emmanuel.”

Josiah then told of his capture by Argamor’s men, of the grim days of servitude to the cruel blacksmith and the long nights in the Dungeon of Condemnation. He finished his tale with the account of his deliverance with the help of Sir Reconciliation.

“So, my young friend, why are you so downcast?” Encouragement asked. “You are free. Argamor has no more claim to you. Rejoice in the goodness of your King!” He began again to strum softly on the lyre.

“But what if the things that Sir Reconciliation told me are not true?” Josiah worried aloud. “What if I reach the Castle of Faith and Lord Watchful won’t let me in? What will I do then?” He seized a fold of his own robe and held it up. “Look at me, Encouragement. Do I look like a prince to you? I certainly do not feel like one.”

The little man paused in his strumming and looked Josiah over from head to toe. “To be quite honest, my friend, you do not look at all like a prince. Your robe is dirty and torn; your feet are quite bare; and your face needs washing.”

Josiah grimaced. “So you see what I mean.”

“But you are still a prince, Prince Josiah,” Encouragement declared. “When King Emmanuel adopts one into the Royal Family the relationship is eternal. The book promises that your King will never forsake one of his own, never cast out one who comes to him.”

“But what about my Robe of Righteousness?” Josiah argued, walking faster. “Look at it. It was given to me by King Emmanuel, but now it’s dirty and torn, and I’ve ruined it forever.”

The roadway crossed a little wood and stone bridge spanning a small stream, and Josiah and Encouragement walked across it. Their footsteps echoed hollowly on the planks. The little man paused in the middle of the bridge, took Josiah by the elbow, and led him to the railing. “Lean over and look,” he urged. “What do you see?”

Josiah leaned over. “There’s a little stream beneath the bridge,” he replied.

“By what name is this stream called?”

“I do not know, sire.”

“This is the Stream of Forgiveness,” the little man told him. “It flows from the hill where King Emmanuel died for you. Walk into the water and see what happens.”

Josiah left the bridge and walked down beneath it to the edge of the water. Placing his book carefully on the bank of the little stream, he stepped into the water, finding it quite cool and refreshing.

“Wade out a little deeper,” Encouragement encouraged him. “Go in until the water flows about your shoulders.” Josiah did. “Now come back out,” Encouragement directed, so Josiah did.

“Look at your robe now,” Encouragement instructed.

Prince Josiah glanced down at the Robe of Righteousness and gasped in astonishment. The garment was dazzling white, shimmering with iridescent blue highlights, spotless and clean and new. “It’s clean!” the young prince exulted.

“So are you,” Encouragement told him with a smile. “Prince Josiah, hear me. Your heart is full of love for your King, but I must warn you—you will fail Him again in the future. When it happens, you do not need a new robe; your robe simply needs cleansing.”

Josiah examined the fabric of the robe, finding it new and unmarred in any way. “This is amazing!”

“Your King set you free forever, Prince Josiah. Go in faith to the Castle of Faith, and you shall find a joyous welcome awaiting you.” Encouragement gripped Josiah’s hand. “I must leave you now, my prince. I trust that I have been an encouragement to you. Farewell.”

“I thank you, Encouragement. You have helped me greatly.”

“A word of warning, Prince Josiah. Beware the Giant of Fear who lives in the Castle of Unbelief. He will do everything in his power to keep you from reaching the Castle of Faith. But remember, faith can overcome fear every time.”

Josiah watched as the little man walked merrily up a winding path, strumming his lyre and singing a cheerful song of praise. When Encouragement had disappeared from sight over the crest of the hill, the grateful young prince turned and resumed his journey toward the Castle of Faith.

 

 

The afternoon shadows were growing long as Josiah trudged wearily up a steep slope. He had not seen a farm or dwelling of any kind for more than two hours, and he was beginning to wonder where he would spend the night. He came to a peaceful meadow shaded with tall oaks. Songbirds filled the air with their cheery melodies. Squirrels darted in quick circles among the trees, while others scampered about in the branches, jumping from limb to limb in one death-defying leap after another. Josiah laughed as he paused to watch their antics and rest his weary feet.

“Dreadfully sunny day, isn’t it?” a thin, whiny voice declared. “Sunshine’s so bright it nearly blinds the eyes.”

“I rather like it, myself,” Josiah replied, looking about in an attempt to find out to whom he was talking. “Sunshine warms the heart and lifts the spirits.”

“Wretched birds, always singing and chirping,” the same voice complained with a note of disgust. “If they carried the burdens men carried, they’d have nothing to sing about, I warrant.”

Josiah looked about, still trying to locate the person with such a dismal outlook on life.

“Pesky squirrels! Always chattering and running about as if they owned the place. What a nuisance.” Just then, Josiah spotted movement under a clump of gooseberry bushes, and a heavyset man dressed entirely in dark blue rose stiffly to his feet.

“Who are you?” he snapped, glaring at Josiah.

“I am Josiah, sire. Prince Josiah.”

“Another prince!” the man in blue whined. “Too many princes in this wretched kingdom, I warrant.” He glared again at Josiah. “What is your business here?”

“I-I’m just passing through,” Josiah replied, a bit intimidated by the man’s ill-tempered manners. “I’m on my way to the Castle of Faith.”

“Why would you want to go there?” the man whined.

“Who are you?” Josiah challenged, beginning to get a bit irritated by the man. “And what is your business, sire?”

“My name is Doubting,” the surly man replied, answering Josiah’s first question and ignoring the second. “And as I was saying, you do not want to go to the Castle of Faith. Too much singing and laughter there, I warrant.”

“But I do want to go there,” Josiah protested. “The Castle of Faith is my home.” Doubting was watching him with a suspicious eye, so Josiah felt compelled to explain himself. He told his story from beginning to end, exactly as he had told it to Encouragement.

When the tale was finished, Doubting began to laugh. “Take my word for it, lad, you do not want to go to the Castle of Faith. They will never receive you after what you have done.”

“But Encouragement said that they would. I am still a prince, heir to King Emmanuel.”

Doubting snorted. “Encouragement? Bah! What does he know? Just a foolish minstrel, he is. Take my word for it, lad, they will never receive you in the Castle of Faith.”

“Why not, sire?” Josiah demanded hotly.

“You are a traitor to King Emmanuel,” the stocky man said smoothly. “Would you consider it wise to allow a traitor to abide in the castle? Of course not! Lord Watchful will never open the gate to the likes of you.”

“Well, I’m going anyway, in spite of what you say,” Josiah declared. “Good day, sire.” He turned on his heel.

“Lad, wait!”

Josiah turned to face him.

“I’m sorry if I have offended you,” Doubting said in a quiet voice. “It was not my intention to discourage you, or cause you grief. I simply wanted you to know the truth.” He stepped toward Josiah. “Allow me to help you.”

Josiah was suspicious. “In what way?”

“Seeing you are so determined to go to the Castle of Faith, I might as well save your weary feet a few steps. There is a shortcut.”

“Don’t listen to him,” a quiet voice warned.

Josiah looked around in bewilderment. “Who said that?” Seeing nobody, and hearing no answer, he turned back to the dour-faced man. “Where is this shortcut of which you speak?”

“Continue on your way until the road reaches the bottom of the hill,” Doubting instructed. His voice had lost its whiny edge and now was smooth and reassuring. “You will see a valley on your left. Pass through the valley instead of following the roadway, and you shall save yourself thirty furlongs of walking.”

“I thank you for your help,” Josiah replied.

“The night is fast approaching, and it would not be safe for you to pass the night in the open. There are wild beasts that roam about at night. But there is a castle in the Valley of Dis— in the valley, and there you shall pass the night in safety.”

“How shall I find this castle?” Josiah asked. “Are you sure it is safe?”

“Far safer than spending the night in the fields,” Doubting assured him. “And the castle is easy to find—simply walk through the valley and you cannot pass by without seeing it.”

Josiah hurried down the road, anxiously watching the sky. The sun was dropping fast, and night would soon be upon him. He was relieved when he came to the valley that Doubting had described, and without a second thought he hurried into it, following a narrow footpath that was almost overgrown with weeds and brush. The valley was dark and shadowy, the atmosphere forbidding. The air was foul and smelled of decay. Josiah glanced around anxiously. What a dismal place, he thought. Just ahead he saw the castle, nearly hidden in the purple shadows of night. He hurried toward it.

Moments later he found himself standing before a massive wooden gate with iron hinges. Tipping back his head, he stared in wonder at the entrance to the castle. The gate was nearly sixty feet tall.

“Why would anyone build a gate this big?” he wondered aloud. “It’s as tall as a tree.”

Just then the colossal gate swung open, and Josiah stared in astonishment at a huge pair of legs as big as tree trunks. He looked upwards, and his mouth fell open. Standing before him was a giant as tall as an oak tree!

Chapter Eighteen

 

Prince Josiah stared, hardly able to believe what he was seeing. The owner of the castle was more than thirty-five feet tall! The giant coughed, and the sound rumbled across the valley like peals of thunder, echoing and re-echoing until Josiah covered his ears to shut out the fearsome noise. The giant took two steps forward, and the ground shook beneath his massive feet. The young prince trembled, flattening himself against the edge of the walk in hopes that he would not be seen.

“Who dares to trespass on my land?” the giant rumbled, in a voice that boomed like a clap of thunder. He turned, and a boot nearly six feet tall brushed past Josiah, almost crushing the terrified boy. Josiah held his breath, afraid to move or breathe.

“Who’s there, I say?” the giant rumbled again. Josiah thought his heart would stop.

The giant peered about eagerly, scanning the grounds outside his castle. The huge boot scraped the walk as the enormous man turned away from Josiah. The frightened boy crept noiselessly toward a boulder in the path, the only hiding place he could find.

A hand nearly four feet long seized him and in one quick swoop hoisted him more than thirty feet into the air! Josiah’s stomach seemed to leap into his throat. He found himself face to face with a fearsome sight. Red hair framed a head that was almost as tall as he was. A curly red beard encircled a cavernous mouth. The nose was as big as a boulder. Below the nose was a thick moustache as wide as Josiah’s outstretched arms. The eyes were terrifying—huge, glaring, and filled with resentment.

Clutching Josiah in one massive hand, the giant moved Josiah to within a few feet of his face. “One of the little people!” he boomed. “Insect, what are you doing here?”

“I came here by mistake—” Josiah began.

“Louder!” roared the giant.

“I CAME HERE BY MISTAKE,” Josiah shouted. “NOW IF YOU WILL LET ME GO, I’LL BE ON MY WAY.”

“Let you go?” the giant echoed. He began to laugh, shaking Josiah about without realizing it. “Insect, I want to have some merriment with you first!”

Josiah still clutched his book, but the giant’s massive thumb pinned his arm against his side, preventing him from swinging it as a sword. The giant was squeezing him so hard that he could scarcely breathe. The young prince flexed his arms, pushing against the enormous fingers and trying to obtain a little breathing room.

“Why did you come here?” the giant asked, holding the struggling boy even closer. The giant’s breath smelled of garlic and Josiah coughed and choked, struggling to breathe. “Why are you disturbing my solitude?”

“I was told that this was a shortcut—” Josiah began.

“Louder!” roared the giant.

“I WAS TOLD THAT THIS WAS A SHORTCUT!” Josiah shouted. “I WAS ON MY WAY TO—”

“I can’t hear you,” the huge man boomed, lowering his captive a few feet. “I’ll take you inside, where I can hear you better.” Stepping back through the gate, he closed it behind him and crossed the castle courtyard in huge, twenty-foot strides. He swung his arms as he walked, swinging the boy in his fist back and forth in long, dizzying arcs that made Josiah feel nauseous. After several moments, the terrifying ride came to an end as the giant entered the castle.

The giant opened his fist, allowing Josiah to tumble from his fingers to land on a hard wooden surface. Josiah scrambled to his feet, grabbing the book and tucking it under his arm in hopes that the giant hadn’t seen it.

He stared at his surroundings in awe. He was in a huge room, a vast chamber even bigger than the great hall in the Castle of Faith. An enormous fireplace filled one wall. He looked up. Massive beams supported a ceiling sixty feet above his head. Realizing that he was standing on some sort of huge platform suspended above the castle floor, he crept to the edge and looked down. The floor was twenty feet below him. Suddenly he realized that he was standing on a table as big as a house!

Shaking with fear, Josiah backed away from the table’s edge. His heels caught on a ledge and he fell backwards. As he rolled over and leaped to his feet, he found himself standing in the middle of an earthenware dinner plate six feet across. Feeling as small as a mouse, he crept to the edge of the plate and then saw the cause of his fall. He had stumbled over a five-foot knife.

“Here,” the giant boomed, picking Josiah up and placing him inside an iron kettle that would have been large enough to bathe a team of horses, “now I will be able to hear you.” He leaned down and peered over the edge of the kettle. “Who are you, and why are you disturbing my solitude?”

“I don’t know what your solitude is, sire, and I didn’t mean to disturb it,” Josiah replied. His words echoed inside the iron vessel, amplifying the sound until it was so loud that it hurt his ears. But the look on the giant’s huge face told him that his huge captor could now hear him.

“Why did you come here?” the giant asked again.

“I am Prince Josiah, and I am traveling to the Castle of Faith. I was told that this valley was a shortcut.”

“Who told you?”

“A mean-tempered man I met this afternoon,” Josiah replied. “His name was Doubting.”

“You have met my brother?”

“Your brother, sire?” Josiah stared up in astonishment at the enormous face. “But you are six times as tall as he is!”

The giant shrugged. “So I got more than my share of the food when we were young. Indeed, Doubting is my little brother.” He leaned closer and glared at Josiah. “Wherefore are you here on my property?”

“I was on my way to the Castle of Faith,” Josiah began again.

“The Castle of Faith!” The giant roared with laughter, and the sound reverberated inside the iron kettle until Josiah worried that his eardrums would burst. “Insect, do you know where you are now? You are in the Castle of Unbelief!”

“The Castle of Unbelief? Are you the Giant of Fear?”

“I am indeed.” A huge hand slapped the side of the kettle, knocking Josiah off balance and sending him crashing to the iron bottom of the vessel. “You shall never reach the Castle of Faith.”

Josiah scrambled to his feet and turned to face the giant. “But I will, sire!” he retorted defiantly. “You shall never stop me!”

“Insect, do you think that your faith shall overcome my unbelief?” The laughter rumbled again.

“My faith is in King Emmanuel, and you shall never keep me from returning to the Castle of Faith!”

The Giant of Fear smiled smugly, and Josiah saw a neat row of three-inch teeth beneath the huge moustache. “I’m keeping you from it right now, Insect.”

“But I’m not planning to stay long,” Josiah retorted.

The giant suddenly reached into the kettle, plucking the book from Josiah’s grasp with the tips of his colossal thumb and forefinger. “What’s this?” Holding the book close to his face, he fumbled to open it. As he succeeded in opening the cover, the Key of Faith fell from the pages and landed on the table with a faint plink. The giant leaned down to look for it.

Josiah leaped upward and caught the rim of the kettle with both hands. Pulling himself up, he looked over the edge. He watched as the Giant of Fear managed to pick up the Key of Faith with his fingernails. “What is this?”

“It’s my Key of Faith, sire.”

“Your Key of Faith? It’s so tiny.” The giant laughed. “My fear is much bigger than your faith, Insect.” He held the golden key aloft and examined it closely. “This little thing is hardly as big as…” He paused, trying to think of a suitable comparison. “It’s hardly as big as a mustard seed.”

“It’s big enough,” Josiah replied calmly. “It got me out of the Dungeon of Condemnation, and it will get me out of here!”

“Oh, I would doubt that,” the Giant of Fear replied with a chuckle. He placed the key back inside the pages of the book, and then turned and tossed the book on the mantle above the fireplace.

Josiah’s heart sank. The mantle was forty feet above the floor. He would never be able to get the book back. Overcome with disappointment, he released his hold on the rim of the kettle and allowed himself to drop back down inside.

“Supper is nearly ready,” the Giant of Fear said, reaching into the kettle and plucking Josiah out. He placed Josiah on the table and then strode to the enormous fireplace to stir the contents of a huge pot. As he lifted the lid, a delicious aroma filled the room.

The Giant of Fear carried the steaming pot to the table and poured a vast quantity of the contents onto the six-foot dinner plate. A cloud of steam engulfed Josiah. As the giant returned the cooking pot to the fireplace, Josiah crept forward and stared into the plate. A thick, rich stew simmered in the plate, so hot that it was still bubbling and steaming. Josiah counted twenty-two whole chickens and thirteen whole geese floating in the broth.

A nine-foot loaf of bread slammed down beside the plate of stew, and Josiah leaped backwards in alarm as the huge knife slashed downward and sliced off a chunk. The giant dropped the knife to the table with a thunderous clatter. He pulled off a crumb of bread the size of Josiah’s head and flicked it toward the boy with one finger. Reaching into the steaming plate of stew, he plucked out a chicken and sent it spinning in Josiah’s direction.

Josiah stuck out one foot and kept the chicken from skidding past him off the edge of the table. Reaching down with both hands, he grabbed the fowl and discovered that it was too hot to pick up. He retrieved the chunk of bread, sat on the edge of a three-foot long candlestick holder, and waited for the chicken to cool.

The Giant of Fear picked up his huge plate, tipped it slightly, and then used his knife to rake vast quantities of the steaming stew into his cavernous mouth. Josiah saw him swallow two chickens at one gulp. In no time at all the plate was empty. The giant returned to the fireplace, retrieved the cooking pot, and poured another fifty or sixty gallons of stew into his plate.

When the simple meal was finished, the giant pushed his plate to one side. “And now for some music,” he boomed. He stepped to the fireplace, retrieved a golden harp from the mantel, and returned to the table. Placing the harp close to the candlestick upon which Josiah sat, he asked, “Insect, do you play?”

The look on the giant’s face told Josiah that he would not be pleased with a negative response, so the boy shrugged and replied, “I’ll try, sire.” Pulling the golden instrument closer, Josiah sat on the edge of the candlestick and placed his fingers upon the strings. Running one hand experimentally across the strings, he was relieved when the sound that resulted was fairly pleasant. Encouraged, he reached for the strings with both hands.

After several minutes of plucking and strumming and experimenting with the harp, Josiah sat back and lowered his hands. The last notes died away. “You play very well,” the Giant of Fear rumbled, and Josiah looked at him in surprise. “Continue.”

Josiah raised his hands to the harp, and, to his amazement, a familiar melody poured forth from the golden strings. Continuing to run his fingers lightly across the strings, Josiah listened intently, trying to recognize the tune that his fingers played so readily. He finally realized that he was playing the song of praise that he had heard the minstrel play in the great hall of the Castle of Faith.

As the beautiful song came to a conclusion, the amazed boy lowered his hands and glanced at his colossal captor. The Giant of Fear was sound asleep!

Josiah stood to his feet, and one huge eye cracked open. “Play it again, Insect,” the giant mumbled. “Aye, it’s beautiful.” Once again, as Josiah played, the giant drifted off to sleep.

Josiah finished the song and sat quietly watching the giant. The huge chest rose and fell with a regular rhythm, and the rumbling snores told the boy that the colossal owner of the Castle of Unbelief was sound asleep. He rose quietly to his feet and crept to the edge of the table. Now was the best time to escape!

Josiah peered anxiously over the edge at the floor some twenty feet below. How would he get down without breaking a leg? Perhaps he could drop to the seat of one of the chairs and then slide down one of the legs. But that would make a terrible racket, and the sleeping giant would surely hear. There had to be another way.

“Going somewhere, Insect?” The booming voice scared Josiah nearly out of his wits, but he recovered in time to keep from falling off the edge of the table. The huge hand snatched him up. “I must find somewhere to keep you for the night.”

The Giant of Fear walked to the cupboard with Josiah in his fist, selected a five-foot teakettle, and carried it back to the table. Twisting the lid from the teakettle, he plopped the boy inside it and then replaced the lid firmly. “Pleasant dreams, Insect,” he said with a booming chuckle. Moments later Josiah heard him lock the castle door.

The inside of the teakettle was smooth as glass, and Josiah had a hard time standing. Bracing his feet against one wall, he pushed against the top with all his might, but the lid was unyielding. Finally, Josiah sank in frustrated exhaustion to a sitting position on the bottom of the teakettle.

Fear began to settle over Josiah like a cold, wet mist. What if I never make it back to the Castle of Faith? he worried. What if the Giant of Fear decides to keep me here forever? I’ll never see Sir Faithful again. I won’t be at the castle when King Emmanuel returns. What if I never see my King again?

Forgetting the promises he had read in the book, Josiah allowed fear and unbelief to take hold of his heart, troubling him deeply. He worried and fretted about his captivity, and wondered about the reception he would receive if he did make it back to the Castle of Faith. He finally fell asleep, curled up in the bottom of the teapot, despairing of ever escaping from the Castle of Unbelief and the Giant of Fear.

 

 

Late one afternoon, Josiah felt his teapot prison shake as the Giant of Fear returned to the castle. He had been a captive of the giant for more than a week now. The giant had not been cruel to him, but he had kept him cooped up in the teapot every night and every time he left the castle during the day. Josiah also knew that the giant kept the castle door securely locked.

Josiah sighed as he heard the castle door swing open. “I’ll never get out of here,” he whispered in despair. “I’m locked in a teapot, with no way of escaping. The table is twenty feet high and I can’t get down safely. Even if I could, the giant keeps the castle door locked, and I have no way of opening it.” He fell silent as the lid of the teapot popped open and he found himself looking up into the colossal face of his captor.

“I ripped my sleeve,” the giant grumbled, reaching into the teapot and scooping Josiah out onto the table. Josiah stood to his feet and watched as his huge captor unbuttoned his broadcloth shirt and flung it across the table in disgust. Josiah crept across to the garment, which was as big as a ship’s mainsail. Sure enough, there was a four-foot tear in one of the sleeves.

“Insect, do you know how to mend a garment?” the giant suddenly boomed.

“Aye, sire, perhaps I could if I had a needle and thread,” Josiah replied, afraid to admit that he had never before attempted such a task.

“I can’t hear you,” the giant complained. He plucked the boy from the table and deposited him in the iron kettle. “Do you mend?” he asked again.

“GET ME A NEEDLE AND THREAD AND I WILL TRY,” Josiah shouted. The giant nodded his huge red head and left the room.

Moments later when the giant returned, he dropped a huge spool of thread and a four-foot pair of scissors into the pot beside Josiah. The boy stared at the thread, which was in reality a cord strong enough to hold a man’s weight. A sewing needle the size of a dagger was tucked under the loops of cord.

“I want it finished by morning,” the giant instructed Josiah, draping the torn sleeve into the kettle so that Josiah could reach it. “Indeed, it will go ill with you if the task is not completed by sunup.”

As Josiah set about unwinding the cord from the spool, the Giant of Fear sat down and began to eat his dinner, which consisted of three whole roast pigs, twelve bushels of potatoes, and a small mountain of boiled greens. He forgot that I haven’t eaten since breakfast, Josiah complained bitterly to himself. He’s so anxious to get his garment mended that— Josiah paused and stared at the oversized thread. This would be a perfect climbing rope. I could use this to climb down from the table!

His heart began to throb with excitement as he thought about the possibilities for escape from the castle. I’ll wait till the giant is asleep tonight, he told himself. I’ll keep working until he goes to bed, but as soon as he’s asleep, I’ll slide down the rope to the floor…

The giant had turned from his dinner and was watching him closely, so Josiah hurriedly got on with the mending project. Lifting the huge scissors to an upright position, he struggled to open them.

 

 

Some hours later, all was quiet as Josiah crept across the castle floor. His heart pounded with fear and anticipation. The castle was dark, but the flames in the fireplace cast enough light across the room for him to see his way. The Giant of Fear was sound asleep in the next room; an occasional snore shook the floorboards of the castle. It had been a simple matter to tie a forty-foot length of the sewing line to the candlestick holder and slide safely to the floor. Now all he had to do was slip through the huge crack under the door and he would be free of the Castle of Unbelief once and for all.

Reaching the castle door safely, Josiah knelt and peered beneath the edge. His heart sank. The space beneath the massive door was nearly ten inches high, but the threshold under the door was at least six inches high, leaving a space of less than four inches.

There simply was not enough space to slip under the rough wooden door. Josiah was still a prisoner in the Castle of Unbelief, with no possible means of escape.

Chapter Nineteen

 

Discouragement swept over Prince Josiah as he studied the lower edge of the castle door. There’s not enough space to slide under the door like I thought I could, he reasoned. And the castle door is always locked, so there’s no way that I can open it. What am I to do?

He thought about the book so far above him on the mantle above the fireplace. I will not leave the castle without the book, anyway. Perhaps the only thing to do is climb the line back to the table and finish the sleeve of the giant’s jerkin before morning. Discouragement overcame him; his shoulders sagged in defeat. There would be no escape from the Castle of Fear.

I must ask King Emmanuel for help, Josiah suddenly told himself. It was the first time since his capture by the Giant of Fear that the young prince had even thought of sending a petition to King Emmanuel. I will never get out of this castle by myself, but perhaps my King will send help! Determined now to send the petition, he began to search the castle for a parchment on which to send his plea for help.

He found a fragment of charred parchment on the hearth. Using a small piece of charcoal from the edge of the fire, he scrawled the following message:

To His Majesty, King Emmanuel,

I have been captured by the Giant of Fear and have been held captive in the Castle of Unbelief for more than a week. I have tried to escape, but have found that by myself it is impossible. Please, Your Majesty, send help.”

 

Not knowing whether or not he should use the title of “Prince”, he simply signed the petition “Josiah”. Rolling the fragment of parchment tightly, he opened his hand and watched as the petition shot across the room and disappeared through the wall of the castle. He immediately felt his fear begin to subside. At least King Emmanuel will now know where I am, he thought gratefully. I just hope that he will receive my petition, even though I have failed him. He crept across the vast floor of the Castle of Unbelief and took refuge in the shadows under the table.

“Use the Key of Faith,” a gentle voice prompted, and Josiah glanced up in surprise.

There was just enough light from the fire for Josiah to make out the snowy form of the elusive white dove in the darkness overhead, perched on the back of one of the mammoth chairs. Josiah stared at the mysterious bird, and a wild idea popped into his head. “Did you speak?” he asked the dove. When there was no answer, Josiah shook his head. “No, of course you didn’t speak.” He dropped his shoulders and sighed. What was he to do?

“Use the Key of Faith,” the voice urged again.

The Key of Faith! It was still in the book! What if the Key of Faith could unlock the door? Josiah stood and peered up at the lock, which was twenty feet above the floor. His sudden enthusiasm wavered. The keyhole was nearly big enough to insert his entire fist, but the Key of Faith was so tiny.

“Use the Key of Faith.” The words were whispered this time, uttered so softly that Josiah barely heard them.

What was it that the Giant of Fear had said when he had first seen Josiah’s Key of Faith? “Your faith is so small, it is hardly as big as a mustard seed.”

The young prince paused, trying hard to recall a passage he had read in the book. It said something about having faith as small as a mustard seed and being able to move a mountain. If faith like a mustard seed can move a mountain, Josiah thought excitedly, perhaps it can open a castle door! Looking across the vastness of the great room, Josiah studied the immense wall beside the fireplace.

Forty feet. The mantle above the fireplace is about forty feet from the floor. If I can climb that wall, I can retrieve my book and my Key of Faith. And then, if the Key of Faith can open the castle door, I will be free again. Free to return to the Castle of Faith!

Listening intently for the occasional snores from the giant, Josiah hiked across the vast floor. He reached the fireplace wall safely, and tipping his head far back, looked at the mantel forty feet above him. I can’t escape the castle unless I can find a way to unlock the door, Josiah told himself. If I can climb the wall and reach the mantel, I can get my book back. And if the Key of Faith will open the castle door…well, I have to try!

Josiah examined the rough stone wall. There were huge spaces between the stones that would afford him excellent handholds and footholds. Lifting his right foot high, he stepped up onto a projecting stone and then reached high for a handhold.

Three terrifying minutes later, he pulled himself up onto the mantel above the fireplace. Pausing to catch his breath and quiet his pounding heart, he looked over the edge. The flickering light of the fire illuminated the slate floor of the castle forty feet below him. He crept back from the edge and crawled across the mantel, afraid to stand to his feet. A thrill of joy filled his heart when he reached the book and picked it up.

Josiah clutched the precious book reverently to his chest for several long seconds and then hesitantly opened the cover. The Key of Faith was still there! Relieved, he carefully tucked the book under the length of line he had wrapped around his waist. His legs trembled and his heart was in his throat as he slowly backed over the edge of the mantel. Afraid to look down, he worked his way back down the wall, moving cautiously from stone to stone. A deep sigh of relief escaped his lips when he once again was standing safely on the floor.

The young prince hurried across the vast room, pausing to listen when he reached the shadow of the enormous table. A rumbling snore from the other room told him that the Giant of Fear was still asleep. Reassured that all was well, Josiah dashed across to the door of the castle.

The door latch was nearly twenty feet above him. Uncoiling the line from around his waist, Josiah quickly tied a slipknot and pulled open a wide loop. He hurled the line upward with all his might in an attempt to catch the loop around the latch, but his aim was off and the line came tumbling back to land in a pile at his feet. Coiling the line in loose loops, he tried again. On the fourth try, the loop dropped neatly over the latch and Josiah pulled the line, tightening the slipknot.

Prince Josiah opened the book and took out the Key of Faith. Holding the key between his lips, he grabbed the line and climbed hand over hand until he was at eye level with the keyhole. He wrapped his legs around the line. Gripping the line with his right hand, he took the tiny key from between his lips and inserted it into the huge keyhole.

To his astonishment, he heard a loud click, and the enormous castle door suddenly swung open. The Key of Faith had not only unlocked the door to the Castle of Unbelief; it had actually opened it. Josiah’s heart throbbed with excitement as he slid down the line and leaped through the door. He was free! Faith had conquered fear and unbelief.

 

 

The morning sun was peeking over the hills to the east as the young prince trudged wearily up a gentle slope. He had been walking all night and now was tired, hungry, and discouraged. The journey back to the Castle of Faith was taking so long. His weary steps took him over the crest of the hill, and he paused for a moment, drinking in the scene before him. “At last!”

The Village of Dedication lay just two or three furlongs in the distance, and just beyond, the Castle of Faith. The high stone walls of the castle glistened in the bright sunshine, warm and inviting. Josiah’s heart beat faster, and he quickened his step. He was almost home.

“Prince Josiah!”

Josiah turned at the salutation. His heart leaped when he saw a minstrel dressed in green and gold seated at the base of a yew tree beside the path. “Encouragement!”

The cheerful minstrel rose to meet him. “I have been waiting for you, my Prince. Pray tell, why did the journey take you so long?”

“I was delayed by the Giant of Fear,” Josiah replied. “He had me imprisoned in the Castle of Unbelief for more than a week.”

A sympathetic look crossed the minstrel’s cheerful face. “I was aware that something like that could happen. I wish that I could have stayed with you. Fear often keeps Emmanuel’s servants from reaching the Village of Dedication and the Castle of Faith. When we look at the obstacles and difficulties along the journey rather than trusting the promises of our King, the Giant of Fear can very easily take us hostage and even imprison us in the Castle of Unbelief.”

Josiah drew the book from within his robe. “Do you know how I got out?”

“You have learned to use the Key of Faith,” Encouragement replied with an understanding smile. “It is the only way.” He took Josiah by the arm. “Come. I will accompany you to the Castle of Faith. A warm welcome awaits you.”

Together the boy and the minstrel passed through the Village of Dedication. Josiah watched the townspeople as they went about their daily business, happy in the service of their King. An atmosphere of peace and contentment pervaded the busy streets of the little village. Josiah and Encouragement passed the tinsmith’s shop and turned the corner, and the Castle of Faith once again came into sight.

Josiah wavered slightly as he walked up the approach to the drawbridge. What if Sir Faithful refused to allow him to enter the castle? What would he do if he were turned away because he had failed his King?

Encouragement noticed his hesitation and touched him gently on the arm. “Do not be anxious, Prince Josiah,” he said softly. “There is nothing to fear.”

“But I have failed. What am I to do if Sir Faithful or Lord Watchful will not allow me to enter the castle? What will I do if I am turned away?”

“Remember the words of your King. Trust in His promises.”

“But what if—”

Encouragement placed two fingers on Josiah’s mouth, interrupting him. “Say no more, Prince Josiah. Simply trust.”

They had reached the edge of the drawbridge. Josiah’s heart was pounding fiercely. Was he still a prince? Would he be allowed to return to the Castle of Faith as if nothing had happened, as if he had not failed his King? He would know within the next moment or two.

The castle gate swung open just then and a familiar figure hurried forward. “Sir Faithful!” Josiah ran to meet the old steward.

“Prince Josiah!” The old man’s beard brushed Josiah’s face as Sir Faithful’s arms engulfed him in an exuberant hug. “Welcome home, lad.”

Tears flowed down Josiah’s cheeks and he trembled violently as he drew a breath and prepared to ask the question. “Sir Faithful?” His voice broke, and he tried again. “Sir Faithful, am I still a prince? Do I still belong to King Emmanuel?”

Sir Faithful stepped back and looked deeply into his eyes. A troubled look crossed his features. “My prince, why do you ask such a question?”

“I failed my King,” Josiah replied, weeping. “I lost my sword, my ring, and my parchment! I failed to complete the mission for King Emmanuel. Tell me, Sir Faithful, am I still welcome in the Castle of Faith? I am not worthy.”

The old steward regarded the trembling boy with sad eyes. “Josiah, Josiah. You have indeed failed your King. Argamor endeavored to distract you from His Majesty’s business, and he was successful. Indeed, it is true that you are not worthy to be called by His Majesty’s name, or to enter his castle.”

Josiah’s heart sank, and the tears flowed faster.

“But this was given to you by your King, and it is yours forever,” Sir Faithful continued, handing Josiah a parchment. “Read it, Prince Josiah.”

Josiah unrolled the parchment. “Be it known to all men everywhere,” he read aloud, “that from this day henceforth and forever, Josiah Everyman, of the Village of Despair, has been adopted into the Royal Family of King Emmanuel and shall henceforth be known as Prince Josiah, heir eternal with King Emmanuel.”

He looked up at Sir Faithful with tear-filled eyes. “It still says ‘forever’ and it still says ‘eternal’. Does that mean that I am still a prince?”

The old man smiled as he put an arm around Josiah’s shoulder. “It says ‘forever’, Prince Josiah, and that’s what it means. King Emmanuel’s signature and seal are still on the document, so you have His Majesty’s word on it. Come; let us go into the castle. There is a joyous reception awaiting you.”

Prince Josiah’s heart was filled with joy as he walked side by side with Encouragement and Sir Faithful through the gates and into the Castle of Faith. A song of praise suddenly burst from his lips.

“I sing the greatness of my King, my Lord Emmanuel

His power is great and far exceeds

What mortal tongue or pen can tell.

My heart is full; I sing for him,

Glossary

Bailey: the courtyard in a castle.

Barbican: the space or courtyard between the inner and outer walls of a castle.

Battlement: on castle walls, a parapet with openings behind which archers would shelter when defending the castle.

Castle: a fortified building or complex of buildings, used both for defense and as the residence for the lord of the surrounding land.

Coat of arms: an arrangement of heraldic emblems, usually depicted on a shield or standard, indicating ancestry and position.

Couter: the part of the armor that protected a knight’s elbow.

Crenel: one of the gaps or open spaces between the merlons of a battlement.

Curtain: the protective wall of a castle.

Doublet: a close-fitting garment worn by men.

Ewer: a pitcher with a wide spout

Furlong: a measurement of distance equal to one-eighth of a mile.

Garrison: a group of soldiers stationed in a castle.

Gatehouse: a fortified structure built over the gateway to a castle.

Gauntlet: armor for the knight’s hand, usually lined with leather.

Great hall: the room in a castle where the meals were served and the main events of the day occurred.

Greave: plate armor protecting a knight’s lower leg, usually consisting of front and back pieces.

Jerkin: a close-fitting jacket or short coat.

Keep: the main tower or building of a castle.

Lance: a thrusting weapon with a long wooden shaft and a sharp metal point.

Longbow: a hand-drawn wooden bow 5½ to 6 feet tall.

Lute: a stringed musical instrument having a long, fretted neck and a hollow, pear-shaped body.

Lyre: a musical instrument consisting of a sound box with two curving arms carrying a cross bar from which strings are stretched to the sound box.

Merlon: the rising part of a crenallated wall or battlement.

Minstrel: a traveling entertainer who sang and recited poetry.

Moat: a deep, wide ditch surrounding a castle, often filled with water.

Murder holes: large holes in the floor of the castle gatehouse, through which castle defenders would drop large boulders on attacking warriors.

Portcullis: a heavy wooden grating covered with iron and suspended on chains above the gateway or any doorway of a castle. The portcullis could be lowered quickly to seal off an entrance if the castle was attacked.

Reeve: an appointed official responsible for the security and welfare of a town or region.

Saboton: pointed shoes made of steel to protect the feet of a knight in battle.

Salet: a protective helmet usually made of steel, worn by knights in combat.

Scullion: a kitchen servant who is assigned menial work

Sentry walk: a platform or walkway around the inside top of a castle curtain used by guards, lookouts and archers defending a castle.

Solar: a private sitting room or bedroom designated for royalty or nobility.

Standard: a long, tapering flag or ensign, as of a king or a nation.

Stone: a British unit of weight equal to fourteen pounds.

Tunic: a loose-fitting, long-sleeved garment.

Trencher: a flat piece of bread on which meat or other food was served.

Vambrace: the part of a knight’s plate armor which protected his arm.

 

 

Castle Facts

•The first European castles were built as early as 950 A.D. They were made of wood.

•Stone castles were not built until around 1100 A.D.

•A castle could sometimes take as long as 20 years to build!

•Today it would cost several million dollars to build a typical castle.

•The bathrooms in castles were called garderobes.

•There are hundreds of castles still standing in Europe today.

•The moat around a castle was not always filled with water. Some moats were dry moats, but they were still effective in making it difficult for invaders to enter the castle.

•Inside a castle, the stairs usually circled upward to the right. This design made it easier for a right-handed castle defender to fight (standing on the stairs above his adversaries), by giving him more room to swing his sword.

•During the seventeenth century, gunfire made castles obsolete.

 

 

Becoming a Child of the King

 

The Terrestria Chronicles are fiction, of course, but the stories represent truth. The kingdom of Terrestria, as you may have realized, is a picture of planet Earth. The gracious and loving King Emmanuel is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as King Emmanuel set Josiah free and adopted him, King Jesus wants to free you from sin and adopt you into His royal family. The Bible tells us how to become the children of God and it’s as simple as A-B-C:

Admit that you are a sinner. The Bible tells us: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Every one of us have done wrong things and sinned against God. Our sin will keep us from heaven and condemn us to hell. We need to be forgiven.

Believe that Jesus died for you. The Bible says: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) The King of kings, the Lord Jesus Christ, became a man and died for our sins on the cross, shedding his blood for us so that we can be forgiven. Three days later, he arose from the grave.

Call on Jesus to save you. The Bible says: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13) Admit to God that you are a sinner. Believe that Jesus died for you on the cross and then came back to life in three days. Call on Jesus in faith and ask him to save you. He will! And when he saves you from your sin, he adopts you into his wonderful family. You become a child of the King!

Other Books by Ed Dunlop

 

The Terrestria Chronicles

The Sword, the Ring, and the Parchment

The Quest for Seven Castles

The Search for Everyman

The Crown of Kuros

The Dragon’s Egg

The Golden Lamps

The Great War

 

Tales from Terrestria

The Quest for Thunder Mountain

The Golden Dagger

Return of the Dagger

The Isle of Dragons

Revenge of the Dragons

Return to Thunder Mounrtain

 

Jed Cartwright Adventure Series

The Dangerous Journey

The Lost Gold Mine

The Comanche Raiders

The Lighthouse Mystery

The Desperate Slave

The Midnight Rustlers

 

The Young Refugees Series

Escape to Liechtenstein

The Search for the Silver Eagle

The Incredible Rescues

 

Sherlock Jones Detective Series

Sherlock Jones and the Assassination Plot

Sherlock Jones and the Willoughby Bank Robbery

Sherlock Jones and the Missing Diamond

Sherlock Jones and the Phantom Airplane

Sherlock Jones and the Hidden Coins

Sherlock Jones and the Odyssey Mystery

 

The 1,000-Mile Journey

 

“I Can’t Wait Till Sunday Morning!”

“How Do I Get These Kids to Listen?”

Mouse on a Mission

Teaching with Bible Games

Let’s Play a Bible Game!

 

The Quest for

Seven Castles

 

 

An allegory

by Ed Dunlop

 

(Book Two in the Terrestria Chronicles)

 

 

Copyright 2012 Ed Dunlop

 

The Quest for Seven Castles

 

 

Juvenile fiction.

Christian life juvenile fiction.

 

Ebook Edition

 

 

And beside this, giving all diligence,

add to your faith VIRTUE;

and to virtue KNOWLEDGE;

and to knowledge TEMPERANCE;

and to temperance PATIENCE;

and to patience GODLINESS;

and to godliness BROTHERLY KINDNESS;

and to brotherly kindness CHARITY.

For if these things be in you and abound,

they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful

in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

II Peter 1:5-8

 

 

 

That you and I might grow

to be like our King

Chapter One

 

In a land far away and a time long ago, the early morning sun glistened on polished armor as a mounted knight rode swiftly along the King’s highway. The breath of the knight’s powerful white horse hung in the cool morning air as he thundered past awakening farms and sleepy villages. The knight was riding hard. The clatter of the animal’s hooves rang like a blacksmith’s hammer across the stillness of the moors.

In the distance, the same rising sun glistened on the white marble walls of a majestic castle, painting them with pastel hues of orange, pink and violet. The castle, situated high atop a rocky palisade, overlooked a quiet region in the peaceful kingdom of Terrestria. King Emmanuel, Lord of all Terrestria, had constructed the castle of the finest materials. Situated between the Sea of Conviction and the Village of Dedication, the castle had high, sturdy walls, even taller towers, massive gates and a deep, wide moat. Two garrisons of knights under Captain Assurance and Captain Diligence walked the battlements night and day, guarding the walls of the Castle of Faith, always on the lookout for danger.

The stalwart knight leaned forward in the saddle, urging his powerful horse to even greater speed. The man’s visor was down, concealing his face, but his glistening figure seemed to radiate a sense of urgency. He rode as though the slightest delay would mean failure for his mission.

High on the battlements of the Castle of Faith, an elderly man dressed in a splendid green doublet and shimmering white cloak stood talking with a slender young man. The youth wore a sleeveless jerkin of soft, pale deerskin, and a magnificent cloak of blue and gold.

“Sir Faithful,” the youth said, leaning over the battlements of the castle and looking at the ground far below, “do you realize that I have now been at the Castle of Faith for an entire year? It was one year ago today that King Emmanuel came in the Coach of Grace and rescued me from the evil blacksmith, Argamor. What a year this has been!”

The old man smiled and stroked his long, white beard with the fingertips of both hands. “Has it already been a year, Prince Josiah? My, how time flies! Sometimes it seems that it was only yesterday that you came to the Castle of Faith.” He chuckled gently as he turned and gazed lovingly at the young prince. “My, how one year at the castle has changed you! It was a skinny little wretch of a boy that entered the castle a year ago; but now I see before me a tall, handsome young prince.”

Prince Josiah smiled, but there was not a trace of pride in his lively brown eyes. His heart thrilled with gratitude as he thought about the day that he had met the loving and gracious King. “I’ll never forget what His Majesty did for me that day,” he said softly. “Argamor and his evil henchmen were preparing to flog me, but King Emmanuel rescued me and brought me to the Castle of Faith!”

Just then the clatter of hooves arrested the attention of the elderly steward and the young prince, and they both looked down to see the knight on the white horse come thundering up to the castle gate. The rider drew back on the reins and brought his steed to a halt at the edge of the drawbridge, and the magnificent animal pranced and pawed the earth restlessly. The knight stood in the stirrups and raised his visor. “Halloo the Castle of Faith!”

“A messenger from His Majesty,” Sir Faithful said quietly.

Prince Josiah stared at him in surprise. “From King Emmanuel? Sire, how can you tell?”

The old man smiled mysteriously. “Just wait. You shall soon learn that I am correct.”

“Who approaches the castle?” The challenge came from the battlements of the gatehouse towering over the drawbridge.

“I am Sir Reliable,” the knight answered in a deep voice that echoed off the castle walls. “I come from the Golden City with a message from His Majesty, King Emmanuel.”

Josiah looked at Sir Faithful in astonishment. “Sire, you were right! Do you think that His Majesty is coming to the Castle of Faith today?”

Sir Faithful shook his head. “King Emmanuel could come today, and we must always be watching for his return, but this message is in regards to another matter.”

“Enter, noble knight, and be recognized,” the gatekeeper called, and as Prince Josiah and Sir Faithful watched from atop the wall, the knight rode forward and entered the castle.

Sir Faithful looked fondly at Josiah. “Remember the day that you came to the Castle of Faith? I still recall how surprised you were to learn that you had become a prince.”

Josiah smiled. “I’m still amazed to think that King Emmanuel would adopt me,” he confessed. He let out his breath in a long sigh of contentment. “Just think, Sir Faithful, I went from being a slave to being a prince in just one day! That’s enough to overwhelm anyone!”

The old man chuckled. “I know.”

“The very best part, sire, is that my chain of iniquity and my weight of guilt are gone forever. I have been set free! And I never have to return to the Dungeon of Condemnation! I love my King.”

The young prince paused for a moment, reflecting on the goodness and grace of King Emmanuel. His heart was filled with gratitude. “I thank you, my King,” he whispered softly.

Josiah’s thoughts returned to the memorable day that King Emmanuel had ransomed him. He shuddered as he remembered the cruelty of Argamor and his evil henchmen, Evilheart and Lawofsin. For just a moment, he was back in the filthy coal yard of Argamor’s blacksmith shop, and he could almost feel the ropes around his wrists as Lawofsin bound him to a yew tree in preparation for a flogging. He could still recall the terror he had felt as he waited for the stinging lash of the whip across his bare back. But the Coach of Grace had appeared just at that moment, and the cruel flogging had never taken place. King Emmanuel had stepped from the coach, rescued Josiah, and set him free from Argamor’s tyranny. Josiah wept with the memory of that blessed day when the King of glory had adopted him and brought him to live as a prince in the Castle of Faith.

A page dressed in royal blue ascended the castle stairs just then and hurried across the sentry walk toward the old man and the boy. “A message from King Emmanuel, sire,” the page said, bowing low and handing a parchment to Sir Faithful. “It has just arrived. It’s for Prince Josiah.”

“I thank you, William,” the steward replied, taking the parchment from the boy. The page bowed again and hurried away. Sir Faithful unrolled the document and scanned the message.

“What does it say, sire?” Josiah begged, but Sir Faithful continued to read in silence. Josiah waited anxiously.

At last, the old man lowered the parchment and gazed at Josiah. “The message is for you, from His Majesty, King Emmanuel,” he said slowly.

“I know, I know,” Josiah said impatiently, without meaning to be impolite. “But what does it say? Why did King Emmanuel send a messenger all the way from the Golden City just for me? What does my King want?”

Sir Faithful turned and regarded him thoughtfully for a long moment before answering. “His Majesty wants you to leave the Castle of Faith.”

“Leave the Castle of Faith?” A surge of panic arose within Josiah’s breast, overwhelming him and choking off his breath. He struggled to speak. “But why? Where would I go?”

“King Emmanuel has ordered you to depart the Castle of Faith,” the steward repeated. “You are to leave immediately.”

Chapter Two

 

A cold sensation of fear flooded over the young prince as he heard Sir Faithful’s words. “But why am I to leave, sire?” he asked in dismay. “The Castle of Faith is my home! I have no other! Where would I go?”

“These orders are from King Emmanuel,” the steward said quietly but firmly, tapping the parchment with a wrinkled finger, “and they must be obeyed, my prince.”

“But why, Sir Faithful? Why must I leave?” Prince Josiah was in anguish.

“You must obey your King’s orders.”

“But w-what have I d-done?” Josiah stammered. “Does this mean that I am no longer a prince? Is Emmanuel no longer my King? May I not continue to serve Him?” His eyes filled with tears. “His Majesty has promised never to cast me out, sire! I read that in the book! ‘Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.’ It’s in the book, sire, and it’s a promise from King Emmanuel!”

The old man suddenly realized what Josiah was thinking. He laughed gently. “Josiah, Josiah. Your King is not casting you out; he is merely sending you on a journey.”

“A journey, sire? A journey to what destination?”

“His Majesty wants you to undertake a quest to seven other castles within the kingdom of Terrestria,” Sir Faithful replied, holding up the King’s parchment and studying it. “The steward of each castle will give you a rare jewel, which is to be displayed on your Shield of Faith to show that you have completed that portion of the journey and attained that level of maturity. This is to be a journey of learning. You are to leave the Castle of Faith today and travel to the Castle of Virtue.”

“The Castle of Virtue? Where is that, sire? How will I find it?”

“Your book will guide you.”

“I have learned what faith is, but what is virtue?”

The old man paused. “Virtue is… virtue is manly courage, the courage and ability to choose what is right. One might also use the words integrity, honor, and character. A man of virtue is a man who can be trusted to do what is right.”

“But why must I go to the Castle of Virtue?” Josiah questioned. “Why can I not stay here at the Castle of Faith?”

“This quest is to be a learning experience designed to develop certain character qualities within you,” Sir Faithful replied. “King Emmanuel has planned for you to take this pilgrimage that you might learn and grow and become like Him. I must warn you—the journey will not be easy. There will be obstacles and difficulties and dangers along the way, and you must overcome them in your quest for the castles. When you reach the seventh castle, you will find that you have been trained for service to your King.”

“What are the names of the other castles?” Josiah asked, with a growing sense of uneasiness. He was beginning to realize the significance of the assignment, and he knew instinctively that the journey would be even more difficult than what the steward was describing. He was determined not to fail his King.

Sir Faithful glanced at the parchment. “After you have reached the Castle of Virtue, you must journey to the Castle of Knowledge. Then you must travel to the Castle of Temperance, the Castle of Patience, the Castle of Godliness and the Castle of Brotherly Kindness. Your final destination, the seventh castle, is the Castle of Charity. When you have reached that castle, your journey will be complete, and you will be ready for His Majesty’s service.”

“But sire, I am ready now,” Josiah protested. “I love His Majesty and I will serve Him forever.”

“You have already served your King well,” the old steward assured him, “but life as a servant of King Emmanuel is a continual journey of learning and growth. This quest that you are undertaking today is but a step in that longer journey.”

The young prince suddenly felt very small and inadequate. “But I cannot do this alone! What if I fail my King?”

Sir Faithful smiled. “I am very glad to hear you say that, my prince. Your words are a good indication that you are indeed ready to undertake a journey such as this. If you were confident and unafraid at a time like this, I would fear that you were trusting in yourself, and that would surely lead to failure. In the ancient languages your very name, Josiah, means ‘Emmanuel reigns’, and you must never forget that your strength comes from a heart yielded to King Emmanuel.”

“But how will I know which way to go, sire? What if I lose my way? What if Argamor or his men should stop me? Sir Faithful, can you not go with me? I don’t want to go alone.”

The old man held up one hand to silence Josiah’s words. “I cannot accompany you, Prince Josiah, but you will not go alone. You have your book, and the dove will guide you.” Just then, the snowy white dove that Josiah had seen about the castle swooped down and landed atop one of the merlons of the castle wall. The beautiful bird sat silently on the stonework, gazing at Josiah with dark, unblinking eyes.

“How will he guide me?” Josiah asked, studying the bird. “Can he speak?”

“He speaks in a still, small voice,” Sir Faithful answered. “He knows the mind of King Emmanuel perfectly, and his guidance will always be in perfect harmony with the King’s words found in your book. But you must always be diligent to listen for his voice, for his promptings are always gentle and are easily ignored. He will be with you throughout the entire journey, but it will be very easy for you to forget that he is there. Remember that his purpose in accompanying you is to cause you to know the will of your King and enable you to do it, but he will never be forceful or insistent. He will always leave the choices to you, but you would be wise to heed his counsel.”

Josiah’s eyes widened in sudden realization and he stepped closer to Sir Faithful. “Sire, I have heard his voice,” he said eagerly, “when I was on top of the mountain in the Forest of Decision! It was his voice that told me to use the book to find my way!”

Sir Faithful nodded. “Aye, my prince. Learn to listen for his voice, for he will never lead you wrong. Obedience to his voice will guarantee success in your quest for the seven castles.” He paused and looked at Josiah with eyes filled with compassion. “Always remember that you can send a petition to His Majesty at any time, day or night. Your King desires success for you in this quest, and he stands ready to answer your every petition.”

Months earlier, the old steward had taught the young prince an incredible form of communication with his gentle sovereign—whenever Josiah desired to send a message to the King, all he had to do was write it out on a parchment, roll it up, and release it. Miraculous as it seemed, in an instant the petition would be delivered to His Majesty’s throne room at the Golden City. Josiah had learned from experience that Emmanuel was eager to receive his every request. The young prince had never gotten over the thrill of being able to communicate with the King, and he often sent messages of thanksgiving and adoration, as well as the usual requests for help in time of need.

Josiah nodded at Sir Faithful’s words. “I will make frequent use of my right as a son of the King. I will send frequent petitions to His Majesty.”

The old man stepped close and wrapped his arms around the boy. “Farewell, Prince Josiah. I love you like my own son.” He ran a trembling hand over his beard and then continued. “Follow the guidance of the book, lad, and listen to the voice of the dove. Be sure to send a petition to His Majesty whenever the need arises, and you will find that his resources will meet your every need. Go in faith, my prince, and you shall have a prosperous journey. Your pilgrimage will not be easy, and at times it will be utterly perilous, but King Emmanuel would not lay a burden upon you that you cannot bear. Farewell, my son. May King Emmanuel’s love go with you.”

Josiah returned the embrace. “Farewell, Sir Faithful. I shall miss you, but I gladly undertake this quest for my King. This time I shall not fail Him.”

 

 

Three hours later, Josiah climbed up on a huge boulder of granite that jutted out over the mountain trail. As he sat down to rest he drew a flask of water from the pack upon his back. Leaning back against the rock, he took a long, satisfying drink. He had been traveling through rugged territory, but he estimated that the Castle of Faith was already more than sixty furlongs behind him. Glancing up into the boughs of a giant oak that shaded the boulder upon which he sat, he caught a glimpse of the dove.

The book had guided him to this point. He had been careful to follow the map he found within its pages, and each time he came to a fork in the trail or a juncture where another trail or road intersected the Path of Righteousness, he simply opened the book and let it guide him. He had found that the pages of the book glowed with a soft light whenever he turned down the right path, but dimmed when he took a wrong turn. Thus, he learned to consult the book each and every time he had a decision to make.

Looking down from his position atop the granite boulder he could see below him a series of wooded hills that fell away before him like stairs. The Path of Righteousness wound its way down the side of the hill upon which he sat and disappeared over the crest of the nearest ridge, then reappeared on a slope in the distance. As he studied the countryside below him, he spotted a second trail, and then a third and a fourth. I’ll have to use the book very carefully when I get down there, he told himself, so I don’t end up following the wrong trail.

A twig broke with a loud snap just below the boulder, and Josiah looked down to see a tall man dressed in blue and yellow standing in the path at the base of the giant rock. “Greetings, fellow traveler!” the stranger hailed him. “And to which destination might your steps be taking you?”

“I’m on a pilgrimage to the Castle of Virtue,” Josiah replied. “King Emmanuel sent me.”

The man smiled and nodded in a friendly way. “I’ve been there many times myself,” he told Josiah. “Might I show you a shortcut? It would save you a furlong or two of walking and hasten you on your way.”

“Don’t listen to him,” a still, small voice warned, but Josiah didn’t hear.

“Do you see the village at the base of yon hill? Pass through that village and then follow the road that leads to the east. You will find yourself at the gates of the Castle of Virtue within two hours.”

“What village is that I see?” Josiah asked, gazing at the small cluster of yellow thatched rooftops in the distance. “Are the inhabitants loyal to King Emmanuel?”

The man shrugged. “I wouldn’t worry about the loyalties of the Littlekins,” he replied casually. “The villagers are so small that they couldn’t cause you much grief even if they set out to directly oppose you. They’re quite harmless. Take my word for it, lad, the path through the village is by far the best route.”

“Are you certain, sire?” Josiah questioned. “My book said nothing about a shortcut to the Castle of Virtue.” He watched the stranger closely. The man’s voice seemed familiar, but Josiah was quite certain he had never seen the man before.

“Trust my experience, lad,” the man challenged. “I am a candlemaker by trade, and I have made many trips to the Castle of Virtue to sell my wares. This is by far the shortest and easiest route.” He lifted one hand in a casual wave. “Farewell, my friend, and have a pleasant journey.” Sauntering down the trail, he soon disappeared from view among the trees.

Josiah thought it over. If the friendly candlemaker were a frequent traveler in this part of the kingdom, would he not be wise to take the man’s advice? And if the shortcut to the Castle of Virtue would save him time and trouble, would it not be in his best interests to follow it? A tiny, disquieting doubt nagged at him, but he quickly pushed it to the back of his mind and did his best to ignore it. He took another long drink from the flask, shoved it back into his backpack, and stood to his feet. His mind was made up—he would follow the advice of the helpful stranger.

Three minutes later he was surprised to find himself nearing the little village that he had seen from the hillside. Apparently, the town was much closer than it had appeared from his vantage on the boulder. A whitewashed sign at the side of the trail proclaimed in bold letters, “Welcome, traveler, to the Village of the Littlekins.”

As he entered the Village of the Littlekins he stopped and stared around in astonishment. Both sides of the narrow street were lined with tiny cottages that were barely higher than his waist! He knelt in the street and studied the strange little buildings. “Who lives in these tiny houses?” he wondered aloud. “They’re so small—they must have been built for rabbits!”

Reaching out to touch one little house, he lifted a tiny latch and opened a little door barely fourteen inches high. He knelt down and peered in through the tiny doorway. A small fire blazed merrily in a miniature fireplace less than twelve inches wide, and a cooking pot the size of a teacup hung over the flames, bubbling and steaming and filling the tiny chamber with a delicious aroma. Tipping his head to one side, he studied the interior of the little house, noting with amazement the little bed in one corner, the tiny benches, and the little table too small to hold a single roast goose.

Whoever lives here is hardly as tall as a chicken, Josiah told himself. I’ve never seen such a tiny house! Perhaps these little houses were built for rabbits, or squirrels, or raccoons or badgers… no, raccoons and badgers would be too large to live here. It appeared that the occupants of the tiny cottage were not at home, so he quietly closed the little door.

Still on his hands and knees, Josiah opened the door of the next little house and peered in. A piercing scream issued from within the little dwelling. Startled, he quickly closed the little door. He shook his head in astonishment. In the brief instant that he had looked inside the little house, he had seen two women down on their knees at a washtub filled with suds, vigorously scrubbing homespun garments. But the women were hardly as big as three-week-old kittens!

He leaned close and tried to peer in the tiny window, hoping for another glimpse of the little women. However, the sunlight reflected off the glass and all he could see was his own reflection. But he did hear more screams from inside the cottage.

Afraid that he had upset the mistress of the little house, Josiah turned and hurried back the way he had come until he was safely out of the strange little village. He saw a small stream by the side of the road, so he hurried down to it to refill his flask and take a drink. After he had refreshed himself he sat down on a fallen log on the creek bank to think matters through. He had seen no one in the strange little village—except for the unbelievably tiny women that he had frightened by peeking in the little door—but he felt uneasy just passing through.

The candlemaker said that this was the best route, he told himself. If the Littlekins are all as small as those two tiny women are, what is there to be afraid of? But he still couldn’t dismiss the uneasy feeling inside. He couldn’t explain it, but something inside told him that he was in great danger. He took a deep breath. I’ll just get to my feet and walk right through that tiny village! he decided. What can happen?

“A thousand pardons, my lord,” a tiny voice said, interrupting his thoughts, “but would you be so kind as to allow me to take a seat on this log?”

Josiah stared, hardly able to believe his eyes. Standing before him was a tiny little imp of a man dressed in a green jerkin and brown leggings. The little man was slightly less than a foot tall, with spindly legs and arms and a curly, brown beard. “Who are you?” the young prince gasped in astonishment. “Where did you come from?”

“My name is Envy,” the wee little man said, scratching at his beard with fingers hardly bigger than grains of rice. “I’m from the village.”

“The Village of the Littlekins?”

The little man nodded proudly. “Aye.”

“Then you must be a Littlekin,” Josiah ventured, still trying to recover from the surprise of seeing a third adult too small to even reach his knee.

“Indeed, I am, my lord,” Envy replied. He gestured toward the log with a tiny hand. “May I?”

“Certainly,” Josiah responded. The man’s name sounded ominous, and he had a certain crafty look about him, but he was such a little fellow that Josiah could not see how he could possibly do any harm. Envy took a flying leap, grasped the top of the log, and pulled himself up on top.

The little man had hardly settled himself on the log beside Josiah when another little man about the same size appeared. The newcomer was dressed much as the first, except that his jerkin was pale blue. “My lord, this is a friend of mine,” Envy said, eyeing Josiah carefully. “His name is Greed. Would you mind greatly if he were to rest on the log for a spell?”

“Aye, there’s plenty of room,” Josiah replied, studying the two little men with curiosity. Greed quickly made himself comfortable on the log.

Scarcely a minute had passed when Josiah looked over to see a third tiny man hiking through the underbrush and heading straight for the log. “Who are you?” Josiah asked. “I suppose that you would want a seat on the log, too.”

“My name is Discontent,” the tiny man replied. “If it’s no trouble, my lord, indeed I would like to rest a bit.” He was dressed in solid brown, and had a thin face and dark, beady eyes, which gave him a striking resemblance to a rat. Discontent clambered up onto the log and took a seat beside the first two tiny men.

Ten minutes later, the log was crowded. Twelve tiny men, not one of whom was tall enough to reach to Josiah’s knee, were seated on the log beside the young prince. Josiah studied the group of Littlekins. For the most part they were dirty and rough and uncouth, with gruff countenances and surly manners, quite different from the polite civility of the first visitor, Envy. They argued with one another, pushing and shoving and knocking each other off the log and in general becoming quite obnoxious. Their language was atrocious, and Josiah began to feel very uncomfortable, even to the point that he began to wish that he had not allowed Envy to take a seat on the log in the first place.

Josiah noticed that from time to time the little men whispered to each other and eyed him as though they were plotting mischief against him. He felt no fear, since the men were so much smaller than he. They probably don’t weigh more than two or three pounds apiece, he told himself.

“Hey, big one, make a little more room,” a foul smelling little man named Idleness growled at Josiah.

The young prince tried to scoot over just a trifle, but the Littlekin on the other side of him let out a squeal of rage. “Clumsy ox! Watch what you are doing! Keep to yourself! You have nearly squashed me!” He beat against Josiah’s leg with his tiny fists.

“I beg your pardon,” Josiah muttered, reminding himself that he had taken a seat on the log before any of these tiny men and wondering if he should bring the matter up.

“You are taking entirely too much room,” a plump Littlekin named Gluttony declared a moment later, glaring accusingly at Josiah.

“We will have to ask you to get down,” another added.

Josiah laughed. “I was here first. It’s my log. You are sitting here at my permission.”

Josiah’s words provoked a chorus of angry muttering. The Littlekins became violently angry and actually began to attempt to push Josiah off the log! The boy laughed as he pushed back. “You cannot hurt me,” he taunted. “You are but a swarm of grasshoppers!”

One of the little men leaped to his feet and blew a long blast on a hunting horn. The sound reverberated through the trees. Suddenly becoming aware of the clamor of angry voices, Josiah turned to see a horde of tiny townspeople rushing through the woods straight toward him. The men were carrying pitchforks, shovels, hayrakes and hoes; the women had rolling pins, brooms and other assorted weapons, and it was obvious that the furious inhabitants of the little town meant to do him harm. “It’s one of the big ‘uns!” a man’s voice shouted. “Get ‘im!”

Josiah leaped to his feet, but he was not alarmed in the least. The biggest man in the crowd was barely twelve inches tall. The angry horde of Littlekins swarmed around Josiah’s ankles, stabbing and striking at his feet and lower legs with their tiny makeshift weapons. Josiah laughed. The little people were attacking him in fury, but their assaults felt like pinpricks. With one good kick I could send thirty of them flying, he told himself in amusement.

“Little folk, what are you doing?” he cried, doing his best to hold back his laughter at the absurdity of the assault. To him, the attack of the little people seemed as frivolous as a pack of mice attacking a lion. “I’m not your enemy!”

The angry horde swelled in numbers until the clearing was filled with tiny villagers. Shouting and screaming in their tiny voices, they surged forward, competing with each other for the opportunity to take a swing at the amused young prince. But their furious assault was having little effect; Josiah could hardly feel their feeble blows. “Kill him!” the Littlekins screamed to each other. “Envy, kill him! Discontent, chop his toes off! Laziness, slice his ankles to ribbons!”

Josiah took a step backwards, stumbling over some of the little people and knocking them flat, though he managed to avoid stepping on any of them. The tiny villagers responded in a blind rage, swarming forward like a colony of oversized ants and screaming in their eagerness to do him harm. Swinging their tiny weapons, they battered his knees, shins and ankles with all their might. Josiah was doubled over with laughter at the absurdity of the situation. The attack of the Littlekins was having little effect upon him, but a good many of their furious blows were falling on each other, with telling results.

One brave young villager had ventured to scramble up into a thin sapling. He launched himself at Josiah, managed to catch hold of Josiah’s belt, and hung on for dear life. Josiah brushed his tiny attacker away, doing his best not to hurt the little man.

“I am not your enemy!” the young prince called again, trying to reason with the horde of angry little people. “I’m just passing through on my way to the Castle of Virtue. Please stop! I do not wish to harm any of you.”

But his words fell on deaf ears. The angry mob of Littlekins now numbered in the hundreds. They surged forward, shouting and swinging and pressing against his shins until he was compelled to take several steps backwards. Suddenly his boots caught and he found himself falling backwards. Two of the Littlekins had strung a rope between two trees and managed to trip him. As he hit the ground, the mob shouted exultantly and swarmed over him like ants on a dead grasshopper.

Prince Josiah still was not alarmed as he rolled over and leaped to his feet. If it was a fight that these Littlekins wanted, then it was a fight they were going to get! But somehow the frantic hordes of tiny villagers had managed to throw a noose around his neck, and, as he attempted to stand up, they jerked him down into the dust again. Josiah lunged upward against the tiny rope, flinging dozens of little people to the ground like so many toy dolls. He struggled to his knees, but the Littlekins pulled him to the ground again by the sheer weight of their numbers.

“Get off me!” Josiah shouted, struggling and thrashing about in a desperate attempt to free himself. “Let go of me!” He threw his arms wide, scattering Littlekins left and right. Throwing his hands to his neck, he grasped the noose about his throat and attempted to pull it open. The Littlekins swarmed over him again, shouting and kicking and hitting him.

Realizing for the first time the seriousness of the situation that he was in, Josiah pulled the book from his doublet and swung it mightily. In an instant the little black volume became a two-edged sword. The Littlekins leaped back in fright as the glittering blade sliced through the air. Josiah advanced slowly, swinging the sword with all his might. The tiny villagers retreated before him, squealing with fright as they scattered like autumn leaves before a gust of wind. He gave a tremendous sigh of relief when he saw how easily the Littlekins could be put to flight.

At that moment a heavy weight came crashing down on the back of his head. Josiah saw a brilliant flash of white light explode inside his head. The sword fell from his hand. Darkness descended abruptly..

Chapter Three

 

Prince Josiah awoke to find that he was lying in the shade of a giant oak. When he tried to move he discovered that his hands were tightly bound behind him. The Littlekins were swarming about him, dancing up and down in delight as they celebrated their capture of such a large prisoner.

Josiah rolled over and attempted to struggle to his feet, but the noose around his neck brought him crashing to the ground. The Littlekins had him firmly under their control.

The crowd of Littlekins abruptly parted. A small company of soldiers came dashing up with tiny swords drawn, stopping just inches from Josiah’s face. Smartly dressed in red doublets with gold braid, white leggings, and shiny black boots, the pint-size soldiers were under the command of a stern-faced officer by the name of Captain Temptation. “On your feet, prisoner!” the captain roared, holding the point of his tiny sword against the tip of Josiah’s nose. “On your feet, before I run you through!”

The young prince rolled over and struggled to his knees. Though his hands were bound behind him, he glanced around desperately for his sword. He caught a glimpse of three red-uniformed troops struggling under the weight of the weapon as they carried it through the trees. “Come back with that!” Josiah shouted. His heart sank. Without the sword he was helpless—even against his tiny captors—and he knew it.

“On your feet, prisoner!” Captain Temptation ordered again. Josiah sighed and grudgingly obeyed.

The villagers had formed a double line, each with a firm grip on the long rope that terminated in the noose around his neck, and now they began to pull him toward the village. Tiny as they were, their combined weight and strength was too much for the young prince, and he was forced to follow meekly along. They caught me off guard, Josiah berated himself. If I had been alert and watchful, this would never have happened. It all started when I allowed Envy to take a place beside me on the log.

He looked down at the tiny captain who was marching proudly alongside his prisoner. “Where are you taking me?”

“You must stand before our magistrate, Lord Careless,” Captain Temptation replied, “to answer the charges against you.”

“What charges?” Josiah demanded.

“You will find out when Lord Careless deals with you,” the tiny soldier answered, giving Josiah a disgusted look. “Now move along quietly.”

The triumphant Littlekins proudly paraded their prisoner through the narrow streets of their tiny village, laughing and chattering as they marched along. Josiah shuffled through the lanes with his head down, overwhelmed at the suddenness of his capture. I have failed again, he thought bitterly. I have failed King Emmanuel! But the Littlekins are so tiny. Who would have thought that there were so many of them, or that they could fight so efficiently? Remorse filled his soul. I should never have allowed Envy to take a place on the log, even though he is so tiny. Once again, I have failed my King! I should never have listened to the candlemaker and detoured through the village of the Littlekins!

The procession reached the center of the village and approached a large building with stately pillars and marble steps. Josiah stared at the massive building which seemed so out of place among the tiny dwellings. As the Littlekins led him up the steps, a growing sense of dread overwhelmed him. So this is the Courthouse—the place where I will stand before Lord Careless.

Once inside the building, the Littlekins abandoned their places on the rope and scattered to find seats, leaving Josiah in the charge of Captain Temptation and his company of tiny soldiers. Even though there were only ten or twelve of the pint-size troops and Josiah could easily have overpowered several times that many, he was too discouraged and defeated to even try to resist. Meekly he allowed himself to be led to the front of the crowded courtroom.

A tiny, gray-haired bailiff with a large, droopy mustache stood upon a raised platform at the front of the courtroom. “Court is now in session,” he cried in the loudest voice he could muster, “with the Honorable Lord Careless presiding. All rise!”

The throng of noisy Littlekins jumped to their feet and a hush fell over the room. A dignified Littlekin wearing a long black robe entered through a side door. Upon his head was a powdered wig. Even before the magistrate walked to the raised desk in the center of the platform, Josiah knew that the robed figure was the Honorable Lord Careless.

“Be seated,” Lord Careless said in a flat, toneless voice. “Defendant, approach the bench.”

Josiah was standing directly in front of the platform—so close that he could have reached out and touched the desk—so he merely raised his eyes and looked at Lord Careless.

“The defendant will approach the bench!” Lord Careless declared loudly. His voice was still flat and lifeless, but his eyes flashed with anger. Josiah inched half a step closer. “That’s better,” the magistrate declared. “By what name are you called?”

“Prince Josiah of the Castle of Faith, Your Honor.”

The magistrate unrolled a parchment and studied it in silence for half a minute. Then he leaned over and looked down at Josiah. “Does the defendant understand these charges against him?”

“Your Honor, I have not even heard the charges,” the young prince replied. “What are they?”

“Do you understand the charges against you?” Lord Careless demanded sharply. Usually it is quite difficult to speak sharply in a monotone, but the tiny magistrate managed it quite nicely.

“Sire, what are the charges?” Josiah asked again.

“Just answer the question,” the magistrate snapped irritably, as though he was already tired of the affair, though the court had just been called into session.

“Nay, sire, I do not understand the charges,” Josiah asserted, “for I have not yet heard them. And I don’t understand why your people have arrested me, for I was merely planning to pass through your village without harming—”

“Silence!” Lord Careless roared, a remarkable feat for a man his size. He snatched the parchment from his desk and thrust it at the bailiff. “Read the charges.”

“Aye, my lord.” The bailiff held the document up in front of his face and began to read. “The people of the Village versus the giant stranger, Prince Josiah. The prince is charged with trespassing, entering our village with malicious intent to harm, creating a disturbance, malicious assault, maligning the citizenry, inciting a riot, and resisting arrest.” He rolled the parchment up and handed it back to Lord Careless.

“That’s ridiculous!” Josiah protested. “I didn’t do any of those things!”

“One last charge, Your Honor,” the bailiff said, taking the parchment and scribbling something upon it. “Contempt of court.”

“How do you plead?” Lord Careless asked, taking the parchment from the bailiff.

“Guilty!” the entire crowd of Littlekins cried with one voice, before Josiah could even open his mouth.

“A guilty plea has been entered,” Lord Careless told the bailiff, handing the parchment back to him. The bailiff promptly recorded it on the document.

“Wait!” Josiah cried in desperation. “That wasn’t me—I didn’t say anything! I’m not guilty! These charges are completely false, and they cannot prove any of them against me!”

Lord Careless turned and looked at Captain Temptation, who stood stiffly at attention with his company of red-uniformed soldiers in one corner of the courtroom. “Can these charges be proven, Captain?”

“Aye, Your Honor.” The little captain turned and called, “Bring in the evidence!”

Three soldiers entered the courtroom through the side door, bearing Josiah’s sword over their heads as they entered. The crowd of Littlekins gasped at the sight of the weapon as though they had never seen it before. Lord Careless rose from his seat, leaned over the bench, and stared down at the sword. “What is this, Captain?”

“It’s an instrument of death, Your Honor. We found it in the possession of the defendant and took it from him by force.” The captain turned and addressed the three soldiers. “Permit Lord Careless to examine the evidence.”

The tiny soldiers carried Josiah’s sword up onto the platform. Grunting with the effort, they placed the hilt of the weapon against the floor and raised the blade vertically into the air. A murmur of excitement swept through the crowd of spectators. Lord Careless shook his head gravely as though he were appalled at the sight of such a fierce weapon.

“Beware!” The sword began to lean dangerously to one side and the three little soldiers suddenly lost control of it. All three leaped to safety, allowing the weapon to fall unimpeded. The blade flashed in a long silver arc as it fell, slicing down upon the desk just inches from Lord Careless with such force that it cut the wooden desktop cleanly in two. The startled magistrate toppled backwards off his seat, losing his wig in the process.

“Fools! Fools, every one of you!” Lord Careless glared at the three soldiers as he rose from the floor and took his seat behind the desk, unaware of the fact that his bald head now glistened in the sunlight from the courtroom windows.

The crowd of Littlekins had shrunk back in fear as the sword fell, and then burst into laughter when their magistrate lost his seat. When he reappeared moments later without his wig, their laughter turned into uncontrolled howls of merriment. In spite of the predicament he was in, Prince Josiah joined in their laughter.

“Silence!” Lord Careless slammed his gavel down upon the ruined desk, still unaware of the missing hairpiece. “Order in the court! Silence!” The laughter continued, swelling in volume until it filled the courtroom. The Littlekins howled with mirth, holding their sides and wiping their eyes. They couldn’t have stopped laughing even if they had wanted.

Lord Careless was furious. He banged the gavel repeatedly. “Order! Order!” he screamed, hopping up and down in his rage. “I will have order in this court!” The laughter continued, unchecked and unrestrained. Helpless to stop it, the tiny magistrate turned on his assistant. “Bailiff! Restore this courtroom to order!”

The bailiff was struggling to hold back his own laughter as he hurried to the desk, retrieved Lord Careless’ wig from the floor behind him, and plopped it unceremoniously upon the magistrate’s bald head. The laughter in the courtroom reached a crescendo.

The proud magistrate was thoroughly humiliated. “Silence!” he screamed, pounding the splintered desk so furiously that the head of the gavel separated from the handle and flew across the courtroom to strike an elderly Littlekin upon the shoulder. “I will have order!”

A hush fell across the courtroom as swiftly as a cloud blots out the sun. Lord Careless eyed the ruined gavel for several long seconds and then studied the remains of the desk. The three soldiers cowered in fear.

“One final charge,” the magistrate growled, biting off the end of each word as he glared furiously at Josiah. “Destruction of village property!”

The frightened young prince looked around the courtroom in desperation, for there was no question that Lord Careless and the tiny inhabitants of the Village of the Littlekins had determined evil against him. He looked beseechingly to the back of the courtroom at Envy, the Littlekin who had first approached him so politely, but the little man glared back as maliciously as the rest of the villagers. Josiah realized that there was nothing he could do—his hands were securely bound and the noose was still around his neck. He was at the mercy of the court.

“Stand and be sentenced!” Lord Careless ordered. Josiah was already standing, but he knew now that the tiny magistrate expected a response, so he simply leaned closer to the bench. His head slumped in defeat.

“Your malicious crimes against the citizenry of this village are numerous and of great magnitude. I hereby sentence you”—Lord Careless paused and Josiah winced—“to a duel between you and any male citizen of your choosing.”

“A duel?” Josiah’s head shot up. “What kind of a duel?”

“A test of strength,” the magistrate replied. “A contest of force. You are to engage in a wrestling match. If you shall win, you shall go free. But if you lose, you are our slave forever.”

“But, sire, I am not guilty!” Josiah protested.

“Select your opponent.”

“I am to choose, Your Honor?”

“Select any male citizen of this village,” the magistrate repeated slowly, as if irritated at Josiah’s dullness. “You will wrestle him. If you can prevail, you are free; but if you shall lose, you are our slave forever.”

An expectant hush fell over the crowd as Josiah gazed around the courtroom. I can whip any ten of these puny little men, Josiah thought scornfully. I can whip twenty, or thirty! Lord Careless must not realize just whom he is dealing with here. His gaze fell upon Envy. He’s the one responsible for this whole predicament, Josiah thought angrily. I’ll squash him like a bug! His arms are about as thick as my little finger!

He turned to face Lord Careless. “I choose Envy.”

“Envy?” The magistrate addressed the tiny man. “Do you accept the challenge?”

Envy stood to his feet. “With pleasure, Your Honor.”

“Unbind the defendant,” Lord Careless ordered, and Captain Temptation stepped forward to carry out the order. Josiah knelt so that the tiny soldier could reach the ropes. In no time, his hands were free and the noose was removed from around his neck.

He stood to his feet and watched Envy as he strode confidently forward. A leering grin was on his tiny face, and he flexed his skinny arms, almost as if he expected to win the match. Josiah shook his head in disbelief. I’m more than five times as tall as he is! I weigh fifty times as much as he does! Doesn’t this little fellow realize what he is up against?

Josiah began to relax. This won’t be so difficult after all. Once I beat this skinny little runt, I’ll leave the Village of the Littlekins behind me and continue with my journey to the Castle of Virtue. I can’t lose against such a puny adversary.

As the grinning Littlekin marched toward the front of the courtroom to accept the challenge, Josiah’s mouth dropped open. He stared in dismay. With each step he took, Envy was growing a little larger. He was halfway down the aisle and already he was nearly five feet tall. By the time he reached the front of the room, the tiny Littlekin had become a hulking giant of a man, more than eight feet tall, with huge arms and shoulders that bulged with powerful muscles!

Seizing the terrified prince by the throat, the enormous Littlekin lifted him off the floor with one hand. “I accept the challenge, Your Honor,” he growled in a deep voice that reverberated like thunder throughout the courtroom. “Aye, I look forward to it!” He relaxed his grip and allowed the boy to sink to the floor.

Overcome with fear, Josiah rose slowly to his feet. If he lost the match against his gigantic adversary, he was to be the slave of the Littlekins forever. He trembled at the thought.

Chapter Four

 

“The match will now begin,” Lord Careless announced. “Envy, loyal resident of our village, will combat the defendant, Prince Josiah, of the Castle of Faith. If the defendant wins the match he will be acquitted of the charges against him. If Envy wins the match, the defendant becomes our slave forever.”

Eager to fight the young prince, Envy leaned forward with a cruel leer on his features. Josiah’s heart pounded with fear. Just moments before the Littlekin had been a tiny man less than a foot tall, but now he was well over nine feet. The crowded courtroom was filled with the chants of the excited villagers. “Envy! Envy! Envy!”

Prince Josiah was desperate. He quickly scanned the courtroom, frantically seeking a way out of his dilemma, but the exits were blocked with throngs of Littlekins eager to witness the duel. He glanced back at Envy. His hulking adversary was growing faster and faster and was now more than ten feet tall! Completely overcome with terror, Josiah backed away.

The huge Littlekin grinned smugly as he took a menacing step forward. “Come to me, Prince Josiah of the Castle of Faith,” he taunted, beckoning with his thick, hairy hands. “I shall show you a thing or two!”

“King Emmanuel, I desperately need your help,” Josiah whispered. Fear swept over him in waves and his chest felt so tight that he could scarcely breathe. His trembling legs seemed ready to give way at any moment. A petition! I must send a petition to His Majesty! Lacking a parchment to write upon, the young prince snatched the rolled document from the hands of the startled bailiff. I don’t have time to put my petition into words, he thought frantically. I just hope that King Emmanuel will understand my unspoken plea!

“A petition to my King,” he said softly, holding the rolled parchment aloft. He released it, and to his relief, the petition shot from his hand and vanished from the courtroom.

“What manner of craftiness is this?” Lord Careless demanded, leaning across the bench and glaring at Josiah. A murmur of angry Littlekin voices swept across the crowded courtroom. Captain Temptation and his red-uniformed troops drew their swords and started forward.

“Use your sword,” a still, small voice prompted, and in the midst of his confusion and terror, Josiah heard. He looked up. The dove was perched on the chandelier directly over the magistrate’s bench. “Use your sword. His Majesty’s power is found within your sword.”

Josiah nodded. What was it that Sir Faithful had said when speaking of the dove? “Obedience to his voice will guarantee success in your quest for the seven castles.” The sword! Where was it?

The royal sword lay across the splintered desk within reach of Lord Careless. Josiah leaped to the platform, seized the weapon, and whirled about to confront Envy. He sprang directly at the gigantic Littlekin, swinging the invincible weapon with all his might. The suddenness of the move caught Envy by surprise, and he leaped back to evade the blade. Encouraged, the young prince charged forward, swinging the sword furiously.

Cowed by the threat of the glittering sword, Envy retreated, stumbling backward over the masses of Littlekins huddled behind him. He struggled to regain his balance and then tumbled to the courtroom floor with a resounding crash as the terrified Littlekins leaped in all directions to avoid being crushed by the enormous bulk. Shrieks of outrage filled the courtroom.

Quick to follow through with his momentary advantage, Josiah whirled and dashed to the door at the opposite side of the courtroom. Littlekins blocked the way, but Josiah’s sword sliced left and right with lightning swiftness. With shrieks of terror the tiny villagers scattered like chaff before the wind. Captain Temptation and his tiny soldiers were nowhere in sight. Josiah dashed through the door, slamming it behind him.

“Follow me!” a small voice called, and the young prince turned in time to see the dove dart into the shadows of the forest behind the courthouse. Josiah plunged into the dense woods and ran as hard as he could.

He caught a glimpse of the dove’s beautiful white plumage and dashed in that direction. Following the flight of the dove, he soon came to a moss-covered cabin. An elderly man stood before the cabin door as if waiting for him. “Come in hither, my prince,” the man called as Josiah came in sight. “You shall be safe with me!” The dove darted into the cabin, so Josiah felt that it was safe to follow. The man stepped in behind him and closed the door.

“I must hide!” Josiah blurted, breathing hard. “The Littlekins will soon be here!”

The old man turned slowly. His face was calm and peaceful and his clear gray eyes sparkled with friendliness. “The Little Sins will not venture to pursue you, Prince Josiah,” he replied softly. “They fear the power of your sword.”

Josiah stared at the old man. “Little Sins?” he echoed. “But sire, they are called the ‘Littlekins’. I saw it on the sign at the entrance to their village!”

“Little Sins,” the cabin owner corrected gently. “You have misread the sign.” He shook his grizzled head sadly. “Many a child of the King has been caught off guard by the Little Sins, as you were today. Envy, Gluttony, Pride, Apathy, Greed—they all seem so small and so harmless, but once they are allowed to abide in the human heart, they quickly take over. The Little Sins are often just as deadly adversaries as the transgressions that we would consider the ‘Big Sins.’ ”

Josiah nodded and held his sword against his side. When it changed into the book, he thrust it carefully inside his doublet. “They nearly conquered me,” he said in agreement. “They wanted to make me a slave forever.” He paused and looked at the old man in bewilderment. “Sire, how did you know my name?”

“I am a nobleman in the service of King Emmanuel. My name is Sir Wisdom. I was sent here to help you on your journey to the Castle of Virtue. As you have learned already, there will be many obstacles for you to overcome before you can reach the castle.”

“I shouldn’t have tried to pass through the Village of the Little Sins,” Josiah said contritely. “My book did not guide me there, and yet I ventured on that path.”

Sir Wisdom smiled sadly. “Aye, you were tricked,” he explained, “by your old pal, Palaois Anthropos.”

“My old nature?” Josiah was shocked. “But this man was a candlemaker, sire, not a tinker, as Palaois Anthropos was. And he didn’t look like…”

“Palaois can be quite crafty. I warn you—you have not seen the last of him.” The old man led Josiah to a small table, upon which two bowls of steaming porridge were set. A cheerful fire crackled upon the hearth. “You must spend the night here, lad. On the morrow you will resume your journey to the Castle of Virtue. You will face three tests of your integrity, which will be three challenges to your virtue. When you have passed these three trials, you will arrive at the castle.”

“Has King Emmanuel planned these trials for me?”

Sir Wisdom shook his head. “Actually, they are traps planned by your adversary, Argamor. But King Emmanuel has allowed them to take place on your journey as tests of your integrity, and they can become the means of growth. Remember, Prince Josiah, Argamor can only place obstacles in your path if King Emmanuel allows them.”

Josiah pulled up a stool and sat down at the table. “Thank you, sire. Your words are an encouragement to me. Tell me, sire, what kind of trials will they be?”

“I cannot tell you, Prince Josiah. But I may tell you this—use your book and listen for the voice of the dove. Send a petition to Emmanuel whenever you encounter resistance. You must conquer your adversaries in faith—faith in your King. Then and only then shall you taste the sweetness of victory.”

“Aye, that’s why I failed today and was captured by the Little Sins,” Josiah said with bowed head. “I didn’t listen to the dove or use the book until it was almost too late. If I hadn’t sent a petition to His Majesty, Envy would have prevailed, and I would have become the slave of the Little Sins forever!”

“Aye, my prince, you are learning.” His host smiled gently. “Eat your porridge.”

 

 

The sun was already hot upon the roadway when Prince Josiah trudged over a gentle rise and descended the winding track to the valley below. Feathery stands of pine and spruce bordered both sides of the narrow roadway. It had scarcely been half an hour since he had left Sir Wisdom’s cabin after a hearty breakfast and another admonition to beware of Argamor’s traps and, above all, to heed the book and obey the voice of the dove. The young prince was encouraged by the old man’s reminder that King Emmanuel would never allow Argamor to place anything in his path that he could not overcome by faith and obedience to the voice of the dove. I will send a petition to King Emmanuel at the first sign of trouble, he reminded himself.

Josiah paused at the sight of a narrow, windswept canyon that crossed the Path of Righteousness. He crept carefully to the edge and looked down. Far below, a swift river pounded and surged over rocks and boulders as it raced madly along in its quest for the sea. The thunderous roar of the water flowing through the narrow canyon and the white spray that flew in the air above the rocks testified of the restless power of the swift current. Clearly, this was not the place to ford the river.

He studied the canyon itself. The gray stone walls fell away abruptly in a rugged series of crags and crevices that were far too treacherous for a human to scale. There had to be another way across. As the young prince stood silently pondering his predicament, a shower of small rocks rattled down the slope and fell over the precipice to disappear into the chasm below. Startled, Josiah looked up to realize that something or someone had journeyed down the trail and passed by before he even knew that he was not alone.

Prince Josiah scrambled back up to the trail and hurried to catch up with the traveler. “Wait!” he called. But the man or beast or whatever it was had already disappeared around a bend in the trail. Josiah ran to catch up.

He dashed around the bend just in time to see a man in peasant’s clothing follow the trail to the edge of the canyon, drop a small object into a metal container at the side of the path, and then step out onto a wooden bridge that spanned the narrow canyon. Josiah’s heart leaped. A bridge! Here was a way to cross the canyon.

He paused in the middle of the trail and watched as the traveler made his way across. The bridge looked ancient; the uprights were badly weathered and the planks were splintered and decaying. In places, the planks were missing altogether, leaving gaping holes where a misstep could result in a fatal plunge to the raging river below. But the traveler crossed safely and continued on his way without mishap.

If he can do it, I can too, Josiah told himself. He weighs half again as much as I do. If the bridge will hold him, it will most certainly hold me. He hurried down the approach to the rickety bridge and cautiously lifted a foot to take the first step.

A strong hand against his chest restrained him from stepping out onto the bridge. “Your toll, lad. You haven’t paid your toll.”

Startled, Josiah glanced over to see a heavyset man in tattered brown homespun sitting on a small boulder beside the bridge. “My toll, sire?”

“Nobody crosses the bridge for naught,” the man told him crossly. “The crossing will cost you a threepence.”

“Threepence!” Josiah echoed. “But sire, I have no money.”

The man shrugged. “This is a toll bridge, lad. Those who do not pay do not cross.”

“But I am on the King’s business!” Josiah protested. “I am Prince Josiah, from the Castle of Faith, and I am traveling to the Castle of Virtue. In the name of King Emmanuel I request that you would allow me to pass.”

“Nay, not without a threepence,” the man insisted, shrugging to indicate that it mattered not to him that Josiah was on an errand for the King. “Those who do not pay do not cross.”

Perplexed, Josiah walked back up the trail. He sank to a seat on a boulder in the shade of a willow while he considered his dilemma. I can’t turn back! But the bridge appears to be the only way across, and I have no money. What am I to do?

“There is a way across, my lord.”

Josiah turned, startled, to see a wrinkled old woman sitting in the shade of the tree. The woman wore wretched, dirty clothing. Her graying hair was disheveled and matted; and when she smiled, Josiah saw that she was missing several teeth. A gypsy, he thought, with some alarm. But the woman was smiling in a friendly manner as she sidled toward him, and Josiah began to relax.

“There is a way across, my lord,” she said again as she drew close to Josiah’s boulder.

“How, my good woman? I see no other way but the bridge. The walls of the canyon are too steep, and the river cannot be forded.”

“The bridge is the only way, unless one cares to walk a hundred furlongs downstream to a place where it can be forded. You must cross by way of the bridge.”

“But I have no money,” Josiah protested.

“Nor have I, my lord, but I cross whenever I please.”

“But there is a toll collector, and he will not allow me to cross unless I drop a threepence into his kettle.”

The old woman laughed. “So drop in a pebble.”

“What?”

“The toll collector listens for the sound of the coin in the kettle,” the old woman explained. “A pebble makes the same sound as a threepence.”

Josiah was shocked. “But that would not be right! That would be dishonest!”

The woman shrugged. “The bridge does not belong to the toll collector, so he has no right to collect tolls from travelers. He did not build it, nor does he maintain it.”

“Then why does he collect tolls?” Josiah asked.

“He simply laid claim to the bridge one day and began to collect tolls. No one has yet challenged him, and so he has gotten away with it.”

Josiah hesitated. “But it still would not be right to deceive the toll collector by dropping in a pebble.”

The old woman snorted. “I heard you say that you are on business for the King, did I not? The King’s business requires haste, does it not? What would the King say if He were to learn that you have been delayed simply because you are afraid to attempt to outwit a man who is standing in the way of your success? A man who has no business collecting tolls in the first place?”

She thrust a pebble into his reluctant hand. “Go on, my lord, cross the bridge! Simply walk up, drop your pebble into the kettle, and cross the bridge as if you have paid your toll.”

“I hate to be deceitful,” Josiah faltered.

“Deceitful? Bah! You are merely outwitting one who stands in your way—a man who has no right to demand anything of you.” Josiah still drew back, but she pushed him gently toward the bridge. “Go on! In thirty seconds you shall be safely on the other side of yon river.”

The young prince took a deep breath and marched resolutely toward the sagging bridge. His heart was pounding madly as he extended a hand to drop the pebble into the kettle. The pebble made a plinking sound as it struck the bottom of the kettle, and the toll collector smiled. “Have a pleasant journey, my son.” Josiah nodded, but he felt sick inside.

His heart was in his throat as he traversed the rickety structure, but he crossed the river without mishap and alighted safely on the opposite bank. He breathed a sigh of relief when he set foot on the rocky ridge above the river. He had expected to feel a sense of accomplishment when he left the bridge behind him, but instead, he felt empty and hollow inside. He had been deceitful. He tried to tell himself that he had not lied to the bridge keeper, but deep in his heart he knew that the act of tossing the pebble into the kettle in place of a coin was in reality a lie. True, he had not lied in words, but he had lied in actions. The thought troubled him.

Josiah trudged up the hill, determined to put the matter behind him. He would think of it no more. He had been deceitful, and he knew that Sir Faithful would be disappointed if he found out, but no one knew, and that was the end of the matter.

He glanced up to see an old man resting in the shade of a tall elm beside the road. As he drew closer to the traveler, he was surprised to see that it was Sir Wisdom, the old nobleman in whose cabin he had spent the night.

“Three tests, Prince Josiah,” Sir Wisdom said with a mournful look and tone. “You have failed the first of the three.”

Josiah’s heart cried out at these words. “But sire, I could see no other way across the river! I had no money!”

“Josiah, Josiah. You are on your way to the Castle of Virtue, and yet you have used deceit to get there. What would King Emmanuel think of what you have done?”

“The old woman talked me into it,” Josiah replied in a feeble attempt to defend himself, not only to Sir Wisdom, but also to his conscience, which was troubling him at that very moment. “She told me that the toll collector has no right to collect money from anyone, that he doesn’t even own the bridge!”

“Who was the old woman?” the old man asked softly. “Why was she so interested in helping you across the river?”

“I don’t know, sire,” Josiah replied. “I guess I never wondered about it.”

“Her name is Deceit, and she is an agent for Argamor, your adversary. Josiah, she was able to lead you astray because, once again, you have failed to use your book and to listen to the voice of the dove.”

“But she told me that the toll collector doesn’t own the bridge! That he has no right to collect money from travelers!”

“He does own the bridge,” the old man replied softly, “but that’s not the point. Prince Josiah, it’s never right to do wrong, even if you think that you have a good reason for doing wrong.”

“But how was I to get across the river?” Josiah argued.

“King Emmanuel had already provided another way, but you did not consult your book nor send a petition, and so you did not find it. This journey is a journey of faith, lad. You must learn to trust your King.”

Josiah hung his head.

“There are two more tests that you must face, my young friend. Don’t attempt to face them on your own. Consult your book, and listen to the voice of the dove. Then and only then you shall pass them successfully.”

Sir Wisdom looked at him sadly and tenderly. “I shall go back and pay your toll, and you shall continue on your way. Prince Josiah, I wish you well. Pass these next two tests, my son. But to do so, you must use your book and listen to the voice of the dove. If you shall attempt to undertake the tests in your own strength, you shall fail again. Trust in your King, my son, and heed the book and the dove.” With these words, the old nobleman was gone.

Chapter Five

 

With remorse in his heart, Josiah said farewell to Sir Wisdom and continued along the trail. I failed my King again, he thought bitterly. How many times can I fail and still be a worthy prince, a credit to King Emmanuel? Why can I not find victory?

The trail was growing steeper, so he used his sword to cut a thick walking staff. He marched quickly up the rocky path, fired with the energy of youth and the determination to do well in the next two tests. I shall use my book, he told himself resolutely, and I shall listen for the voice of the dove. I must not fail King Emmanuel again! Glancing upward, he caught a glimpse of the dove flitting over the treetops. Reassured, he hiked even faster.

Half an hour later Josiah came out on a shale-covered slope above a sapphire blue lake guarded by tall stands of pine, poplar, and blue spruce. The view was breath-taking. A gentle breeze whispered through the pines and scurried across the surface of the lake, kicking up tiny waves as it went, while a dancing sunbeam glittered and sparkled on the water, turning the waves into acres and acres of shimmering blue diamonds. On the far side of the lake, a tiny cabin hugged a shoreline of pure white sand. Overhead, a lone eagle with motionless wings rode the air currents in endless circles. Josiah stood silently, transfixed by the scene before him.

He stooped and picked up a rock. As he drew his arm back to hurl the missile out over the water, his eye fell upon a small sign nearby. “Do not throw rocks into the lake,” it said. Disappointed, he lowered his arm. “What would it hurt?” he asked himself aloud. “There’s no one around, so I couldn’t possibly hit anyone.”

He raised the rock again, and then thought better of it. Perhaps this was the next test—he could not take that chance. He must not fail his King. Reluctantly, he opened his fingers and allowed the stone to fall into the pile of shale at his feet.

The stone bounced and rolled down the steep, shale-covered slope, picking up speed and dislodging other rocks as it traveled. Disturbed by that one stone, layers of shale began to slide downhill with a slight clattering noise. Boulders began to move, sliding slowly at first, and then rolling and tumbling and finally bouncing and leaping high into the air as they picked up speed. Soon the entire hillside below Josiah was in motion. The clatter of small tumbling rocks mingled with the grinding and jarring of large boulders and then became the thunderous roar of a gigantic rockslide.

Thousands of tons of shale and granite boulders thundered down the steep hillside to drop into the placid waters of the lake with a mighty roar and a tremendous splash. It was as if the mountain itself had fallen into the water. The result was a gigantic tidal wave taller than a tree. Josiah watched in horror as the white-crested breaker traveled across the lake with incredible speed to break upon the far shore, engulfing the tiny cabin as it crashed down with devastating force. When the wave receded, the boy could see the mangled remains of the cabin being swept down the shore. In one instant the tidal wave had reduced the secluded cabin to a pile of rubble.

Josiah stared in dismay at the spot where the tiny cabin had stood just moments before. Did I do that? I attempted to obey the sign, but look what happened!

Moments later a thin man in mountaineer’s garb appeared at Josiah’s elbow to stare in anguish at the empty beach and the debris floating in the water. “My home!” he cried, wringing his hands and swaying from side to side as if he might collapse at any moment. “My beautiful home!” He threw a pleading look at Josiah. “What happened, my lord? Did you see what happened?”

Josiah swallowed hard. “A h-huge wave s-swept it away,” he croaked, choking on the words. “Tell him the whole of the truth,” his conscience demanded accusingly. “The rock that you have dropped so carelessly caused the wave that destroyed this man’s cabin! Tell him so!”

I can’t tell him that. Josiah argued. There’s no telling what he might do! And besides, I don’t really know that it was my rock that caused the landslide. Perchance the entire slope was merely unstable and ready to slide into the lake, and simply happened to let loose at this particular moment.

It was your rock that caused the rockslide,” the inner voice accused, mocking and jeering in its tone. “You know that. Now, tell this poor man!”

I can’t! Josiah replied desperately. I just can’t!

The mountaineer was watching him suspiciously. “My lord, did you throw a rock into the lake?” The words caught Josiah off guard.

“N-no, sire, I d-did not,” Josiah stammered, truthfully enough, for he had not actually hurled the missile into the water itself. His heart smote him, for he now knew that it was he that had caused the tidal wave, even though he had not intended to. But he shrank from the idea of implicating himself.

“Do you know what caused it?” The mountaineer looked so miserable and forlorn that Josiah actually hurt inside. He swallowed hard, opened his mouth to speak, and then lost his nerve. He just couldn’t bring himself to tell the grief-stricken man that he had caused the tidal wave that had destroyed his home.

Shaking his head slowly from side to side, the mountaineer sadly began to follow a narrow footpath that led down to the lake. Josiah felt miserable inside, but he just couldn’t find the courage to do what he knew he ought.

“Prince Josiah, tell the poor man what actually happened.”

Startled, Josiah looked over to see the dove perched in a small cherry tree beside the trail. The tree was snowy white with blossoms, rendering the celestial bird almost invisible among the branches.

“I-I can’t,” Josiah faltered. “I didn’t intend to create the tidal wave, and I certainly didn’t intend to destroy that poor man’s cabin.”

“You must tell him.”

“I cannot. I simply cannot.”

“What does your book say about this?”

At the mention of the book, Josiah suddenly realized that the entire situation he was facing was another part of the test. He must not fail. “I do not know what my book says,” he replied meekly. “Where should I look?” He reached inside his doublet and withdrew the precious book.

“Open the book,” the dove requested, and Josiah did so. “Turn a little further toward the back of the book.” Following the dove’s instructions, Josiah finally found the appropriate text. “Read it aloud.”

Josiah read the passage, which spoke of providing for honest things, not only in the sight of men, but also in the sight of the King. The words struck fear into his heart. Holding the book with trembling hands, he stepped closer to the dove. “Does King Emmanuel see me right now?” he asked in a quavering voice. “Does He know what happened here?”

The dove nodded twice, spread his wings, and flew down toward the lake.

Josiah took a deep breath. He had to do what was right—he must not fail King Emmanuel again. “Wait!” he shouted, running down the winding path to catch up with the mountaineer. “There is something that I must tell you!”

 

 

Josiah glanced upward at the sky laced with buttermilk clouds, noting that he had approximately two hours of daylight remaining. “If I hurry, perhaps I can reach the Castle of Virtue before dark,” he told himself aloud. “I must be getting close.” Rounding a bend in the trail, he saw a small town four or five furlongs in the distance. He hastened his pace.

“Might I join you, lad?” a familiar voice called, and Josiah looked back in surprise.

“Sir Wisdom!” Josiah exclaimed. “Sire, I did not expect to see you again today!”

The old man chuckled as he hurried to catch up with Josiah. “And how did you fare in the second test, lad?”

Josiah laughed happily. “I think that you know already, but I will tell you anyway.” Briefly, he recounted the events at the lake. “And the poor mountaineer was not angry with me,” he told Sir Wisdom, shaking his head in relief. “He merely said that he would begin work on another cabin tomorrow. But I’m glad I told him; I felt so much better afterwards.”

“That good feeling comes from doing the right thing,” Sir Wisdom replied. “Now, tell me, Josiah, why did you succeed in this test when you had failed in the Village of the Little Sins, and also in the first of the three tests of integrity?”

Josiah thought it over. “Simply because this time I listened to the voice of the dove and used my book,” he decided.

“Exactly! And now you know the way to victory in the third test that you must face.” The old man paused in the roadway. “Well, we are almost to the town, and I must leave you here. Farewell, Prince Josiah. May I wish you success in the third test.” With those words he turned and left the trail, tramping through the heather and bluebells as he headed over the side of the hill.

Josiah took a deep breath and hurried toward the town, which bustled with activity. As he entered the town gate, he spied a robust, friendly-looking vendor at the side of the narrow street. The man was standing outside his shop, attempting to call the attention of passersby to the inclined rack of baked goods in the window. A delicious aroma filled the afternoon air, and Josiah ventured over. His mouth watered at the sight of an array of fruit pastries, so fresh from the oven that they were still steaming.

 

“Are you traveling far, my lord?” The friendly shop owner was at his elbow, his round face beaming with interest. The tone of respect in the man’s voice and the look of awe in his eyes told Josiah that the man had noticed his royal clothing, and the boy enjoyed the feeling of importance that the man’s reaction produced.

“I’m on my way to the Castle of Virtue, sire.”

“Just passing through, then. Would you care for a fresh apple pastry, my lord, still hot from the oven?”

“I thank you, sire, but I have no money. I expect to reach the castle before nightfall.”

The shopkeeper looked around as if to be certain that no one else was within earshot and then leaned close to Josiah. “I cannot do this for everyone, my lord, but suppose I were to give you a pastry? Aye, you are hungry for one—I can see it in your eyes.” Josiah opened his mouth to protest, but the eager shopkeeper was already thrusting a hot pastry into his hands. “Be on your way, my lord, and have a pleasant journey.” He winked. “And not a word about this little gift, hear, or every urchin in town will be begging at my doorstep.”

“I thank you, sire! You have been most kind!” The flaky pastry was almost too hot to hold. Josiah clutched it gingerly as he hurried down the narrow street, giving the tantalizing treat a moment to cool before eating it.

“Take care, knave!” A riding crop struck Josiah on the shoulder, causing him to leap back in alarm. A large sorrel mare was bearing down upon him. The rider was a fat, gaudily dressed merchant who looked extremely uncomfortable in the saddle. Instead of guiding his horse around Josiah, the man rode straight ahead. As the mare brushed past the boy, the merchant stuck out a booted foot and planted it on Josiah’s chest, shoving him backwards. Josiah fell against the stone wall of a coppersmith’s shop, striking his head in the process.

He leaped to his feet. “There was plenty of room for you to pass without striking me down!” he cried angrily after the departing rider. “You should watch where you are going!” The merchant ignored him and rode on.

Josiah was still seething as he brushed himself off. “There was plenty of room for him to ride around me,” he muttered. “He didn’t have to—” His eye fell upon an object in the street, and his anger boiled over. The apple pastry that the shopkeeper had given him was lying in the dust, and apparently the merchant’s mare had stepped upon it, for it was now as flat as a sheet of parchment.

“Now look what you have done!” Josiah cried in a rage, throwing another furious glance at the fat merchant. At that moment the mare was passing through the town gate. An oxcart was entering the town from the opposite direction, and the merchant’s horse sidestepped to avoid a collision, brushing against the gate as she did. A large object fell from the merchant’s saddle and landed in the street, apparently unseen by the corpulent rider. The mare continued on her way.

Josiah stepped around the approaching team of oxen and ran forward to snatch up the fallen item, a large leather wallet such as travelers often used to carry supplies for their journeys. Josiah glanced around. No one was paying him any attention. He stepped to the side of the lane and opened the wallet. He found a single loaf of bread, a wedge of hard cheese, and a few brass coins—just the amount needed to purchase lodging for the night.

Josiah’s mind raced. I shall not keep the wallet, for it is not mine, he told himself. Aye, but suppose I just toss it under yonder bush, where no one will find it. That rude merchant will reach his destination tonight and find that he has neither food nor lodging! The young prince laughed at the thought. Those straits would serve him well, he thought triumphantly, after what he has cost me! Glancing around, he hurried closer to the bush so that his actions would not be observed.

“What would your King have you do with the wallet?”

Josiah actually jumped in fright at the words. He looked around guiltily and was surprised to find the dove in the branches of the very bush where he intended to hide the wallet. “Did you see the way the merchant treated me?” Josiah retorted hotly. “He was too important to ride around me, and he knocked me down! And he ruined my pastry!”

“How would your King have you to respond to the rudeness of the merchant?”

This was one time when Josiah simply did not feel like listening to the voice of the dove. “The merchant ruined my pastry! I did not cause the strap on his wallet to break; the mare brushed it against the post of the gate. I owe the merchant nothing.”

“Aye, but you know what your King would have you to do,” the dove prodded gently. “His very words in your book are that his children are to do unto others as they would have others do unto them.”

The words struck home to Josiah’s heart, for he had already read that very passage one afternoon while at the Castle of Faith. He hesitated. In his imagination he could see the scornful look in the eyes of the fat merchant as he planted a boot against Josiah’s chest and shoved him backwards. His anger surged anew as he remembered striking his head against the wall and as he thought of the ruined apple pastry lying in the dust. The merchant deserved no forgiveness; Josiah owed him no kindness. He drew back his hand to toss the wallet into the shadow of the bush, but paused in uncertainty.

A tall passerby spoke up at that moment. “Toss it under the bush, lad. I would not return the fat merchant’s wallet. I saw what he did to you.”

Josiah recognized the man’s voice. “Be silent, Palaios,” he said sternly, without even turning to face him. “I need no advice from you—you have caused me more than enough trouble on other occasions.” Palaios retreated without further comment.

The words of the book rang in Josiah’s mind and heart until he could ignore them no longer. In an instant he could see the kind, loving eyes of King Emmanuel as he reached down to break the shackles from Josiah’s feet. Again he could see the fearsome scars in the King’s hands.

Josiah wheeled, darted around a peasant entering the gate with a huge load of sticks upon his back, and ran after the merchant. The mare had broken into a gentle canter and the boy had to run hard to catch up with her. “Wait, sire!” he called, as he drew abreast of the horse. The merchant threw him a chilling glance and rode on. “Wait, sire, for you have lost your wallet!” Josiah shouted.

The merchant glanced again at Josiah, recognized the wallet, and immediately drew back on the reins. “Give me that!” he snarled, red-faced and angry as he leaned out of the saddle to snatch the wallet from Josiah’s outstretched hand. “You little thief!”

Josiah was stunned at the man’s response to his good deed. “Sire, would I be returning your wallet if I were a thief? Your mare tore it loose from your saddle when she brushed against the gate post.”

In response, the merchant glared icily at Josiah and rode ahead without answering. The boy stood still in the middle of the roadway, staring in disbelief at the man’s broad back. “He wasn’t even grateful!” He shook his head in disappointment and disgust.

“Well done, lad! You have passed your third test!”

Startled, Josiah looked up to see Sir Wisdom approaching. The old man was beaming with delight. “You have done exactly as your King would have you do, Prince Josiah, and you have passed your test.”

Josiah raised his eyebrows. “Returning that man’s wallet was perhaps the hardest thing that I have ever done in my entire life. And he didn’t even thank me. He treated me like a thieving street urchin.”

“True, but you have listened to the dove and done as King Emmanuel would have you do, and that is all that matters. I dare say that a good part of virtue is learning to do what’s right even though it is not easy and your old nature tells you to do otherwise.

“Come, lad, the Castle of Virtue is less than ten furlongs beyond the town. I will accompany you, and we shall be at the castle in less than half an hour.” He put a hand on Josiah’s shoulder. “The Castle of Virtue has a pastry chef who will soon make you forget all about the apple pastry that you have lost.”

Chapter Six

 

Prince Josiah and his companion approached the Castle of Virtue just as the setting sun dropped behind the western hills. A single star hung in the platinum sky above the castle, shining white and bright like a lantern of guidance and promise. An instant later the sky darkened and a number of stars appeared as if by magic. The coming night was clear and cool, all dark shadows and silver starlight. Here and there, dark pointed firs stood half shadow and half silver while the wind whistled through their branches.

Josiah paused for a moment, gazing upward at the stars, and felt a thrill sweep over him as he found King Emmanuel’s coat of arms in the constellation directly overhead. To the east, the constellation of stars formed the beautiful image of the lily of the valley. The young prince sighed with contentment and wonder. Emmanuel was Lord of the heavens as well as Lord of Terrestria.

The Castle of Virtue, a concentric stone castle very similar in appearance to the Castle of Faith, was situated high above the town on a precipitous mountainside. The approach to the gatehouse was extremely steep and difficult, and the two travelers labored hard to climb it in the purple twilight. “We’re just in time,” Sir Wisdom puffed. “The night is fast upon us, yet the drawbridge is still down.” Their footsteps rang hollow on the wooden drawbridge as they approached the main castle gate.

“Who approaches the castle?” The challenge came from an invisible sentry in the gatehouse over their heads.

Josiah waited, but Sir Wisdom was silent, so he replied boldly, “Prince Josiah, of the Castle of Faith. With me is Sir Wisdom.”

“We have been awaiting your arrival, Prince Josiah. And Sir Wisdom is always welcome at the Castle of Virtue. Advance and be recognized.” Chains rattled, and the huge portcullis slowly lifted to allow them entrance. The young prince and the old man strode into the circle of torchlight illuminating the entryway.

A tall knight stepped forward to greet them. “Welcome to the Castle of Virtue,” he said. “I am Sir Honesty, commander of the castle garrison. If you will follow me, I will take you to the great hall to meet Sir Honorable, the castle steward.” He grinned suddenly. “Your timing is superb, my lords. Dinner is served in less than ten minutes.”

Sir Wisdom smiled and winked at Josiah.

They followed Sir Honesty across the barbican, through an inner gate and across a flagstone courtyard lined with myrtle trees heavy with fragrant blossoms. A huge round moon peeked from behind a cloud just then, bathing the castle walls and courtyard with a soft silver light. A delightful feeling of accomplishment swept over Josiah. He had reached the Castle of Virtue!

The tall knight and his two guests entered an enormous room with a high, vaulted ceiling supported by massive beams. Josiah was pleased to note that the high stone walls of the great hall were adorned and brightened by colorful silk banners honoring King Emmanuel, much like the banners in the great hall at the Castle of Faith. Gazing about at the walls, he saw the familiar banners depicting the King as the Bread of Life, the Light of Terrestria, the Lily of the Valley, and many others that he had seen in the constellations in the heavens. His favorite was the banner that depicted King Emmanuel as the Great Shepherd—that one was so easy to understand. A warm feeling swept across his soul as he realized that King Emmanuel was Lord of this castle just as much as he was of the Castle of Faith. The inhabitants of this castle also loved his King.

At one end of the great hall, a huge hearth blazed brightly with a briskly snapping wood fire. Immense wrought iron chandeliers ablaze with flickering candles hung over the hall from large chains. Three rows of long trestle tables flanked by benches occupied the center of the room. King Emmanuel’s table was perpendicular to the others and enjoyed a place of prominence in front of the huge fireplace. The table was ornate, set with silver service, and flanked by upholstered chairs in place of benches.

Knights and their ladies were strolling casually into the great hall, laughing and conversing warmly with each other. Squires and pages called to one another, and children laughed and chattered happily. Ladies-in-waiting exchanged greetings with members of the castle staff while servants and scullions hurried here and there, filling goblets and bearing platters of food. Attendants and pages stood at attention along the walls. A minstrel stood in one corner, frowning in concentration as he tuned the strings on his lute. In the noisy hustle and bustle of the preparation for the evening meal, the atmosphere in the great hall was one of anticipation, happiness, and contentment.

Sir Honesty led Josiah and Sir Wisdom to the King’s table and instructed an attendant to seat them in places of honor. He himself took a seat immediately to Josiah’s left.

A tall, broad-chested nobleman arrayed in a stunning doublet of brilliant scarlet and gold entered the great hall and strode quickly toward the King’s table. Around his shoulders was a cloak of shimmering black satin; at his side swung an enormous sword with a golden hilt set with emeralds, rubies and diamonds. His rugged face was framed by a brown beard that looked incredibly soft.

Sir Honesty stood quickly to his feet as the enormous man approached the table. “Sir Honorable, allow me to introduce Prince Josiah, of the Castle of Faith. Our old friend Sir Wisdom is with him.”

“Sir Wisdom, how are you?” Sir Honorable said, clapping a huge hand on the old man’s shoulder in a friendly way. He turned to Josiah, and the boy saw a strong, manly face with lively brown eyes that seemed almost as kind as the eyes of King Emmanuel. “Welcome, Prince Josiah, to the Castle of Virtue,” the steward said heartily. “We are honored by your presence.”

“I thank you, sire,” Josiah replied timidly, awed by the impressive physique of the huge nobleman. The sleeves of Sir Honorable’s garment could scarcely hide the powerful muscles in the nobleman’s massive arms and shoulders; the man looked as if he could single-handedly batter his way through an entire division of enemy knights.

“And how was your journey, my prince?”

Josiah glanced at Sir Wisdom before answering. “I encountered some small difficulties, sire, but I was able to overcome by using my book and heeding the voice of the dove.”

The big man seemed pleased with Josiah’s answer. “Well done, my prince,” he retorted, with a satisfied smile upon his handsome face.

Sir Honorable raised his hands and a hush immediately fell across the great hall. The lords and ladies, knights, squires and pages, servants, maids and children all waited attentively. The stalwart steward raised his hand, clutching a rolled parchment which Josiah knew was a petition of thanksgiving. After the petition had been sent to King Emmanuel, attendants swarmed about the tables, bearing platters of miniature meat pastries, pheasant in cinnamon sauce, beef fritters, slices of roast mutton, filets of various saltwater fish, and a vast array of colorful garden vegetables.

Josiah sighed in contentment as the servants filled the huge silver plate before him. “The food here looks every bit as good as the food at the Castle of Faith,” he whispered to Sir Wisdom.

The old man smiled. “You are at His Majesty’s table!” he whispered back.

Josiah sampled one of the steaming meat pastries and found it delicious. His heart filled with gratitude to his King. As the blissful inhabitants of the Castle of Virtue ate the bountiful feast that their King had provided, the minstrel strolled among the tables strumming cheerful melodies on his lute and singing many of the songs of praise that Josiah had heard at the Castle of Faith.

 

 

Josiah stayed at the Castle of Virtue for several days. Sir Honorable spent countless hours with him, teaching him just what it meant to be a man of virtue and personal integrity. Over and over he stressed the fact that a child of the King had no virtue of his own, that true virtue came from King Emmanuel, and that Josiah would acquire virtue only as he studied and memorized his book.

“Your book tells of King Emmanuel,” he would say, “and King Emmanuel is the source of all virtue. Read and study your book, Prince Josiah, and then you shall become more and more like your King. Remember that Argamor hates and fears the Word of your King, and therefore he will do all he can to keep you from your book. But if you will learn to use your book and your Shield of Faith you shall have victory over your enemy, Argamor.”

Finally, the day came when Josiah was prepared to leave the Castle of Virtue and travel to his next destination, the Castle of Knowledge. Sir Honesty, Sir Honorable, and the rest of the residents of the Castle of Virtue assembled at the main gate to bid him farewell. Sir Honorable held a large emerald, which glowed with a dazzling green fire. “Lift your Shield of Faith,” he told Josiah. As Josiah obeyed, the steward touched the emerald to the face of the shield, just below the coat of arms. The brilliant jewel glowed even brighter for a moment, and as Sir Honorable released it, Josiah saw that it was now permanently fused to the shield.

“May we wish you success on your journey to the Castle of Knowledge, Prince Josiah,” the big castle steward called after him. “Always be a man of virtue, and serve our King faithfully!”

Sir Wisdom accompanied him to the bottom of the hill. “Farewell, my prince,” he said softly. “The road to the Castle of Knowledge will not be an easy one, but you have learned the way to victory. No foe can defeat you if you will use your sword and heed the voice of the dove. You must travel this road alone, Josiah, just you and the dove, but I am assured that you will be victorious and reach the Castle of Knowledge safely. Farewell, my young friend.”

With a lump in his throat Josiah bid the old man farewell and started down the road toward the Castle of Knowledge. Tilting his shield so that he could see the face of it, he admired the splendid emerald. “Six more castles to go,” he whispered softly.

Chapter Seven

 

Prince Josiah’s heart was light as he journeyed toward the Castle of Knowledge. The road was easy, with relatively few hills and slopes, and he was making good time. The furlongs fell away effortlessly beneath his feet. He had stopped for his midday meal beside a bubbling brook that seemed to sing and laugh as it traversed its rocky course. After a quick lunch of bread, mutton and cheese that the cook at the Castle of Virtue had placed in his pack, he had taken a drink from the brook and resumed his journey.

Josiah’s heart overflowed with love for his King and before he even realized what was happening, a song of praise burst from his lips:

“I once was an outcast,

The captive of sin.

But His Majesty found me;

His love took me in.”

 

The Path of Righteousness had narrowed and was now winding its way through a dense forest of cypress and mangrove trees. On his right, the pathway was bordered by a swampy bog thick with sawgrass and shaded with cypress; the knees of the giant cypress trees rose from the muck and mire like grotesque little creatures from another world. To his left, the forest was so thick and tangled that the afternoon sun pierced the gloom with only an occasional shaft of golden light. Josiah pushed ahead rapidly, unmindful of the gloominess of the region. He found himself singing the second stanza of the song of praise:

“With hands that were nail-scarred,

His Majesty came,

And broke all my shackles.

Now I praise his name!”

 

Hearing a slight rustle in the ferns and grasses that shrouded the roots and lower trunks of the trees on the gentle slope to his left, Josiah paused and listened. He stared hard, but could see nothing in the dense undergrowth. With a shrug, he resumed his journey. A moment later, he paused again, certain that he had heard the noise once more. It was more than just the usual animal noises one encounters when hiking in the woods; the sound seemed to be keeping pace with him as he hiked along, almost as if someone or something was stalking him. His heart pounded as he walked faster.

The rustling noise became louder, and Josiah became alarmed. Someone or something was indeed stalking him, keeping pace with him as he hurried along the trail but keeping just out of sight within the dark and gloom of the forest. At times the noise was more than just a mere rustling; whatever was stalking him was crashing through briar and bramble as loudly as a herd of cattle.

Josiah looked around for the dove, but his quiet companion was not in sight. He nervously eyed the forest, but could see nothing out of place. He walked faster yet, reaching within his doublet and drawing the book for reassurance.

The young prince gasped in fright as a knight in dark armor sprang from the trees to stand in the middle of the path. The challenger’s visor was down, obscuring his face; in his hands he held a loaded crossbow, which he pointed at Josiah’s chest. “Hold your ground, rogue,” the knight growled. “One more step, and I shall send a bolt through your heart!”

Josiah sucked in his breath in a long, trembling gasp. “I am Prince Josiah, heir to King Emmanuel,” he said boldly, trying to keep his voice from trembling. “I am on my way to the Castle of Knowledge, and you shall not presume to stand in my way.” He swung the book and the blade of steel sang through the air.

The dark knight laughed. “Come, lad, do you hope to get the best of us?” At the mention of the word ‘us’ the woods seemed to come alive as fully a dozen knights stepped from the shadows of the forest. All were armed with long bows or crossbows, which they trained upon the young prince. Their arrows and bolts were fitted with flaming tips that blazed brightly against the dark backdrop of the forest.

Josiah took a deep breath. “I am Prince Josiah, of the Castle of Faith, son and heir to King Emmanuel Himself. Stand aside and let me pass.”

Laughter greeted his statement. “There are thirteen of us, knave, and only one of you,” the dark knight pointed out. “Surrender your sword, or we shall fill your carcass with shafts of steel.”

“Never!” Josiah shouted, raising his sword and leaping forward.

The twang of bowstrings signaled Josiah’s doom as the enemy soldiers released their bolts and arrows as one man. The terrified prince caught a glimpse of the flaming darts as they sped toward his heart, and he knew that this was the end. He would never reach the Castle of Knowledge.

But to his amazement, the fiery darts never reached him. The Shield of Faith on his left arm seemed to come alive as it slashed the air in front of him, deflecting every one of the enemy’s fiery missiles. Through the confusion of his terror Josiah heard the sounds of the arrows and crossbolts striking steel and dimly saw the sparks and flashes as the deadly projectiles fell harmlessly to the path at his feet.

The thirteen knights gasped in astonishment as they realized that Josiah was still standing before them, unscathed and unharmed. With lightning movements they nocked their arrows and sent another fusillade of deadly missiles in his direction. Their shots, fired in haste, were wild and scattered, but just as before, the Shield of Faith deflected every bolt and arrow harmlessly to the ground.

“For the honor and glory of King Emmanuel!” Prince Josiah leaped forward, vigorously swinging the sword. With cries of terror, the enemy scattered into the woods. Within seconds, the sounds of their hasty retreat had died away and all was quiet.

The victorious young prince dropped to his knees in the middle of the path. Gripping the hilt of his invincible sword in both hands, he lowered the point of the blade to the earth and bowed his head. Moments later, he held the sword against his side until it changed into the book and then drew a parchment from within its pages and wrote a message to Emmanuel. “I thank you, my King,” he wrote. “I thank you for my Shield of Faith, for my sword, and for the victory that you have given me today.” Upon release, the parchment shot from his hand.

He stood to his feet and placed the book reverently inside his doublet, close to his heart. A song of joy and gratitude burst from his lips as he resumed his journey. He had met the enemy face to face and experienced the sweet taste of victory!

Two or three furlongs further down the path he heard the rustling in the darkness of the forest again, but this time it didn’t frighten him. He didn’t even bother to draw his sword. He laughed softly. The enemy knew better than to tangle with him.

“Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall,” a quiet voice whispered, but Josiah didn’t hear. He marched along resolutely.

Hearing a noise in the branches of a huge tree that overhung the trail, Josiah looked up just in time to see a dark figure dropping straight at him. He tried to dodge, but he was too late. A heavy body struck him full in the shoulder, knocking him face down to the earth.

Josiah reached for his sword, but a strong hand gripped his wrist and a sharp blade pressed menacingly against the side of his neck. He froze, afraid to move. Rough hands jerked him to his feet. A hand of steel reached inside his doublet, and then was quickly snatched back out.

Laughter rang through the darkness of the forest as strong hands hurled Josiah headlong into a patch of briars at the side of the trail. He rolled free of the briars and leaped to his feet. The forest was dark and silent; he was alone on the trail. His attackers had disappeared as quickly as they had come.

Thoroughly frightened, the young prince reached for his book. His heart seemed to skip a beat as he realized that the weapon was not there. His assailants had stolen his sword! He was helpless!

A slight noise caught his attention and he looked upward to see the dove perched in the branches of a shagbark hickory. “They came back,” Josiah lamented. “I had a complete victory over them, and yet they came back and attacked me a second time! They took my sword.”

“He who experiences victory often leaves himself open to a second attack,” the dove replied quietly.

“Aye, but I beat them so easily the first time!” Josiah exclaimed. “I didn’t think they’d come back!” He looked accusingly at the celestial bird. “Why didn’t you warn me?”

“I tried,” the dove rejoined, “but you weren’t listening. Your heart was too full of your victory to hear my admonitions and warnings.”

Josiah hung his head. “I never dreamed that they would come back like that,” he lamented. “The first victory was so easy.” He sighed deeply. “And now I’ve lost my sword.”

“Sometimes a warrior is most vulnerable just after he has won his greatest victory. Ecstatic with success, he lets his guard down, and immediately the enemy moves in to take advantage of his carelessness.”

The young prince nodded sadly. “Aye, that is what has happened to me, I fear. The first victory was so easy that I neglected to watch for the enemy. Were those Argamor’s men?”

“Indeed they were.”

“Woe is me, for I am in desperate trouble,” Josiah lamented. “I am unarmed, and the enemy knows where I am. What shall I do?”

“First and foremost, you must get your sword back,” the dove replied. “You are lost without it.” He spread his snowy wings. “Follow me, my prince. I will lead you to a place of safety until it is time for you to make your assault on the enemy.”

The young prince gasped. “Assault? I am to attack? But I have no sword!”

“And that is precisely why you must face the enemy. You must retrieve your sword, or you shall never reach the Castle of Knowledge.” The dove took to the air and Josiah hurried after him.

 

 

Josiah crouched behind the roots of an ancient oak, watching in silence as the band of dark knights talked and jested and laughed around a crackling campfire. The flames leaped high, creating mysterious dancing shadows that seemed to leap and prance about on the trunks of the trees surrounding the enemy camp. The young prince noted with delight that none of the men now wore armor or weapons; those items had been carelessly discarded in a disorderly heap at the base of a huge, gnarled sycamore. He also noted with an equal amount of delight that many of the men were staring into the fire, watching the bright figures that seemed to spring from the wood to leap and dance and disappear within the glowing caverns of the flames. Sir Faithful had taught him that a man who stares into a campfire ruins his night vision momentarily, rendering himself helpless against a surprise attack in the dark. The enemy knights were letting down their guard!

The tallest of the dark knights, a fierce-looking man with snapping black eyes, a thick, black beard, and a hideous battle scar across his right cheek, drew a sword and swung it about. Josiah choked back an exclamation of surprise when he saw that the glittering weapon was his own. The dark knight had his sword!

The tall knight stepped close to the fire and held the weapon over the flames, examining it in the flickering firelight. The other knights crowded closer, seemingly interested in the sword. “Quite a blade, Lord Dubious,” one said.

The tall knight laughed. “Aye, but the young prince possesses it no longer. He is now helpless as a newborn lamb.” Laughter greeted his words.

“Why did we not run the prince through when we had him in our power?” another complained. “We should never have let him go!”

Lord Dubious, obviously the leader of the band, shook his head. “Nay. Our orders were to disarm the young prince, not kill him. Lord Argamor was quite firm on that score.”

“I still say we should have done him in.”

“Fool!” Lord Dubious was clearly losing patience. “Do you not know who the young prince is? He is the son of—” the knight gulped and then continued, “King Emmanuel! We could not have killed him if we had tried. Lord Argamor himself could not have killed him. We can only do what the King allows, no more.”

Another knight snorted in derision. “Aye, so the mighty Lord Argamor is subservient to King Emmanuel? Methinks that perhaps we are serving the wrong master.”

The tall knight seized the speaker by the throat and shook him furiously. “Hold your tongue!” he raged. “If your words fall upon Lord Argamor’s ears, we are all dead men!” Releasing his fellow knight, Lord Dubious backed away from the fire until he was standing less than twelve feet from Josiah’s hiding place. “All of you hold your tongues!” he declared vehemently, stabbing the air with Josiah’s sword for emphasis.

“When Dubious turns around, seize the sword and charge Argamor’s knights,” a still small voice instructed Josiah. “Do not hesitate; the victory will be yours.”

Josiah tensed. One unarmed youth against thirteen enemy knights? What chance of success could I possibly have? Fear overwhelmed him, and he began to tremble uncontrollably. If he went unarmed against Lord Dubious’ band of knights he could not possibly hope for victory—they would tear him to pieces.

But then he remembered the words of Sir Faithful. Speaking of the dove, the elderly steward of the Castle of Faith had told Josiah, “Learn to listen for his voice, for he will never lead you wrong. Obedience to his voice will guarantee success in your journey to the seven castles.” Josiah took a deep breath. If Sir Faithful was right, then I need to trust and obey the dove, even though I can see no way to win victory over thirteen of Argamor’s knights. He took another deep breath. The decision was made. Aye, I’ll do it!

Dubious turned at that moment, and the firelight flashed golden upon the glittering blade of Josiah’s sword. To Josiah’s surprise, the tall knight was playing with the weapon, balancing it vertically in the palm of his hand with the hilt uppermost and the point of the blade pressing into his flesh.

Josiah sprang from the shadows with the speed of a panther, snatched the powerful sword from the grasp of the startled knight, and swung the glittering weapon with all his might. With a shout of triumph he leaped toward the fire, charging straight at the group of wide-eyed knights who jumped to their feet and scattered into the darkness like a flock of game birds. Encouraged by his success, the young prince swung about to face Dubious.

The tall leader of the band of knights dashed across the clearing and snatched up a sword from the base of the sycamore. He lifted the weapon overhead with both hands, whirled about, and charged straight at Josiah. With a snarl of rage he brought the sword down viciously.

Josiah met steel with steel. The blade of his sword repelled that of his attacker with a loud clang that rang through the forest.

Dubious raised his sword again. “You shall die tonight, knave!” he screamed in fury. “Forget Argamor’s orders—I shall run you through!” Grunting with the effort, he swung his deadly sword with all his strength. The blade flashed through the air in a glittering arc that was intended to take off Josiah’s head.

But Josiah was no longer on the defensive. He leaped forward, swinging his own sword in a lightning-quick movement that Sir Faithful had taught him. The invincible weapon cut cleanly through the blade of his tall adversary, penetrated the dark knight’s armor, and inflicted a mortal wound.

Howling with pain and anger, Dubious whirled about and vanished into the night. Just as the dove had said, Josiah had experienced a complete victory.

With the flutter of snowy wings, the dove flew down and alighted in the top of a five-foot sapling. “They’re gone!” Josiah exulted. “My sword has completely vanquished the enemy.”

“They have prepared you a fire,” the dove told him. “Take your rest until the dawn of the morning light.”

“Here?” Josiah was aghast. “But what if they return?”

“They will not return tonight.”

“But I don’t know that for sure!” Josiah protested. “How can I sleep, knowing that Dubious and his knights might return at any moment and take me captive?”

“Do you trust me?” the dove asked, cocking his head to one side and regarding him with unblinking eyes.

“Well, aye, but…”

“Then leave your safety in my care and take your rest. I will watch over you tonight. Dubious and his men shall not return to harm you. When you lie down, you shall not be afraid: yea, you shall lie down, and your sleep shall be sweet.”

Reassured by the words of his gentle guide, Josiah lay down beside the fire, wrapped his cloak about his head, and fell asleep almost instantly.

Chapter Eight

 

The morning sun cast brilliant ruby rays across the dewy, fog-shrouded forest as Prince Josiah trudged down the winding trail. Refreshed by a good night’s sleep and a breakfast of bread, cheese and wild berries, the young prince was anxious to resume his journey to the Castle of Knowledge. He took the time to cut a sturdy walking staff, knowing that he had a long day’s journey ahead of him.

The trail wound its way out of the shadowy forest, widened, and merged with a sun-splashed, well traveled road that stretched ahead as far as the eye could see. Small farms appeared on both sides of the roadway as he hiked along. Tiny green shoots were just beginning to poke their heads through the deep brown earth of the freshly plowed fields; clusters of snowy white blackberry blossoms graced the humble wooden fences bordering the lane. Tall, stately maples along the road were bedecked with new buds. The air was filled with the fragrance of wild flowers and the steady hum of the many bees diligently attending to them. The land of Terrestria was celebrating the freshness of spring.

Hearing the squeak of a carriage overtaking him, Josiah moved to the side of the road to allow it to pass. A sleek black hansom pulled by a single gray horse swept by, slowed, and then rolled to a stop just yards ahead of him. “Would you care to ride, my lord?” a friendly voice called.

Josiah hurried to the side of the vehicle and looked up to see a thin-faced man seated within the carriage. He could tell immediately by the traveler’s bearing and the cut of his clothing that the man was well educated. “Aye, sire, if it pleases you,” Josiah replied politely.

“It pleases me well, my lord,” the hansom driver said with a cheerful grin. “Welcome aboard!”

Seconds later the carriage rolled forward with Josiah seated comfortably on a plush seat of scarlet velvet. He leaned back against the seat and relaxed. “I thank you, sire.”

“Aye, it is my privilege to carry a prince such as yourself,” the man replied. “My name is Skeptic. And where might you be traveling today?”

“I am Prince Josiah, of the Castle of Faith. I’m on my way to the Castle of Knowledge.”

“The Castle of Knowledge? And what business would you have there, my lord?”

“I’m on a pilgrimage for King Emmanuel, and I am traveling to the Castle of Knowledge as a learning experience.”

“One can never obtain enough knowledge,” Skeptic said, nodding agreeably. “I spent a number of years at Cowford University myself and managed to acquire more than one sheepskin. Aye, indeed, knowledge is a valuable thing.” He threw a sideways glance at Josiah. “And what field of study will you engage yourself in at the Castle of Knowledge?”

“I will study the book, sire.”

“The book? My lord, there are many books. Of which book do you speak?”

Josiah reached inside his doublet and pulled out his precious volume. “The book,” he repeated. “King Emmanuel’s book. I am traveling to the Castle of Knowledge so that I may learn more of the truth of the book, and of King Emmanuel.”

Skeptic chuckled. “You have made use of the word ‘truth’. You do realize, of course, that truth is relative?”

“What do you mean, sire?”

The man glanced at the book with a look of disdain. “Truth is truth only when it is perceived as truth in the mind of the one seeking truth,” he said, giving the reins a flick and urging the horse to a gentle trot. “What is truth for one person may not of necessity be entirely truth for another, and may be completely untruth for yet a third.”

Josiah frowned. “I don’t understand, sire. Truth is truth, and always will be.” He lifted the book with both hands. “I know that this is truth, for it came from King Emmanuel.”

“It may be truth for you,” Skeptic answered suavely, “but perhaps it is not truth for the next fellow.”

“If it’s truth, then it’s true for everyone!” Josiah retorted.

His companion shook his head. “Not necessarily. Let me illustrate what I mean, my lord. Have you ever eaten veal basted in almond sauce?”

Josiah nodded. “Aye.”

“Would you agree with the statement that veal basted in almond sauce is the finest dish ever served to man?”

Josiah shook his head. “Nay, not really. There are many dishes that I like much better.”

Skeptic smiled. “Then you will understand what I am saying. From where I sit, veal basted in almond sauce is the finest food available in all Terrestria; there is no finer. And yet for you, there are others foods that you would rather eat. So what is truth for me—namely, that veal in almond sauce is the finest food—is not necessarily truth to you.” He turned and faced Josiah. “Do you understand, my lord?”

“Aye,” Josiah said slowly, “but—” Skeptic’s words made sense in a way, and yet, down in his heart, he knew that something was wrong with the man’s logic.

“It’s the same with your book,” the man continued. “Parts of it may be truth to you and other parts truth to me; but the parts that are truth to you may not be truth to me and the parts that are truth to me may not be truth to you; and certainly not all of it is truth to both you and me.”

“But all of it is truth!” Josiah protested. “It was given to me by King Emmanuel!”

“Aye, but King Emmanuel did not actually write it,” Skeptic said smoothly.

Josiah was shocked. “Then who did?” he challenged.

“King Emmanuel commissioned various men to write the various parts. It was a huge project that took many years. I’m sure that the writers were good men and meant well, but as I was saying, what is truth for one is not always truth for another. Your book contains truth, to be sure, but not all of it is truth. And certainly not all of it is truth for every man, not even you.”

He laid a hand on Josiah’s knee in a friendly gesture. “Prince Josiah, I am a man of learning. I spent a number of my years in diligent study at Cowford, yet in all my learning I discovered that it is necessary to determine for oneself what is truth for oneself, and what is to be rejected. And I have also discovered that what was truth yesterday may not necessarily be truth today.”

Josiah and Skeptic continued to argue and discuss the matter as the hansom rolled smoothly along. The man’s arguments were based on half-truths, yet they contained just enough of the element of truth to sound convincing, and that was what confused Josiah. The young prince listened to the smooth words of the intelligent, highly educated man and he began to wonder. What if Skeptic is right? Is truth relative? If a certain truth is truth to me, does it really have to be truth for everyone else? A troubling thought came to mind just then. What if certain parts of King Emmanuel’s book are not truth for me? And how will I know which parts are truth and which are not?

“I must leave you here,” Skeptic said, interrupting Josiah’s thoughts and snapping him back to the reality of the present. The hansom had come to a stop at a fork in the road. “My travels take me down this lane to the left, but if you are traveling to the Castle of Knowledge you will want the road to the right. Have a pleasant journey, Prince Josiah.”

Josiah scrambled down from the comfortable carriage, slightly disappointed at the prospect of having to walk again. “I thank you, sire. I enjoyed the ride.”

“Aye, young prince, and I thank you. I enjoyed your company.” With a flick of the whip and a shake of the reins, Skeptic set the horse to pulling the hansom at a brisk pace down the road to the left.

Josiah stared at his surroundings in astonishment and dismay. During the ride in the comfortable carriage, his attention had been so focused on Skeptic’s words that he had paid no attention to the passing scenery. Now he found himself standing in the middle of a sandy track that led across a wind-blown desert. There was not a single green tree or flower or patch of grass for as far as the eye could see, just miles and miles of barren, red-brown rock and dull sand that stretched all the way to the horizon. Stunned, Josiah turned around, but the view was the same behind him.

Spotting a single tree in the distance beside the road, he hurried toward it. But when he reached it he discovered nothing but the lifeless skeleton of a tree that had perished long before. A hideous vulture with a great, ugly neck and drooping, oily feathers perched high in one of the dead branches. Josiah shuddered.

The young prince did not know it, but Skeptic had taken him into the Desert of Doubt, a vast, arid wasteland of skepticism and unbelief. It was a perilous place of treacherous winds, shifting sands and ravenous predators that had claimed the life of many a pilgrim before him. The roadway upon which he stood stretched across the barren landscape in a straight line to disappear over the crest of a bare hillock of sun-baked earth. A large, blood red scorpion scurried across the trail and darted into the shade of a large rock, holding his venomous stinger poised for action.

Josiah stared with a growing sense of dread at the empty wasteland stretching before him. Death and decay seemed to be staring right back at him. He shuddered as a cold, lonely chill swept over him. Never before had he felt so alone, so tiny, and so vulnerable. He sighed. “How will I ever cross this?” he asked aloud, startling himself with the sound of his own voice. “I have no food, no water, and there doesn’t appear to be any for miles and miles. What if I am not even heading in the right direction?”

He drew the book from his bosom and opened it to seek direction. A nagging doubt played in his mind. What if the book was not always true? What if it was true only some of the time, or if only some parts were true and others were not? How would he know the difference? What if the book was to lead him astray, if but only once? What if this was that one time?

Unsettled by Skeptic’s arguments and unsure now of the trustworthiness of his beloved book, he sadly closed its pages and slipped it reluctantly into his doublet. He had depended so many times upon the book for guidance, and now felt a tremendous sense of loss. If the book was not always true then he simply could not trust it.

An even more disturbing thought entered his troubled mind. The book had been given to him by King Emmanuel; but so had his Parchment of Assurance. If the book could not be trusted, what about his parchment—the precious document that declared him to be the son of King Emmanuel forever? Josiah was in anguish as he thought about it.

He sighed and started forward, stabbing irritably at the powdery sand with the tip of his walking staff. The wind howled and moaned like a vengeful banshee, throwing sand and dust in his face as if it resented his presence. Within moments his eyes were stinging and his mouth felt parched and hot. The dismal Desert of Doubt seemed to be drawing the very life from his body and soul.

 

 

Hours later Josiah stumbled wearily to the top of a gentle slope and paused to survey the dreary, colorless landscape before him. The walking staff was gone, but he was not even aware of the loss. His throat was parched; his tongue was swollen; his lips were cracked and bleeding. The blazing white sun seemed to be ten times its usual size; his eyes burned from the intense glare. The merciless wind shrieked in fury as it hurled handfuls of blinding sand into his face. Shielding his eyes and mouth against the fiery sun and the relentless wind, he staggered down the slope and dropped to the ground behind an outcropping of red sandstone. He had to get out of this sun and wind.

He rubbed his stinging eyes, but the grit on his hands merely made matters worse. Water! I have to have water! Panting like a dog, he rested in the shade of the rocky ledge. If I stay here, I’ll die. But I simply can’t continue much further like this. With a sigh of resignation, he pulled himself to his feet.

His heart leaped. Less than a furlong away, a small pond sparkled beside the roadway! Cool and blue and inviting, the water glittered in the blazing sun like a king’s ransom of jewels. His steps quickened with new energy as he hurried toward it. Water! He could now see the distant mountains reflected in the shimmering surface.

Delirious with joy, Josiah knelt at the pond’s edge and thrust in his hands to dip up a double handful of the precious, life-giving liquid. But his fingers came up with sand and dust; the pond had disappeared. Stunned, he stared at the barren ground, which seemed to mock him with its stark reality. Just moments before there had been a shimmering pond of water; now there was only sand and dust. He staggered to his feet.

Less than a hundred paces away lay another pond. He stared long and hard, afraid that this oasis too would disappear. The water was real—he could see the ripples caused by the wind. He tottered in that direction. Suddenly he felt like screaming. The second pond had also vanished like an ethereal wisp of his imagination. “But the water was real,” he sobbed. “I saw it!”

Spotting another body of water nearby, Josiah hobbled desperately toward it. He slowly became aware of a heavy weight that thumped repeatedly against his aching body, so he reached inside his doublet. His trembling fingers pulled out the cumbersome object and he stared at it as though he had never seen it before. The book! Somehow he had never before realized just how heavy the volume really was. He lowered his hand to drop the book into the sand.

“Nay!” a voice within him seemed to cry. “The book was given you by King Emmanuel!” His hand seemed to move of its own accord as he again placed the sacred book within the folds of his doublet. He stumbled forward, heedless of the deadly desert viper coiled beside the trail.

The weary young prince wandered hopelessly from one mirage to another, gradually growing weaker and weaker. Each time, the water seemed so real and so close that he had to try to reach it. But each and every time the imagined oasis would vanish before he could quite get to it. Thoroughly spent and unable to go further, Josiah sank to his knees in the middle of the lonely road. The sun beat down relentlessly. High overhead, three dark vultures circled in anticipation. The Desert of Doubt was preparing to claim another victim.

Chapter Nine

 

Prince Josiah lay senseless upon the burning sands of the Desert of Doubt, thoroughly spent and defeated. Skeptic’s persuasive arguments had confused and bewildered him. The man’s unbelief was like a contagious disease, sapping the strength and life from Josiah’s trusting soul.

He longed for water. The sun was so unrelenting, the wind so dry and the sands so hot. Unaware of the fact that he was dehydrating and could not survive long, he simply longed for a cool drink to soothe his parched throat. He moaned aloud. His head dropped listlessly, and though the sand burned his cheek, he did not move.

Gradually he realized that the blazing sun did not seem as brilliant as it had been. Summoning his strength, he slowly lifted his head. Somehow he found himself lying in the shade of a tall spire of red rock. Impossible, he thought, I didn’t have the strength to move. His eyes fell closed.

Josiah slowly became aware of a gentle hand caressing his burning brow. The touch was cool and comforting. He opened his eyes. He was on his back, staring up into the face of a beautiful young woman with long, raven black hair. She was arrayed in a long, flowing robe so white that it was dazzling to look at. One of the bright ones! I must be seeing one of the bright ones! Am I in the Golden City of the Redeemed?

“Prince Josiah, of the Castle of Faith,” a soft voice said, “I have been sent to help you in your time of trouble.” The voice was gentle, soothing, like the musical tones of a harp.

“Who are you?” Josiah asked, attempting to raise his head for another glimpse of the lovely ethereal personage. His tongue was thick and swollen, and he had trouble speaking. He found it difficult to keep his eyes open.

“My name is Faith,” the musical voice replied. The gentle fingers stroked his forehead again, cool and soothing. “I live with my sisters Hope and Charity in the region just beyond the mountains. This dreadful wasteland in which we are now is the Desert of Doubt.”

“How did I get here in the shade?” Josiah asked. “Did you move me?”

“You are still where you have fallen,” the woman replied. “I moved the column of rock to shade you.”

Josiah’s eyes flew open. “That’s impossible!”

Her laughter was like the tinkle of a silver bell. “I can move mountains, Prince Josiah.”

“Am I to die here, my lady?”

“King Emmanuel sent me to you,” Faith said softly. “Prince Josiah, arise and drink.” She helped him to a sitting position.

He looked around. “But I see no water.”

“You have it with you,” she answered. “The water of life is found within your book.”

Josiah reached into his doublet with a trembling hand and slowly withdrew the book. “Open it up,” Faith directed.

As Prince Josiah opened the pages of his book, a stream of water poured from within, cool and clear and pure. Josiah stared for a moment, and then began to drink ravenously. The water seemed sweeter than any other he had ever tasted. He drank deeply, enjoying the refreshing coolness. He drank until he thought he could hold no more.

“Drink again,” Faith said.

“But I have had enough, my lady. I am fully satisfied.”

“Drink again.” The look in her eyes told him that it was useless to argue, and so he simply obeyed. Again, the water was sweet and cool and refreshing.

When he stopped, she smiled. “Drink again.”

He did, and felt new life and energy surge through his soul. Finally, he closed the book, but Faith did not protest. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, surprised to see that his skin was fresh and clean. “I really thought that I was going to die. I saw the vultures circling overhead.”

“The Desert of Doubt has claimed the life of many a pilgrim, my prince. One cannot survive long without the water that flows from the book.”

Josiah dropped his eyes, suddenly feeling humbled and unworthy. “I don’t know how I even came here, Faith. A man named ‘Skeptic’ offered me a ride in his carriage, and the next thing I knew, I was in this wretched desert.”

“Unbelief is a deadly foe, Prince Josiah,” Faith said softly. Her voice was quiet and gentle; her eyes were filled with understanding and concern. Josiah searched her face for some indication of condemnation, but there was not a trace. “A man like Skeptic spreads his unbelief like a plague, and there is no antidote for unbelief except faith. Faith is a gift from King Emmanuel that comes through his book.”

She stood to her feet. “Are you strong enough to continue your journey?”

Josiah was already experiencing the rejuvenating effects of the life-giving water. “I am ready,” he said. He stood, and Faith began to lead him down the dusty road. Somehow the sun did not seem so large nor its heat so intense. He was stronger, and he knew it.

“Skeptic told me that truth is not always truth,” the young prince reported, striding briskly along beside his lovely companion. “It was very confusing, but I think what he said was that what is truth for one person may not be truth for another. Or something such as that. Anyway, he said that my book is not always truth and certainly not truth for every person.”

“Truth is truth,” Faith told him, “regardless of whether or not one believes. Your book came from King Emmanuel, so we know that it is truth. And truth is for all.”

“Aye, my lady, that’s what I tried to tell him. But he twisted my words so easily, and his arguments seemed so convincing. He had me so confused that I was ready to quit believing the Word of my King!”

Faith smiled. “Skeptic is an emissary for Argamor. And remember, Argamor is the master of lies and double-talk.”

“Skeptic told me that truth for one person may not be truth for another person. For instance, he said that he believes that veal is the finest food available, but I might not believe that veal is the best, so that might not be truth for me. In a way, that made sense, and in a way it didn’t. Do you know what I mean?”

“Skeptic is deliberately confusing truth with opinion in order to confuse you and lead you astray. Do you know the difference between truth and opinion?”

“What do you mean, my lady?”

“Suppose that I tell you that veal is a food. We both know that statement to be truth—veal is a food. Whether you agree with that statement or not changes nothing. But suppose I tell you that veal is the finest food in all Terrestria—that statement would simply be my opinion. Do you see the difference?”

Josiah nodded.

“Truth never changes, Prince Josiah. Even if every last soul in Terrestria refuses to believe the truth of your book, it is still truth. Opinions may change and vary from person to person, but truth never does.”

Josiah and Faith followed the road as it descended a gentle slope. Josiah stopped and stared in utter amazement. “Oh, my!”

Before them lay a quiet valley, bright with life and promise. To the right of the road was a thriving apple orchard with branches so laden with blossoms that the trees appeared to be covered with snow. Wildflowers grew in colorful abundance to the left of the road; their fragrance seemed to Josiah the very essence of life. A crystal-clear brook laughed merrily as it crossed the roadway beneath a stone bridge and then meandered through acres and acres of brilliant blue flowers. Thousands of yellow butterflies danced in the air. In the very center of the beautiful valley stood a castle of the purest white stone.

A rainbow with seven colors hung over the valley, bold and brilliant against the deep blue of the cloudless sky. “It’s the rainbow of promise!” Josiah breathed. He looked in bewilderment at Faith. “What happened to the Desert of Doubt? It seemed that we had furlongs and furlongs and furlongs still to go, but all of a sudden, the desert just disappeared!”

Faith smiled. “You chose to believe your King, Prince Josiah. The Desert of Doubt cannot exist when your faith is strong.” She pointed to the castle in the valley. “Behold the Castle of Knowledge, my prince. A welcome awaits you.”

With joy in his heart the young prince studied the Castle of Knowledge. “The rainbow is directly above the castle!” he said, turning to Faith. “It’s as if the—” He stopped, openmouthed, and stared at the spot where Faith had stood just moments before. His lovely companion had vanished.

 

 

Josiah hurried down the slope toward the Castle of Knowledge. His heart was light; the horrible experience of the Desert of Doubt was behind him and he looked forward with eager anticipation to his visit at the castle.

“If it’s knowledge you are after, my lord, perhaps I can help,” a friendly female voice called, and Josiah looked over to see a heavyset woman with a jolly countenance standing by a tree beside the road. The tree was surrounded by a three-foot wrought iron fence, and so heavily laden with luscious-looking fruit that its branches nearly touched the ground. “This is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, my lord,” the woman told him, plucking one of the fruit and polishing it with the sleeve of her gown. “Its fruit is greatly desired, for it can make one wise.”

Prince Josiah approached the magnificent tree. “Wisdom and knowledge are what I seek, my lady,” he said politely.

The woman held the fruit out to Josiah. As he reached for it, his eye fell upon a small sign upon the fence, which said, “NO TRESPASSING. By the royal decree of King Emmanuel.”

Josiah quickly stepped back. “Nay, my lady,” he said decisively. “This tree and its fruit are forbidden. The sign says so.”

The temptress laughed. “Your King will never know,” she countered slyly, “and the fruit is a source of knowledge and wisdom.”

“Never!” Josiah declared. “I will not disobey my King!” With these words he turned his back on the woman and strode purposefully toward the castle.

As he approached the main gate, the young prince was amazed to see that the Castle of Knowledge was tiny, by far the smallest castle he had seen yet. This castle would fit within the Castle of Faith a dozen times with space left over, he told himself. This castle is so small!

The drawbridge was down and the portcullis was up, so Josiah stepped boldly onto the drawbridge to be met by a knight in white armor. “Identify yourself, my lord,” the knight requested pleasantly.

“I am Prince Josiah of the Castle of Faith, royal heir to King Emmanuel.”

“What is your business at the Castle of Knowledge?”

“I have been sent by King Emmanuel,” Josiah replied.

The guard stepped to one side. “Enter, my lord, and may your stay at the castle be a pleasant one.”

A young man of slender build hurried forward to greet Josiah, adjusting his spectacles and flashing a friendly smile as he entered the gatehouse. “Welcome to the Castle of Knowledge, my young friend! You must be Prince Josiah.”

“Indeed I am,” Josiah replied. “I have been sent by King Emmanuel.”

“Aye, we have been expecting you,” the enthusiastic man told him. “My name is Student, and I am delighted that you are here.” Behind the round lenses of his spectacles, Student’s eyes sparkled with an intensity that told Josiah that his host meant every word. “I am the castle steward, and my purpose is to assist you in obtaining a deeper, fuller knowledge of your King.” His eyes seemed to glow as he said, “The more that one learns of His Majesty, the more one loves him.”

Josiah nodded, encouraged by Student’s exuberant welcome. “I love my King with all my heart, and I am anxious to learn more of him that I may serve him better.”

Together the prince and the castle steward strolled through a tiny courtyard alive with flowering trees and colorful flower gardens. A small spring bubbled up in the center of the courtyard; the crystal-clear water flowed along a rock-lined channel and disappeared beneath the wall at the opposite end. “Your solar will be in the east tower,” Student said, pointing toward the upper corner of the castle wall, “but first I will take you to the Library of Learning.”

Josiah followed him through a doorway and then paused in utter amazement. He and the castle steward were standing on the polished marble floor of a room so immense that Josiah could not see the far end. There was no furniture in the vast room; but the walls were adorned with enormous, gilt-framed paintings that reached from floor to ceiling. Josiah shook his head in bewilderment. The library appeared to be twenty times larger than the entire Castle of Knowledge! How could such a huge library fit within such a tiny castle?

“This is the Library of Learning, the most important chamber in the Castle of Knowledge,” his host was saying. “You are welcome to visit this room as often as you would wish, and to stay as long as you would wish.”

“But there are no books!” Josiah protested. “Why is this room called the ‘Library of Learning’?”

“Oh, my prince, but there are books,” Student corrected gently. “Sixty-six volumes, to be exact.” He gestured toward the nearest wall. “The paintings that you see are in reality volumes of wisdom and instruction. Some give the history of Terrestria; others simply relate or explain His Majesty’s edicts and commandments.” He stepped closer to a huge picture that depicted a beautiful outdoor scene with purple mountains, a flowing river and a luscious garden. As Josiah moved toward the painting, he was amazed to see that the scene was alive with movement—the river in the picture was actually flowing; the leaves on the trees fluttered in a gentle breeze; birds flew from branch to branch. The effect was that of looking through a window.

“This is the book of Beginnings,” Student told the astonished young prince. “One may enter it to learn the story of how King Emmanuel created Terrestria, and how Argamor enticed the first residents into a foolish rebellion against their King.”

Enter the volume, my lord?” Josiah repeated. “How would one enter the volume?”

“Simply step into the picture and you will go back into another dimension of time,” Student replied, “in order to visit the lands and the people described in your book and witness for yourself the events described therein. Once you are inside, the inhabitants of the land cannot see you, nor will they be aware of your presence. But you will see and hear everything in order that you may learn more about King Emmanuel and his plans for Terrestria.”

“Amazing!” Josiah said softly. “I’ve never seen anything like this!”

Student shrugged. “That is precisely what happens every time that you open your book to read,” he pointed out. “The Library of Learning simply brings the same information to life.”

An exciting thought suddenly occurred to Josiah, and he turned eagerly to Student. “My book tells of King Emmanuel and his life here in Terrestria. Would any of these volumes show me those events?”

“Follow me,” Student told him. “There are four volumes that record His Majesty’s life here upon Terrestria, and you may explore them to your heart’s content. They’re in the New Wing of the library.” The footsteps of the steward and the prince echoed throughout the vast chamber as they walked across the Library of Learning.

“The library is divided into two main wings, which we still call the Old and the New,” the castle steward explained. “The Old Wing contains thirty-nine volumes, and was completed long before King Emmanuel returned for his visit to Terrestria. Four hundred years after the Old Wing was completed, His Majesty had some major remodeling done and then started construction on the New Wing. It contains twenty-seven volumes.”

Josiah’s eyes were wide as he followed his host across the vast marble floor. “The first five volumes in the Old Wing,” Student said, gesturing toward the first group of giant pictures, “are known as the books of the Law. They record the beginning of Terrestria, the rebellion of the inhabitants, and King Emmanuel’s laws governing his subjects. Then come the books of History, which are exactly what the name implies. There’s a section of Poetry, all of which was written to praise our King, and then a section of Prophecy.”

“What is prophecy?” Josiah asked.

“In the prophecy section, King Emmanuel reveals his plans for Terrestria. One can actually learn much of what is going to happen in the future by visiting in those volumes.”

After passing a number of the enormous paintings, Josiah and Student stepped through a doorway covered by a thick veil and entered a second room nearly as large as the first. The steward paused before the first picture. “These four volumes are the ones for which you are looking,” he told Josiah. “By entering any one of these, you may observe the life of your King while he was here in Terrestria.”

“How may I get back out of the volume, sire?”

“Oh,” Student replied, with a sheepish grin, “I suppose I forgot to tell you. Enter the volume with your book open to the story that you would like to visit. When you are ready to leave, simply close your book and you will find yourself back within the Library of Learning.” He laid a hand on Josiah’s arm. “But remember, Prince Josiah, the inhabitants of the time that you are about to visit cannot see or hear you, nor will they be aware of your presence. You cannot talk to them, nor will they speak to you. You are merely an observer.”

Josiah stepped to the base of the first enormous picture. He drew the precious book from within his doublet and opened it to a particular page. A thrill of excitement swept over him as he lifted his foot to step over the frame of the picture and into the volume.

Chapter Ten

 

Prince Josiah took a deep breath and stepped into the giant picture. In the next instant he found himself standing in the center of an enormous crowd of noisy, excited people. Looking about, he realized that they were in the courtyard of a large, magnificent building. The throng of people around him seemed to be waiting for some momentous event to take place; they pushed and shoved and chattered excitedly as they fought for good viewing places.

Right beside Josiah was a large, sturdily built woman wearing the garments of a simple peasant. Her face was radiant as she waited expectantly. In her eagerness to see, she crowded against Josiah until she was almost on top of him. “Excuse me, my good woman,” Josiah protested, “but would you be so kind as to allow me a little more room? You are nearly standing on my foot!”

But the heavy woman acted as if she had not heard. Totally ignoring Josiah, she crowded closer and closer until her large sandaled foot was actually on top of Josiah’s. To Josiah’s surprise, he felt no pain—not even the sensation of weight on his foot. Looking down, the young prince was astonished to see that the woman’s foot occupied the same space as his own—her foot seemed to pass right through his. Puzzled, he stepped away from her.

A young boy darted through the crowd, dodging left and right as he pushed his way through the throng of excited people. He headed right for Josiah. As the peasant boy ran at him, Josiah raised his hands to protect himself. To his utter astonishment, there was no collision. The lad ran right through him!

Josiah stared in amazement, and then he remembered Student’s words: “Remember, Josiah, that the inhabitants of the time that you are about to visit cannot see or hear you, nor will they be aware of your presence.” So I don’t really exist in this place, Josiah told himself. I can see and hear these people, but they can’t hear or see me, because I am not really here. I can occupy the same space and pass right through them because in reality, I am in another dimension of time. He didn’t quite understand his own explanation, but to him it made sense.

To test his theory, the young prince walked straight toward a tight cluster of people. To his delight, his body passed right through the mass of humanity without encountering any obstacles whatever. He stopped beside a small family—a cheerful young mother holding a girl by the hand and a tall, thin father with a small boy on his shoulders.

“Father, will I be able to see the King?” the boy called eagerly.

“I hope so, my son,” the man replied. “They say that he is to pass right by us on his way to the palace.”

“Will he talk to me, Father?” The boy’s eyes were bright with excitement.

The young mother laughed. “Kings don’t have time for children, my son,” she said gently. “Kings are always busy with more important matters.”

“They don’t talk to peasants anyway, Timothy,” the father spoke up. “We need to content ourselves with the mere sight of His Majesty as his coach passes.”

“But I won’t get to see him,” a small voice whined, and Josiah glanced down at the skinny girl who clutched her mother’s hand so tightly. “Timothy will get to see the King, but I won’t get to see anybody! Can’t you hold me up, too?”

“I’ll hold Timothy up until he sees the King,” her father promised, “and then I’ll try to hold you up, too, Miriam.”

“Father, why is King Emmanuel coming to our city?” Timothy asked, leaning down in an attempt to see his father’s face. “Is he going to live here now?”

“He’s coming to meet with some very important men,” the humble peasant answered. “It will just be a short visit.”

“I wish he could stay here forever so we could see him and talk with him and play with him,” Miriam said wistfully. “They say that our King is the kindest king who ever lived!”

“He’s coming! His Majesty the King is coming!” The cry swept across the crowd of peasants and they surged forward, eager for a glimpse of the royal visitor. They tramped right across the space that Josiah occupied, passing right through him. Uncomfortable at the sensation of having strangers walk through him, Josiah stepped to one side.

A regal white coach resplendent with golden fittings rolled down the avenue and entered the courtyard. Above the glistening coach flew a royal purple standard emblazoned with the emblems of a cross and a golden crown. The crowd parted to make way for the imperial vehicle and its four prancing white horses, and the coach came to a stop just yards from where Josiah stood.

Behind the coach, a cavalcade of knights in shining armor sat astride snowy white chargers. The royal purple banner flying grandly from the tip of each man’s lance carried the same cross and crown emblem as the coach. As Josiah watched, the knights dismounted and stood at attention beside their magnificent horses. The spirited chargers pranced and pawed the earth. Awed by the majesty of the moment, the people fell silent.

Golden trumpets sounded a royal fanfare as the coach door opened and the King stepped out. The people fell to their knees to show their respect for their royal visitor. Several important and stately dignitaries stepped forward to greet the King. A hush fell over the crowd as the King and his entourage moved slowly away from the royal coach and went to meet the waiting group of important leaders.

At that moment a young boy dashed through the crowd, slipped past the guards surrounding the regal assemblage, and approached King Emmanuel himself. “King, I’m glad that you’re here!” the little boy cried, extending his small hand and grasping the strong hand of the King. “Thank you for coming to visit us!” A gasp of astonishment and fear swept across the crowd. How would the royal visitor respond to such brashness?

Josiah was surprised to realize that the eager little boy was Timothy, the lad who just moments before had been perched on his father’s shoulders.

Two burly guards seized the boy by the arms, jerking him upward and backward as they hurried him away from King Emmanuel. “Away with you, lad!” one cried. “No one approaches His Majesty in such a manner! He has no time for peasant children such as yourself!” The look of awe on the lad’s face was instantly replaced by a look of terror.

“Guards!” The King’s voice was stern and commanding as he rebuked the impetuous bodyguards. “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, for my kingdom is made up largely of such as these.”

Stunned by King Emmanuel’s words, the two guards lowered the trembling boy to the ground and released him. “Come, Timothy,” King Emmanuel said kindly, beckoning with gentle hands to the boy. “I would like to talk with you.”

Timothy glanced up at the burly guards towering over him and then hurried to King Emmanuel’s side. The King raised his voice. “Let all the children come to me!” he cried. “They are the important ones in my kingdom!”

With cries of joy, scores of children pulled free from their parents and ran to their King, who met them with outstretched arms. King Emmanuel knelt and began to hug the children around him, laughing and talking with them, touching them, stroking their hair. Timothy reached out and touched the King’s beard, and the King laughed in delight. The children were thrilled at the attention showered upon them by the great monarch while their parents looked on in astonishment. Many of the dignitaries in the royal procession seemed annoyed at the interruption. A tall, dignified aid hurried to confer with the King. “But, sire,” he said, “the heads of state are waiting!”

“Let them wait,” King Emmanuel replied. “I’m talking with the children!”

Prince Josiah turned to the man beside him. “That’s my King,” he said proudly. “He always has time for the poor and needy!” He laughed. “Isn’t that something? He makes the heads of state wait while he talks to the children of peasants!”

The man totally ignored Josiah, acting as if he had not heard a single word that Josiah had spoken. The young prince stared at the man, wondering why he was being so rude, and then he remembered that he was a visitor from another realm in time who could be neither seen nor heard. He sighed as he closed his book and found himself standing once again on the highly polished floor of the Library of Learning.

Josiah stepped to a second picture, opened his book to a particular page, and then stepped into the picture. At once he was standing in the center of an enormous great hall. Noticing groups of people clustered at one end of the vast room, he hurried in that direction. An enormous throne of gold stood upon a raised dais of ivory; upon the throne was the majestic personage of King Emmanuel. Josiah realized that His Majesty was holding court.

As Josiah watched, two guards dragged a prisoner before the King and dropped him to the floor less than five paces from the throne. The man’s threadbare tunic told Josiah that the man was a peasant. A look of utter despair haunted the man’s thin face, and Josiah felt a stab of sympathy.

“This man is accused of poaching, Your Majesty,” Justice, the court recorder, reported in a stern voice that indicated the seriousness of the charge. Justice was a hard-faced man who looked as if he enjoyed bringing charges of wrongdoing against the populace. “He was caught red-handed, my Lord, with the carcass of a deer that he had slain upon the grounds of the castle. The arrow in the deer matched the others in this wretch’s quiver, my Lord, so that there was no room for doubt as to the man’s guilt.”

He paused and consulted a document. “The penalty for poaching, Your Majesty, is death.”

At these words the prisoner’s head dropped and his shoulders sagged in despair. The recorder’s pronouncement of the penalty seemed to take the very life out of the poor peasant.

“How do you plead?” King Emmanuel asked sternly.

“I am guilty, Your Majesty,” the poacher replied in a thin, weak voice that trembled with emotion. “It is true—I did shoot the deer.”

“Why did you shoot the deer,” the King inquired, “knowing that it belonged to me, and that the penalty for such theft was death?”

“I do not wish to excuse my actions, Your Majesty, but I shot the deer to feed my family. I cannot find work, sire, and my family has been without food for three days.” Tears welled up in the man’s eyes as he held up his hands to the King in a beseeching gesture. “I beg for pardon, Your Majesty, not for myself, but that you would be merciful to my family.” Overcome with grief, the peasant fell on his face before the throne. “I am guilty as charged, my Lord, but I ask your forgiveness.”

A deathly hush descended over the great hall. All eyes were upon King Emmanuel. The King sat silent for a long moment. “Release the prisoner,” he ordered the guards. “The charges against him are dismissed.”

The peasant let out his breath in a long, trembling sigh of relief coupled with a look of utter astonishment.

“But, sire, the penalty for this man’s offense is death!” Justice protested. “He is a poacher! He has trespassed upon castle property and stolen from the royal herd. There is no question as to the man’s guilt.”

“The man has repented and asked forgiveness,” King Emmanuel responded. “I have forgiven him, which is one thing that I always delight in doing.”

He turned to an attendant standing nearby. “Never let it be said that a man in my kingdom would have to stoop to poaching to feed his family. Take provisions from the royal storehouse and then follow this man home. Once a week I want you to check with this family and determine that their needs are being met.”

The pardoned poacher raised himself from the floor with a mixture of awe and gratitude written across his tear-stained face. “Your Majesty, I do not deserve this kindness! I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

The King smiled. “Go in peace, my son, for you are forgiven. But the next time a need arises within your family, tell me of your need.”

Josiah found himself rubbing tears from his own eyes as he closed his book. His heart was full of love for his King.

Moments later the young prince entered a third picture to find that he was standing within a small, sparsely furnished room. A long table laden with the remains of a simple meal dominated the dimly lit chamber; resting around the table were nearly a dozen rugged-looking individuals. A servant was down upon his knees, washing the feet of one of the men.

Josiah watched as the humble servant removed the man’s sandals, lifted one of his feet, and placed it in a basin of water on the floor. Using his bare hands, the servant scrubbed the dirt and grime from the other’s foot. What a disgusting task, Josiah thought, cleaning the feet of another person. I wouldn’t trade places with that servant for anything.

At that moment, the kneeling man turned his face in Josiah’s direction. The young prince was shocked to recognize the face of King Emmanuel. His heart ached as he quietly closed the book.

 

 

Prince Josiah spent the next several days exploring in the Library of Learning. He visited volumes in all parts of the library, in both the New Wing and the Old, but his favorite volumes were the four in the New Wing that told of the life of King Emmanuel in Terrestria, and it was there that he spent most of his time. As he grew in the knowledge of his King, his love for the wise and loving monarch grew as well. His heart was full as he learned more and more of the greatness of his King.

“Have you visited the last volume in the New Wing?” Student asked him one morning as he was heading to the Library of Learning for yet another day of study and discovery. “It’s one of the most interesting of all, for it tells of the future of all Terrestria.”

Josiah shook his head. “That’s just about the only volume I haven’t visited in the New Wing,” he replied. “My favorites are the four volumes that tell of King Emmanuel’s life, and that is where I have been spending most of my time. It’s amazing what I have learned! I have seen my King as a servant, as a great teacher, and above all, as one who loves and forgives all who come to him. I even witnessed his death for me, though I could hardly bear to watch.”

“The last volume reveals King Emmanuel in a way that no other volume does,” Student told him. “Visit it today—I think you will be glad that you did.”

Moments later Josiah paused before the last huge picture in the library. This volume somehow looked different from all the others. He couldn’t place his finger on anything specific, but there was something about this one volume that set it apart from the other ones he had visited. He felt a deep sense of awe, almost a sense of foreboding, as he opened his book to the very last few pages. Taking a deep breath, he stepped into the picture.

The young prince found himself standing in the middle of a vast open space. At first he thought that he was in the outdoors—the place in which he stood was that immense—but as he looked about he slowly realized that he was inside a building that was so vast that he could see neither walls nor ceiling. Before him stood the largest gathering of people that he had ever seen in his life. There were millions of them—young and old, rich and poor, male and female, representatives from every color and race and region within Terrestria. As Josiah studied the faces of those around him, he realized that the people were all waiting apprehensively for some great event to take place. Many, in fact, were weeping, and some wore a look of sheer terror upon their faces. Josiah wondered what was about to happen.

A great light emanated from a point far off in the distance, so the young prince made his way toward it. He had no trouble walking through the vast throng since he could pass right through the bodies of the people around him. No one seemed to notice or care as Josiah slipped through him or her. After a lengthy walk, he came within sight of a huge, powerful white throne that radiated the most intense white light that one could imagine. The beams of light from the great throne were so powerful that Josiah could not look at it for more than two or three seconds at a time.

Seated on the throne was a stern judge. He wore a robe of the purest white, which also radiated with the same pure light as the throne. Shielding his eyes with both hands, Josiah studied the face of the judge upon the great white throne. There was something strangely familiar about the man, but Josiah gave up trying to figure out what it was.

A powerful being dressed in shimmering white stood beside the throne. In his hands he held a huge scroll; beside him was a stand on which rested an enormous book. At a gesture from the judge, the attendant unrolled his scroll and called out a name. His voice echoed like thunder in the vast chamber.

As her name was called, a sobbing woman stepped forward and fell on her face before the throne. “Have mercy upon me, my Lord,” she begged. “Have mercy!”

The judge turned to the tall figure with the scroll. “Is her name in the book of the Redeemed?”

The attendant consulted the huge book, turning the pages carefully and scanning the entries. Within seconds he had perused the entire book. “Her name does not appear, my Lord.” The words were uttered with a tone of regret.

“I will do better, my Lord!” the woman sobbed. “Give me another chance!”

“You have lived a wicked life, and now is the day of your judgment. There is no second chance. You stand condemned.”

The woman screamed. “Have mercy, my Lord, I beg you!”

“I am not your Lord, for you have never claimed me as such,” the judge replied sternly, “and it is now too late for mercy. You have rejected my offers of mercy on countless occasions, and now the sentence of death is upon you.”

The judge turned to the attendant with the scroll. “Send her to the Furnace of Eternal Fire.” The woman let out a wail of terror and despair. Two attendants stepped forward and led her away.

Unrolling his scroll again, the attendant called out another name. A man stepped forward. He tried to stand tall, proud, and defiant, but at a single glance from the judge he fell trembling to the floor. When his name was not found recorded in the book of the Redeemed, he, too, was led away weeping.

The judgment continued, with one person after another being called to stand before the unrelenting judge. Josiah watched the proceedings with a sense of dread. The judge’s word was final; if a person’s name did not appear in the huge record book, that person was sentenced to the eternal furnace, and there was no appeal. Watching the faces of the condemned, Josiah felt a terrific sense of remorse and sympathy for them, but at the same time he realized that the judge was being perfectly just. Suddenly he let out a little gasp as he recognized the man upon the powerful white throne. The judge was none other than King Emmanuel!

Someone touched Josiah’s elbow, and he turned to see Student standing beside him. “It’s a sobering scene, is it not, my prince?” the host said quietly. “This is an aspect of King Emmanuel’s character that many fail to recognize: by his very nature, our King demands perfect justice.” He sighed. “King Emmanuel is loving and gracious and forgiving, and sometimes because of his kindness people fail to see that he is also perfectly just. If they reject his mercy and pardon when he offers it, they must one day stand before him and be judged.”

Josiah nodded, too overwhelmed to speak.

Student took him by the arm. “We have seen enough. Come, let us go.” Josiah closed his book, and the vast courtroom vanished. Once again, Josiah and his friendly host were standing in the Library of Learning. Having witnessed the doom of countless fellow human beings, Josiah felt an overwhelming sense of sadness and loss.

“The time has come for you to leave the Castle of Knowledge,” Student told Josiah as they walked across the vast New Wing of the library. “You have learned much about King Emmanuel, and now it is time for you to travel to the next castle.”

“But sire, I want to stay here a while longer,” Josiah pleaded. “I still have so much to learn! I have enjoyed my visits in the library, and it has been such a delight to learn about my King! Can I not stay a while longer, perhaps just a few days?”

“The purpose of the Castle of Knowledge is not to provide you with a complete knowledge of your King,” Student answered, “for that could not be accomplished within a lifetime! Our purpose here is to create within you a hunger for knowledge of your King, to teach you the importance of wisdom and study. I think we have accomplished that goal, and now it is time for you to continue your pilgrimage.”

“But my soul is hungry for knowledge of my King,” Josiah protested. “I want to stay here. I want to learn more. Please allow me to stay! I want to visit the volumes that I have not yet fully explored.”

“You can still do that after you leave the castle,” Student told him quietly.

Josiah was puzzled. “How, sire?”

“You have the book. Open it each day and read it, and it will carry you in spirit to the same lands that you have been visiting these past few days. You have a lifetime ahead of you in which to learn more of your King.”

He paused at the veil separating the two wings of the library and his eyes sparkled behind the thick lenses of his spectacles. “The next castle you will visit is the Castle of Temperance.”

“What is temperance, sire?” Josiah asked.

“Temperance is control of self,” the steward replied, “a very necessary character quality for a child of King Emmanuel. A man who cannot control self is like a city that is broken down, and without walls. We have prepared a horse for you to ride on this part of the journey, but I warn you—this will not be an easy journey. This part of your pilgrimage will try you as you have not been tried, and I pray that you will pass this test.”

The morning sun reflected from the steward’s hand with a brilliant flash of dazzling blue light, and Josiah saw that he was holding a magnificent sapphire. Kneeling before the young prince, Student touched the blazing jewel to Josiah’s Shield of Faith, less than an inch from the emerald Josiah had received at the Castle of Virtue. The sapphire glowed brightly for a moment. When the castle steward released it, the gem was imbedded in the shield.

Student stood and placed a hand on the shoulder of the young prince. “Farewell, Prince Josiah. We have been honored by your visit to the Castle of Knowledge. May we wish you safety and success in your quest for the Castle of Temperance, in order that you may honor the name of our King.”

Chapter Eleven

 

Prince Josiah turned in the saddle and looked back at the Castle of Knowledge nestled in the beautiful valley below. The castle was so tiny—how could it possibly have housed the vast Library of Learning? He shook his head in bewilderment. The tiny castle with its infinite library now held special memories for him. The countless hours of exploration within the volumes had greatly increased his knowledge of King Emmanuel and deepened his love for the great monarch.

Turning to the narrow trail that meandered into the forest, he urged his horse to a gentle canter. “This horse is named ‘Hugo’, my lord,” the stablehand had told him as he saddled the tall roan stallion for Josiah. The boy had a speech impediment, and Josiah had struggled to understand him. “He is a bad horse, hard to control.”

Josiah had laughed at the lad’s attempts to warn him. “I’ve ridden hard-headed horses before,” he had told the boy, confident in his own riding abilities. “I won’t let him give me any trouble.” He chuckled at the memory. Hugo had given him just a moment’s argument when he first climbed into the saddle, tossing his head and bucking once or twice until Josiah had slapped him on the side of the neck with the reins. But after just one application of the reins, the roan had settled down immediately. “I guess you know who’s in charge here, don’t you, Hugo?” he said aloud.

Josiah rode along at any easy canter. The morning was cool but the sun was warm in the places where it shone through the trees to strike the earth in bright splashes of golden sunlight. From time to time the young prince caught a glimpse of the gentle dove as it flitted overhead above the trees. All went well until Josiah came to a fork in the trail. He reined Hugo to a stop and consulted his book to learn that he needed to take the trail to the right.

“Hurry along, Hugo,” Josiah said, lifting the reins and guiding the horse to the right. But Hugo had ideas of his own. Tossing his head, he turned and took the trail to the left. He broke into a trot.

“Whoa, Hugo! Whoa!” Josiah shouted, pulling on the reins in an attempt to turn the horse around. “This is the wrong trail!” But the horse lowered his head and surged ahead, breaking into a run as if to show that he would not be controlled and would make his own decisions.

“Whoa!” Josiah stood in the stirrups and jerked back on the reins. The horse responded by turning from the trail and running at full speed through the forest. Josiah dropped back in the saddle and held on tight, ducking when overhanging branches threatened to unseat him. He pulled at the reins. “Whoa, Hugo! Whoa!”

The stubborn horse snorted, shook his head fiercely, and plunged on ahead. Faster and faster he ran, darting around trees and leaping over fallen logs. The forest was darker here, and a small branch struck Josiah in the face before he even saw it. He lay forward against Hugo’s neck to avoid being struck again as the runaway horse darted at full speed around one tree after another.

Moments later the forest floor swept up a hillside and Josiah’s mount slowed as he climbed the steep slope. Josiah leaned back in the saddle to make it more difficult for the horse. Hugo turned and bit his leg.

Furious now, the young prince slashed at the stubborn horse with the end of the reins. Hugo bucked hard, nearly unseating him, and then wheeled around and plunged back down the slope. Josiah held on. When Hugo reached the bottom of the slope he came to an abrupt stop and stood trembling in every limb.

“You fool horse!” Josiah shouted, completely enraged by the horse’s antics. “Now I don’t even know where the trail is!”

“Let the horse have his head, my lord,” a quiet voice suggested, and Josiah glanced over to see a tall stranger lounging in the shade of a willow.

“What do you mean, sire?” Josiah was trembling with rage.

“The horse knows the way—slack up on the reins and let him go the way that he wants. He’ll get you where you want to go.”

“Who are you, sire?”

“My name is Indulgence, and I know a thing or two about horses. The way you’re going at it now, you’ll be fighting that horse all day and never get anywhere. Let go of the reins and let him choose the path. He knows where to go.”

“Are you sure, sire?”

The man laughed. “Do as you wish, my lord, but from where I stand I’d say that you’d be better off to quit trying to control that poor horse and let him have his head.” He gave Josiah a strange look. “How did you get hitched up with such an ornery mount anyhow?”

“I chose him,” Josiah said regretfully. “The stablehand was going to give me a mount named Meekness, but this one looked as if he had a bit more spirit, so I chose him.”

Indulgence smiled and stepped away from the tree. “I’d say that you are in for a rough time,” he said casually, strolling away through the trees as if to leave Josiah alone with his problem. “But you would do best to let the horse have his head! Let the reins go slack and just allow the horse to choose his own way. He knows these woods.” Within a moment the man had disappeared among the trees.

Josiah sat still in the saddle for a moment or two as he pondered what to do with the troublesome horse. Hugo seemed determined to have his own way, and the young prince felt helpless to control him. Perhaps the stranger’s advice was correct—if he simply allowed the ornery steed to choose his own way, maybe he would make his way to the Castle of Temperance on his own.

After another moment or two of thinking it over, Josiah sighed and dropped the reins on the back of the horse’s neck. “Go on, Hugo,” he said reluctantly, “choose your own path.”

Hugo responded by trotting eagerly back in the direction from which he had come. Josiah was elated. It was working! In just a short while the horse and his young rider were back at the Path of Righteousness.

But to Josiah’s dismay, Hugo turned and started down the trail in the wrong direction. Josiah reached for the reins, thought better of it, and simply sat back and waited. Hugo broke into a gallop. After traveling down the trail in the wrong direction for less than a furlong, the horse slowed when he came to a small farm. A crude wooden fence at the side of the trail surrounded a small, freshly plowed field. Tiny green shoots were just beginning to poke their eager heads through the soil. Hugo extended his neck over the fence and began to eat the tender young plants.

Josiah was frustrated. He shook the reins. “Hugo,” he scolded, “this is not what you are supposed to do. You are supposed to take me to the Castle of Temperance. Get moving!”

Hugo just snorted, shook his head belligerently, and continued to graze.

Josiah waited impatiently, uncertain as to what to do. Indulgence seemed like a knowledgeable man; he had advised letting the horse choose his own way, and yet that plan didn’t seem to be working. He sighed. Perhaps if he simply let the obstinate horse feed for a few moments unhindered, he would soon feel like traveling in the right direction.

Several hours later, Hugo was still grazing. He had eaten every plant in the field within reach of the path, and now he was consuming the wild grass that grew along the other side of the trail. Realizing that he had made a huge mistake in allowing the ornery horse to choose his own path, Prince Josiah finally pulled back firmly on the reins, raised his heels, and kicked Hugo in the flanks. The troublesome horse snorted and shook his head angrily, turned and looked at Josiah, and then went back to grazing.

“This has gone far enough, Hugo,” the young prince declared firmly. He tugged the reins fiercely to one side, turning the horse’s head back to the trail. “You are not taking me to the Castle of Temperance as you are supposed to; you are simply choosing what you want to do, and I’ve had enough of this nonsense. Right now, I’m taking charge, and you are going to obey me! We’re going to the Castle of Temperance! Now get moving!” Raising both feet, Josiah brought his heels down against Hugo’s flanks with all his might.

In the next instant Josiah found himself sailing over the fence to land face first in the plowed soil of the field. Hugo had bucked him off!

Unhurt by the fall but angered by the horse’s actions, Josiah leaped to his feet. “You blackguard!” he raged at the horse. “I’ll teach you a thing or two!” But he turned around just in time to see Hugo gallop away through the trees. The horse had left him stranded.

Josiah was furious. “You worthless, good for nothing animal!” he raged, kicking at the fence with all his might. His booted foot struck the fence post, doing no damage to the post, but sending a spasm of pain through his foot and making him angrier still. Roaring in pain, he drew back his fist and punched the fence, hurting his hand. Clutching his injured hand and hopping about on one foot, Josiah howled in pain.

When the pain in his hand and foot had subsided somewhat, the angry young prince climbed over the fence and stood in the middle of the trail. There’s no sense in chasing that churlish horse, he decided. He won’t take me where I need to go, anyway. I might as well start walking again! Seething with anger, Josiah turned and started down the trail.

The young prince let out a long sigh of frustration. He picked up a long stick in the trail and swung it angrily at tree branches as he walked along. “I thought I would get to enjoy this part of the journey,” he said aloud, although no one was around to listen to him. He swatted angrily at a small bush beside the trail, scattering tiny red berries left and right. “I was going to get to ride in comfort, instead of having to walk. And what happens?” He took another angry swing at a milkweed plant. “I get some dunderhead horse that doesn’t even know enough to follow directions, and he throws me. Here I am walking, instead of riding. And all because I chose the wrong horse!”

He walked in angry silence for several moments. With each step he took, he stabbed furiously at the ground with the stick. High overhead, clouds crept in front of the sun. Shadows fell across the forest, but Josiah failed to notice.

“Why did I even come on this pilgrimage anyway?” he muttered. “All I do is walk and walk. Here I am, Prince Josiah, walking like a common servant. I suppose it will take all day to walk to the Castle of Temperance.”

He spotted a bird’s nest in a thorn bush beside the trail and gave it a whack with the stick. “If King Emmanuel really cared about me, he would have provided me a fine horse to ride, not some old nag like Hugo.” He sighed, suddenly feeling misused and unwanted. “The King rides in a golden carriage, and I walk.”

Josiah kicked at a rock in the trail, stubbing his toe and wincing in pain. “It’s Student’s fault,” he pouted. “He should have seen to it that I had a fine horse to ride, instead of a stubborn steed like that miserable Hugo. But does he care? He just lets me choose a horse by myself, knowing full well that I didn’t know anything about that stable of horses. Why didn’t he help me?”

The young prince looked around with a growing sense of dismay. The forest was dark and gloomy here; the trees were gnarled and twisted, stunted specimens that sagged and drooped over the narrow trail like crippled old men. Blotches of dark moss hung from their shriveled limbs like tattered clothing. The air was dank and chill, and reeked of decay; the trail was wet and slippery. Without realizing it, Josiah had left the trail to the Castle of Temperance and wandered into the Forest of Self-Pity, perhaps one of the most treacherous regions in all of Terrestria. After a number of joy-filled days at the Castle of Knowledge experiencing blessing and growth as he learned of his King, in an hour’s time he had become a grumbling, defeated young man who was consumed with ingratitude and self-pity.

Josiah’s melancholy mood continued to worsen as he walked along through the gloom of the dark forest. “No one cares about me,” he muttered. “Student didn’t care! Why didn’t he give me a better horse? Why did he allow me to select a horse that was going to give me trouble? Why didn’t Sir Faithful warn me about things like this? Why did King Emmanuel send me on such a treacherous journey, anyway? Why couldn’t I have stayed at the Castle of Faith? I was happy there! Why do I have to tramp from castle to castle like a homeless troubadour? Why couldn’t I have stayed a while longer at the Castle of Knowledge? I had such a splendid time there.”

The forest grew darker.

Realizing that he had not seen the dove for some time, Josiah glanced around, but the snowy white form of his celestial guide was nowhere to be seen. The wind howled mournfully through the twisted trees, moaning one moment and screeching the next as if it resented the presence of the young prince. Josiah shivered and drew his cloak more tightly about him. Fear grew within him. For just a moment he considered retracing his steps to the Castle of Knowledge to seek help, but he quickly put the thought behind him and pushed resolutely onward. He would make it on his own. Was it his fault that the dove had chosen to desert him?

The trail became narrower. Brambles and briars clutched at his clothing as he passed. The trees seemed to reach for him, snatching at his arms and face with withered, gnarled branches as if they were determined to hold him back. He gasped for breath as he stumbled along in the darkness and gloom. Discouraged and angry, he failed to realize the danger of his situation.

Soon the trees of the forest gave way to stunted shrubs, twisted thorn bushes and creeping vines. Clumps of sharp-bladed sawgrass and thorny briars appeared along the trail. The ground was soggy and spongy, oozing brackish water with Josiah’s every step. The air had become bitter and foul, stinging his eyes and searing his throat. Josiah struggled to breathe, rubbing his burning eyes as he stumbled along. Poisonous vapors swirled across the trail, making him dizzy and nauseous, disoriented and confused.

Hearing a raucous screech, he looked up just in time to see a dark, squawking bird of prey diving at his head. He swung the stick with all his might, striking the attacking fowl and driving it away. He walked faster.

Steaming mud pots on both sides of the trail bubbled and hissed, releasing little clouds of noxious vapors into the air. Josiah’s eyes burned so fiercely that he could barely keep them open. He struggled to breathe. The trail became even narrower, and soon was nothing more than a series of steppingstones crossing a swampy morass that bubbled and simmered like a witch’s brew.

Josiah’s careless steps had taken him into the Swamp of Bitterness, a place so deadly that it had claimed the life and health of countless pilgrims before him. He struggled to jump from steppingstone to steppingstone, unaware of the danger he was in, never realizing that the safest course of action would have been to retrace his steps to firmer ground. Had he been more alert, he would have noticed the countless white skeletons that protruded from the muck and mire, silent witnesses to the treachery of the swamp in which he found himself. As he passed a thorn bush beside the trail, a venomous snake with white death markings on its head dropped into the murky water and slithered away unnoticed.

Angry squawks drew his attention to the sky as a pair of dark vultures swooped down upon him. With wings spread wide and talons extended, the foul birds darted back and forth repeatedly, slashing at his face and neck with their beaks and claws in an attempt to knock him from the trail. Raising his hands to protect his head, the young prince stumbled forward.

One of the vultures raked the side of his face with a sharp claw. Josiah stumbled, lost his balance, and fell forward, missing his footing on the next steppingstone. With a cry of dismay, he tumbled from the path to land in the bubbling, hissing mire of the Swamp of Bitterness.

Chapter Twelve

 

Prince Josiah lay in the sulfurous mud of the Swamp of Bitterness, stunned by his fall from the Path of Righteousness. The weight of his own bitterness pulled him down as the brackish water and putrid slime of the swamp began to close over him. He struggled frantically, thrashing about and reaching desperately for a handhold on solid ground. But his grasping fingers simply came up with handfuls of the disgusting muck and slime of the swamp. Within seconds he was submerged to the waist and sinking deeper every moment.

The Swamp of Bitterness pulled at his limbs and clothing with a vicious suction, drawing him deeper into the mire inch by inch. It was as if the swamp were a living thing determined to pull him under and snuff out his life. Summoning all of his strength, Josiah lunged against the unrelenting suction and reached as far as he could. His frantic fingers closed around a clump of grass at the edge of the trail, and he grasped the vegetation desperately, knowing that if he lost his grip the swamp would take him under. “Help!” he cried aloud. “Somebody, please help me!”

The vile mud crept higher and higher. He was now submerged nearly to his armpits.

The young prince could feel the strength ebbing from his weary hands and arms, and he knew that it was simply a matter of time before he lost his grip on the clump of grass and the unrelenting Swamp of Bitterness pulled him under. He raised his head and gasped for breath. “Help me!” Hearing the flutter of wings, he looked up hopefully. His heart sank when he saw the dark form of a hideous vulture. The loathsome fowl dropped into the twisted skeleton of a dead tree and settled down to watch him. Josiah shuddered. His head sank in despair, drooping lower and lower until his face was almost in the vile slime. The muck and mire had now closed over his shoulders; only his arms and head were visible above the surface of the swamp. Within moments the Swamp of Bitterness would consume another victim.

“Lad, are you alive?” The voice was like a bolt of lightning in its abruptness, and Josiah looked up. Standing above him on the steppingstones was the figure of a nobleman dressed in a splendid doublet of royal blue with a cloak of scarlet. His eyes were filled with concern.

“Can you help me, sire?” Josiah gasped weakly. “The swamp is about to pull me under!”

“I am Lord Thankful, Earl of Gratitude,” the man replied. “I heard your cries for assistance and came to see if I may be of help.”

“Pull me out, please, Lord Thankful,” Josiah begged. “I cannot hold on much longer!”

“I cannot pull you out,” the nobleman told him, “for no man can pull another out of the Swamp of Bitterness. But I can tell you how to get out.”

“Tell me quickly,” Josiah begged. “I am about to be pulled under!”

“Praise,” Lord Thankful said simply. “Praise will get you out.”

“Praise, sire?” Josiah repeated.

“Aye, my young friend, praise. Lift your voice in praise to King Emmanuel, and the Swamp of Bitterness will lose its power over you. But make haste, for I can see that you have precious little time left.”

The murky water and foul slime had now reached to Josiah’s chin. With an unearthly slurping noise, the swamp was taking him down faster and faster. Josiah was terrified. Straining upward against the unrelenting suction, he gasped for breath. “Help me, Lord Thankful!” he pleaded. Releasing his feeble hold on the clump of grass, he lifted his right hand toward the nobleman. “Help me, sire!”

“Praise, lad, praise!” Lord Thankful shouted. “Praise the mighty name of your King, and the Swamp of Bitterness will lose its power over you! Praise the name of King Emmanuel!”

The filthy water of the swamp had now closed over Josiah’s mouth. In desperation, he threw back his head and lifted his chin, gulping a deep lungful of precious air. His mind raced. Praise? How could he praise his King? In his moment of hopelessness, the words of a familiar song flooded his soul and then burst from his lips.

“I sing the greatness of my King, my Lord Emmanuel,” he sang, in a voice that trembled with fear and desperation. “His power is great and far exceeds what mortal tongue or pen can tell.” Gasping for breath, he finished the stanza: “My heart is full; I sing for him, and trust that I may serve him well.”

He stopped and looked about him. The Swamp of Bitterness still held him fast, but he had stopped sinking.

“Sing, lad, sing!” Lord Thankful called urgently. “Praise the name of your King!”

“I sing the love of my great King, my Lord Emanuel,” Josiah sang. “His lovingkindness ransomed me, but why he did, I cannot tell.” The mire was actually receding now, falling slowly from his shoulders as if he were rising from the swamp.

“Sing, lad, sing!”

“His love led him to die for me. I trust that I may serve him well.” There was no doubt about it; the mire of the foul swamp was definitely receding.

“Sing it again, lad, sing it again!” Lord Thankful urged. “Keep praising your King until the swamp loses its power over you!”

Josiah sang. The bitterness and ingratitude flowed from his soul like water pouring from a bucket. The dreadful feelings were replaced by a warm, grateful peace. Once again, his heart was filled with love for his King. He looked about in astonishment. The foul swamp with its noxious, bitter vapors was gone; he found himself standing on firm ground, surrounded by luscious green grass, colorful flowers and blossoming trees. “What happened to the swamp?” he asked Lord Thankful.

“The Swamp of Bitterness is a treacherous, dangerous place, my prince, but it has no power over a child of the King who has a heart full of praise. Gratitude and praise will vanquish bitterness every time.”

“Sire, you came just in time,” Josiah said gratefully. “I was about to perish in that foul place!”

“How did you come to fall into the swamp?” the nobleman asked. “That was no place for a child of the King.”

“I am Prince Josiah, of the Castle of Faith,” the young prince replied, “and I am on my way to the Castle of Temperance. I was riding a horse named ‘Hugo’ that I chose from the stable at the Castle of Knowledge, and he threw me! I started walking and somehow wandered into that dreadful swamp.”

“Hugo?” The look on Lord Thankful’s face was one of bewilderment. “Where did you find a horse named ‘Hugo’?”

“He was in the stable at the Castle of Knowledge. The stablehand wanted to give me a mount named ‘Meekness’, but I made a horrible mistake and chose Hugo.”

Lord Thankful began to laugh. “Ego! Your horse’s name was ‘Ego’!”

“Ego?” Josiah echoed. “But the stablehand told me the horse’s name was ‘Hugo’.”

The nobleman laughed again. “The stablehand does not speak clearly. The horse’s name was ‘Ego’. It’s an ancient word that means ‘self’. One of the hardest lessons for a child of the King to learn—and one of the most important—is control of self.”

Josiah dropped to a seat on a nearby rock. He was still breathing hard from his ordeal in the Swamp of Bitterness. “Control of self. Student told me that’s what temperance is—control of self. You must know that I’m on my way to the Castle of Temperance.”

Lord Thankful nodded.

At that moment the dove fluttered down to alight in the branches of a nearby tree. Josiah glanced at his feathered guide and then looked back to Lord Thankful. “Why did he desert me in my time of greatest need?” he asked.

“Oh, he would never desert you,” the nobleman assured him. “He is with you always. But in your anger, ingratitude, and bitterness, you were simply unaware of his presence. He would have helped you, had you listened for his voice. In fact, he could have given you complete control over Ego.”

Prince Josiah hung his head.

“Come, my prince, let us make our way to the Castle of Temperance. I am the castle steward, and I have been awaiting your arrival. The castle is not far.”

 

 

The Castle of Temperance was a concentric castle situated on the banks of Distinction River, the watercourse that divided the Plains of Integrity, a rich, well-watered region, from the Morass of Gratification, a place filled with sulfur pits and treacherous bogs. Prince Josiah spent several days at the castle. Lord Thankful was a gracious host and made him feel welcome. Josiah was grateful for the many kindnesses showed to him, not the least of which was the fact that the nobleman never again mentioned the fact that Josiah had failed to control Ego and had ended up in the Swamp of Bitterness. The young prince spent countless hours reading and studying his book and was delighted to discover that his knowledge of King Emmanuel increased just as rapidly as it had during his time at the Castle of Knowledge.

Lord Thankful stressed the importance of daily praise and thanksgiving in order to maintain a heart of gratitude and avoid the perils of allowing bitterness to creep into one’s heart and soul. Having experienced the Swamp of Bitterness for himself, Josiah had no desire to return. He began each day in the castle with a time set aside to read his book and to reflect on King Emmanuel’s goodness to him. Throughout the day he found himself singing the King’s praises again and again. From time to time he sent petitions to Emmanuel just to express his gratitude for his deliverance from the tyranny of Argamor and from the chains of iniquity.

 

 

“The next stop in your journey is the Castle of Patience,” the castle steward told him after breakfast one morning. “Today you shall resume your pilgrimage and make your way toward that castle.”

Josiah nodded in agreement. “I am ready, sire.”

Lord Thankful led the young prince to the main gate of the castle. “Patience is determination,” he told Josiah, “the ability to keep going when difficulties or obstacles arise. It’s also referred to as ‘persistence’ or ‘steadfastness’, and this next part of the journey will test you in regard to that aspect of your character. The Mountains of Difficulty lay across your route, and the crossing will not be an easy one. Allow your book and the dove to guide you and you will do fine. Trust in Emmanuel’s love for you, and petition him if you find yourself in dire circumstances.”

An attendant appeared just then with a pack of provisions for Josiah. “Food for your journey,” Lord Thankful told Josiah.

Josiah took the pack and slipped his arms into the straps, amazed at the weight of the pack. “How much food is in this?” he asked. A troubling thought suddenly occurred to him, and he turned to the steward. “Will I not reach the Castle of Patience by nightfall? Judging by the weight of this pack, I would venture to guess that there is food enough here for several days.”

Lord Thankful nodded. “This leg of the journey will be the longest yet,” he agreed. “The trek across the Mountains of Difficulty will not be an easy one, nor will it be a brief one. But King Emmanuel has provided everything that you will need for the journey. The trail follows Distinction River northward for about twenty-five or thirty furlongs and then turns east toward the Mountains of Difficulty. Whatever you do, Prince Josiah, stay on the trail! There are no shortcuts through the mountains, so don’t leave the Path of Righteousness for any reason whatsoever. To do so would be to invite disaster.”

Reaching within his royal blue doublet, the steward took out a small drawstring bag. He opened it and dumped a large, beautiful ruby into the palm of his hand. Lifting the young prince’s Shield of Faith with one hand, he stooped slightly and held the crimson red jewel to the shield in a line with the emerald and the sapphire. The ruby glowed for an instant with a brilliant red light as it became part of the shield.

Lord Thankful smiled. “Farewell, Prince Josiah. It has been a joy to have you with us in the Castle of Temperance these last few days.”

 

 

Two hours later Josiah strolled over the top of a gentle ridge and stared in amazement. Before him stretched a series of rugged mountains. Tall, stark, and jagged, the Mountains of Difficulty loomed ahead like a series of formidable castles. The mountains were so high that in some places the peaks pierced the clouds.

Josiah paused in the middle of the trail and took a deep breath. Lord Thankful was right—the trek across the Mountains of Difficulty was not going to be an easy crossing. Setting his shoulders in determination, the young prince boldly strode forward.

“Wait, my lord!”

Prince Josiah turned. A youth just a year or two older than he ran up the trail toward him.

“Might I accompany you on your journey, my lord?” the youth asked as he caught up with Josiah. “The Mountains of Difficulty can be quite treacherous at times, my lord, and it is best not to traverse them alone.” He bent over and leaned on his knees with both hands, breathing hard.

“I shall be glad for your company,” Josiah replied. “As soon as you have had time to catch your breath, we shall resume our journey.”

“I am called by the name of Woebegone,” the youth said.

“And I am Prince Josiah, of the Castle of Faith,” the young prince answered. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“I am ready to travel,” Woebegone said just a moment later. “Shall we be off?”

Josiah studied his new companion as he and Woebegone hiked along the trail. The young man was extremely thin. His tunic was nearly threadbare and his sandals were so worn that they appeared that they would fall apart at any moment. He wore a sad, doleful expression; his dark eyes revealed a haunted, fearful spirit.

The sunshine was bright and the day was cheery, but Josiah couldn’t help noticing that Woebegone kept eyeing the distant mountains with a timid, almost terrified look. The young prince began to wonder what lay ahead.

Chapter Thirteen

 

The rocky trail upon which Prince Josiah and Woebegone traveled angled sharply up into the mountains. Josiah paused and looked upward. High above them, the steep mountain trail wound its way along the very edge of a sheer precipice. A fall from the trail would certainly prove fatal. Spotting movement on the side of the mountain well above the tree line, Josiah pointed. “Look. Is that another traveler?”

“Indeed it is,” Woebegone replied. “We’ll reach that point where he is in a day or two.”

“A day or two?” Josiah’s heart sank at the words. If it took a full day to reach that point, the trip through the mountains might take a month or more. Josiah’s enthusiasm sagged at the thought. “Well, let’s keep traveling, shall we?”

Woebegone shrugged listlessly and started forward.

Josiah began to sing, but Woebegone cut him off. “Save your breath,” he advised. “You’ll need it for the climb.”

Josiah laughed. “Why are you so glum?”

“You’d be glum, too, my lord,” Woebegone answered, “if you only knew what lies ahead.”

Josiah hesitated. “What do you mean?”

“Crossing the Mountains of Difficulty is no easy feat, my lord. Many a traveler has perished in the mountains that lie before us.”

“Why? What can happen?”

“There are wild animals that prey upon travelers. Countless people have been killed and eaten by lions or wolves or bears.” He eyed Josiah’s splendid clothing. “And it matters not whether one is a prince or a pauper, my lord; the wild animals will attack anyone.”

“I feel no fear,” Josiah replied, reaching within his doublet and drawing the book. “I have my sword.” He swung the book, transforming it into the invincible sword.

Woebegone’s eyes grew wide at the sight of the glittering blade, but he quickly recovered. “There are winds so fierce that they can pluck a man from the mountainside and hurl him to his death. The winds are swift, and strike without warning.”

“Trust in your King, Prince Josiah,” the dove said softly.

“I’m trusting in King Emmanuel,” Josiah said resolutely. “The fierce winds do not alarm me.”

“There are many rockslides and avalanches,” Woebegone warned him. “As we climb you will see countless places where the entire trail has fallen away. The mountainside is treacherous, and can crumble away before you even know what’s happening.” He paused, eyeing Josiah carefully. “And it is rumored that the mountains are home to a fierce dragon— a huge, fire-breathing monster that preys on travelers.”

The trail grew steeper and narrower. Josiah crept to the edge and cautiously looked down. Already the valley floor was more than two hundred feet below them. Woebegone stood behind him and nudged him forward slightly with his shoulder, startling Josiah and causing him to draw back from the edge of the precipice. “It would be easy to fall to one’s death, my lord. You must be careful.”

Together the two youths resumed their journey up the side of the mountain. “The crossing will take days and days, my lord,” Woebegone continued. “The air is thin; the nights are cold and the days are hot. It will not be an easy journey, my lord. Perhaps you would want to turn back while you still have the opportunity.”

Josiah laughed. “Don’t you have any good news for me?”

“Well, there is one good thing,” Woebegone said slowly.

“What’s that?”

“Death in the mountains usually comes quickly, so at least one does not have to worry about a lingering death.”

“Thank you,” Josiah told him. “That was encouraging.”

The young prince and his pessimistic companion climbed steadily. In less than an hour they found themselves above the tree line and Josiah realized that they had already passed the point at which he had seen the traveler above them, but he said nothing to Woebegone. The rugged trail continually grew steeper and more treacherous. Josiah hiked cautiously, fully realizing that a misstep could result in a fatal fall to the valley below.

The worst part of the journey was Woebegone’s endless prattle—he went on and on about the dangers ahead and the possibilities of a sudden and unexpected death. He complained about the weather and the climbing conditions. He suggested that Josiah could not possibly have enough food in his pack for the entire trek across the mountains, and that death by starvation was a very real possibility. He continually told Josiah that as bad as things were now, he should keep in mind that the worst was still yet to come—the higher elevations were the most treacherous of all. Josiah soon grew weary of the constant barrage of negative information.

By midday they had reached the crest of the first mountain range. After a brief rest break to eat a meal from Josiah’s pack, they started down the backside of the ridge. The sun was hotter now, but the incline was gentler and the trail was now downhill. Josiah found comfort in the fact that they were no longer hiking along the edge of a precipice.

The sun was setting when the two travelers came to a small log cabin nestled in a grove of tall pine trees. Crystal-clear water bubbled from a spring in the rocks beside the cabin and flowed down the mountainside along a rocky bed. “Behold,” Josiah told Woebegone, “here’s a place to spend the night!”

Woebegone shook his head. “We know not who owns the cabin,” he said, with a woeful expression on his thin face. “We dare not stay here without permission.”

Noticing a brass plate upon the door of the cabin, Josiah stepped closer. “WELCOME, WEARY TRAVELER,” the brass plate proclaimed in large letters. “THIS HAVEN OF REFUGE IS OPEN TO ANY AND ALL WHO DESIRE A PLACE OF REST. THIS SHELTER IS PROVIDED BY HIS MAJESTY, KING EMMANUEL.”

Josiah opened the door. “Come,” he called to Woebegone. “The cabin has been provided for us by King Emmanuel.” Stepping inside, the young prince surveyed the interior of the cabin. Four bunks prepared with sweet-smelling pine branches lined the walls; an axe and a box of kindling stood to one side of a clean, well-swept fireplace. The mantel above the fireplace held a lantern, a flint, and a small tinderbox.

“I see no provisions of victuals,” Woebegone said, standing in the doorway and looking about the little cabin with an expression of disdain. “The King did not provide victuals for us. If he really cared for us he would have provided for our needs.”

Josiah shook his head. “I brought food in my pack,” he told his complaining companion. “King Emmanuel has already provided it.”

“The cabin will be freezing tonight,” Woebegone lamented. “The Mountains of Difficulty are bitterly cold at night.”

“That’s why King Emmanuel has provided a fireplace,” Josiah pointed out. “I will take the axe and cut some firewood.”

“There is no lock on the door,” Woebegone complained. “Someone could enter the cabin while we are asleep and slay us in our beds.”

“Would you rather sleep outside?” Josiah retorted, beginning to grow tired of his companion’s constant whining. “The cabin is open to all, but it will keep the wild animals out.” He picked up the axe and strode to the door. “I’m going to cut some firewood. Why don’t you prepare the kindling so we can start a fire when I get back?”

Moments later Josiah found a dead tree on the mountainside above the cabin. In no time at all he had cut a good supply of firewood. He returned to the cabin with a huge armload of wood to find that Woebegone had done nothing to prepare a fire. Clenching his teeth to hold back the angry words that threatened to leap out, the young prince knelt and built a fire.

He picked up his pack, noticing as he did that the pack seemed much lighter than before. “What happened?” he asked. “Some of my food seems to be missing.”

“Much of the food was starting to mold and decay,” Woebegone told him, “so I threw it over the precipice below the cabin.”

Josiah stared at him in disbelief.

“We must turn back tomorrow,” the mournful youth insisted. “There is not enough food for the journey. There is no food to be found in the Mountains of Difficulty. We will perish with hunger!”

“Turn back if you so desire,” Josiah told him. “I shall continue on without you. I’m on a pilgrimage for my King, and I will not turn back!”

Woebegone shrugged and said nothing.

 

 

The next few days were difficult ones indeed. The Path of Righteousness seemed to grow steeper and more treacherous every day as the youths followed it through the Mountains of Difficulty. In many respects, Woebegone’s dire warnings had proved to be accurate—the journey was becoming more difficult. The trail was dangerous; the days were hot; and the nights were cold. On some days, the winds of adversity howled down from the mountain peaks from morning till night. Rockslides and avalanches were frequent, and on occasion, Josiah even spotted the skeletons of other travelers who had perished on the journey.

A constant burden during the trek through the Mountains of Difficulty was Woebegone’s constant message of doom and gloom. It seemed that he could hardly open his mouth without predicting failure, or even worse, death. Josiah chose to ignore the words of woe. In spite of the fact that Woebegone had thrown much of the King’s provisions of food into the ravine the first night, Josiah noticed that the pack never grew lighter after that first night. It was as if King Emmanuel was somehow supplying their needs by replenishing the food as they ate it. He had also noticed that each and every night, just as the sun was going down, he and Woebegone would come to one of the King’s cabins of rest. The cabins had somehow been placed in the very places where they were needed most.

“Look at this,” Woebegone said, pausing at a place where a rockslide had destroyed the trail. “This precipice is more than a thousand feet high! One misstep here, and we’re dead men!”

“Cross it carefully,” Josiah replied. “We’ll be all right.”

“Don’t look down,” Woebegone told him, stepping closer to the place of danger. “If you see how far it is to the bottom, you’ll be paralyzed with fear!” Moving slowly and carefully, he began to inch his way across the breach in the trail. The young prince followed cautiously.

“Do you think that King Emmanuel knows that this trail is this treacherous?” Woebegone asked slyly.

“I’m sure he does,” Josiah replied. He glanced downward at that moment and his heart constricted with fear. It was a long way to the bottom.

“Why do you think that your King would send you into such a place of danger?” Woebegone continued. “Surely it is not because he cares for you! Perhaps you are not as valuable to him as you had thought—perhaps he sees you as merely another of his many servants, and you are expendable to him.”

“King Emmanuel cares for me!” Josiah retorted hotly. “I’m more to him than just a servant. He adopted me into the Royal Family. I’m his son and his heir.”

Woebegone shrugged and turned toward Josiah, smiling for the first time since the two had been together. “Perhaps, my lord. But if that is true, why would the King send you into a place of such danger?”

Josiah couldn’t answer. Woebegone’s words troubled him. Would King Emmanuel actually have sent him on this pilgrimage, knowing that he would have to face the dangers of the Mountains of Difficulty, if he really cared for Josiah? What if I perish in these mountains? Will King Emmanuel know about it? Will he even care? Josiah tried to put such thoughts out of his head, but they kept returning again and again.

 

 

They encountered yet another difficulty on the sixth day. It was late in the afternoon, and Woebegone was leading the way through a steep mountain pass. As Josiah stepped around a large pile of jagged boulders that blocked the trail, he found the thin youth standing in the middle of the path, staring up the trail in dismay. “Now we really have trouble,” Woebegone moaned. “Look! Snow!”

Patches of crusty snow lined both sides of the trail. “It’s just a little bit,” Josiah pointed out. “Look, the trail is still clear.”

Woebegone gave him a look of disgust. “You don’t understand, do you? The snow is no trouble here, but we still have to climb another two thousand feet before we make it over the pass. At that altitude the snow will be blocking the trail. We’ll freeze to death before we make it over the mountain!”

Josiah shrugged. “The only thing to do is to keep hiking and trust in our King.”

Woebegone started forward. “King Emmanuel should have provided us with warmer clothing if we are to travel in conditions such as this.”

The afternoon grew colder as they struggled steadily upward. The air was thin, and Josiah panted with the exertion of climbing. Woebegone, for all his grumbling and complaining, seemed unaffected by the altitude or the cold and climbed without effort. Josiah struggled to keep up. Before long he noticed that he could actually see his own breath in the cold mountain air.

As they reached the higher elevations, they saw more and more snow. Parts of the trail were icy and completely covered with snow, and soon they were trudging through snow that was more than a foot deep. The Path of Righteousness was indistinct and hard to follow.

Why did King Emmanuel not provide us with warmer clothing? Josiah asked himself repeatedly. Did he not know that we would face such climbing conditions? Did he not care? Is Woebegone right—does King Emmanuel view me as nothing more than a servant? Am I expendable? Josiah felt disloyal even thinking such thoughts, but for some reason, found that he could no longer chase them from his mind.

Woebegone spoke up. “We’re going to find ourselves facing a major problem tonight.”

“What is that?” Josiah asked.

“We’re far above the tree line. When we get to the cabin—ah, if there is a cabin—what are we going to do for firewood? We’ll freeze to death!”

Josiah thought about the problem as he hiked along, forcing his way through snowdrifts that were waist deep. He watched the sun dropping quickly toward the peaks in the west and he knew that night was almost upon them. Surely there would be a cabin—there had been one at just the right location every night so far—but what would they do for firewood? He worried about it, and fear tugged at his heart.

There was less than fifteen minutes of daylight left when they finally came in sight of the cabin, a sturdy little structure less than two hundred paces below the summit of the mountain. Prince Josiah hiked faster and passed Woebegone on the trail. “There’s not a tree within several miles of here,” the dismal youth pointed out to the prince for the ninth or tenth time. “We’ll freeze to death!”

Josiah was running now, leaping high with each step in his battle against the deep snow. He scrambled up the last few paces to the cabin and threw open the door. The interior of the cabin was dark, and it was hard to see. He took a timid step inside and blinked, waiting for his eyes to grow accustomed to the dim light. His heart leaped. Just as in the other cabins, a fireplace was waiting, with flint and tinder and kindling and all the necessary items for building a fire. But there was no axe. Instead, one entire wall was stacked from floor to ceiling with seasoned firewood!

“You were wrong!” Josiah told Woebegone, as the latter stepped into the cabin. “Look at all the firewood! King Emmanuel did provide for us!”

 

 

Three days later, Prince Josiah and Woebegone carefully descended the last rugged incline. The treacherous crossing was nearly over; the Mountains of Difficulty were behind them. At the base of the mountain was one last rugged canyon that they would have to cross; beyond that stretched a wide, flat plain. Josiah could see a castle far in the distance, and he knew without asking that it was the Castle of Patience. This part of the journey was nearly over.

“We’ll cut across that ledge just below us,” Woebegone told him, pointing to a sandstone promontory below the trail. The trail doubles back just below there, and we’ll save ourselves a bit of walking.”

“Lord Thankful cautioned me about leaving the trail,” Josiah countered. “I think we should follow it all the way down.”

Woebegone snorted. “We’re past the treacherous part now,” he argued. “The trail goes on another two or three furlongs and then doubles back on itself to a point just a few feet below. There’s no sense in walking an extra four or five furlongs when there’s no reason for it.”

With these words he stepped from the trail and began to hike straight down the side of the mountain. Josiah hesitated for a moment, and then, with a shrug, followed Woebegone.

The side of the ridge was covered with outcroppings of loose rock that broke away easily when Josiah used them for handholds or footholds. Realizing that his situation was precarious, Josiah proceeded slowly and cautiously, testing each rocky spur before he trusted his weight to it. Perhaps I should have simply followed the trail, he told himself ruefully.

He stepped down on a fist-sized projection of rock and it broke away without warning. Josiah found himself sliding feet first down the steep slope. He rolled over on his belly and scrabbled desperately for a handhold to stop his fall, but his clutching fingers simply encountered more loose rock. He slid faster and faster. With a cry of fear he dropped over the edge of a precipice and found himself falling through empty space. Barely a second later, he struck the rocky floor of the canyon and his world went black.

Chapter Fourteen

 

The fog began to clear from Prince Josiah’s mind. Slowly he became aware of his surroundings. He lifted his head and looked around—he discovered that he was lying on his back in the rugged canyon. Thirty feet above him, Woebegone peered at him from a rocky ledge.

The young prince slowly rolled to his feet and stood up. He stretched his limbs and took a quick inventory. Apparently, nothing was broken. He looked up at his companion. “I’m all right!” he called. “But how do I get out of this canyon?”

To his astonishment, Woebegone began to laugh hysterically. “You don’t get out, my lord!” he cried, doubled over in fits of uncontrolled laughter. His voice echoed and re-echoed in the canyon. “This is the Valley of Discouragement, and there is no escape. You will never get out, my lord. Others before you have tried, but you will find their bleached bones down there with you!” He turned away.

“Wait!” Josiah cried. “Help me out!”

The thin youth turned back with a sneering laugh. “Help you out of the Valley of Discouragement?” he echoed. “Surely you jest, my lord. You are right where we want you.”

Josiah was desperate. “Then send someone who can help me!” he pleaded.

The only answer was the mocking laugh that echoed back and forth across the canyon. Woebegone darted up the trail and was gone.

Josiah looked around with a growing sense of dismay. An unusual twilight seemed to hang over the Valley of Discouragement like a translucent shroud; the mountainside above the valley was brightly lit and he could see it clearly, but somehow, the valley was dark and filled with grotesque shadows. It was as if the light of the sun simply could not penetrate the gloom of the valley.

Hurrying forward to the perpendicular rock wall, the young prince began to climb. He found that the canyon wall was unusually smooth, with very few irregularities or crevices to use as handholds or footholds. He managed to climb just three or four feet and then could go no further. Disappointed, he slid back to the valley floor.

Josiah began to hike down the valley, carefully inspecting the valley wall and looking for a way out. But he soon found that the entire wall was uniform and unbroken, and as impossible to climb as if it had been fashioned from glass. The valley was not deep—twenty or twenty-five feet at the deepest points—but there was simply no way out. Josiah crossed the little creek that ran through the bottom of the ravine and then inspected the wall on the north side of the valley. But the north wall was just the same—a sheer, smooth barrier that proved impossible to climb.

“There has to be a way out of here!” Josiah exclaimed. “There has to be! And I’m going to find it!” He paused for a drink from the stream, but found that the water was bitter to the taste. Wiping his mouth on his sleeve, he crossed the stream and then resumed his hike down the valley.

Four hours later, defeated and thoroughly frustrated, he dropped to a sitting position on a large rock. What am I to do? I’ve hiked at least sixty furlongs, but there simply is no way out of this dark, gloomy valley! Discouragement swept over him. He suddenly felt extremely helpless, alone, and vulnerable.

He looked around for the dove, but his celestial guide was nowhere to be seen. Thinking that he might find guidance in his book, Josiah opened it and began to read, but the page was difficult to see and the words seemed empty and lifeless. It almost seemed as though the book was no longer meant for him, that King Emmanuel’s promises were intended for someone else. Finally, he sighed deeply, closed the book, and replaced it inside his doublet.

Standing to his feet, Josiah once again began to shuffle through the dark Valley of Discouragement. His feet felt as if they were made of lead. He stumbled frequently, often falling and skinning his hands on the rough rocks that littered the valley floor. No one cares about me, he told himself mournfully. I’m alone in this dreary valley and I cannot possibly get out without help from someone else. But no one except Woebegone even knows that I’m down here, and no one cares.

He thought about Woebegone’s words. Perhaps I really don’t matter to King Emmanuel either, he thought sadly. I was just a lowly slave—why would he even want me as part of the Royal Family? I’m unworthy to be a prince! He sighed deeply. And I’ve failed my King again—here I am in a valley from which there is no escape, and it is certain that I will never reach the Castle of Patience.

“A petition!” Josiah said aloud. “I must send a petition to King Emmanuel, for I now need his help more than I have ever needed it before!” Reaching into his doublet, he withdrew the book and opened it, taking the PRAYER parchment from within. But as he replaced the book within his bosom, a sudden gust of wind snatched the parchment from his hand and sent it fluttering away like an injured bird. Josiah chased after it, but it eluded him. Stunned, the young prince watched in dismay as the precious parchment disappeared into the gloom and darkness.

His lonely heart cried out in misery as he shuffled along in the eerie darkness of the valley. Numb with discouragement, he continued to walk through the valley, still searching the sheer walls for a way of escape from his rocky prison, but deep in his heart he had already given up hope. Woebegone was right—there would be no escape from the Valley of Discouragement.

Woebegone! He’s the one who got me into this. He set a trap for me and it worked. He didn’t come along to help me over the Mountains of Difficulty; he came to lead me right into a trap.

The young prince sank to the ground in defeat, too overcome with discouragement to go any further. Moments later the sun suddenly dropped below the hills to the west, plunging the Valley of Discouragement into complete darkness. High on the hillside above the valley that held Josiah prisoner, a coyote howled mournfully.

 

 

Almost a fortnight later, a thin, tattered scarecrow of a human figure staggered aimlessly along the Valley of Discouragement. Somewhere in the countless miles of heartless wandering Josiah had lost the pack of the King’s provisions and he had been forced to survive by eating the yellow, bitter-tasting fruit that grew profusely on the scrubby bushes scattered throughout the valley.

Hearing the sound of cheerful voices, Josiah looked up expectantly. A whitewashed fence bordered the rim of the canyon at that point; just beyond the fence he could see travelers passing by: some on horses, some riding in carriages and other conveyances, some on foot. Apparently, a well-traveled highway ran parallel to the valley. His heart leaped. Help was at hand!

Josiah ran forward. Cupping his hands to his mouth, he shouted, “Hello up there! Will somebody help me?” To his utter astonishment and bitter disappointment, not a single soul looked in his direction. Apparently the travelers couldn’t even hear him.

He tried again, louder this time. “Help me! I’m down here in the Valley of Discouragement and I need your help!” Again, there was no response from the travelers above. Without exception, they continued on their way as if he had never called. Taking a deep breath, he shouted as loud as he could. His plea for help echoed and re-echoed across the darkness of the valley, but not a single traveler paused for even a moment.

Can’t they hear me? Josiah cried silently. Can’t they see me down here? Can’t they see that I desperately need help? Am I invisible to them? Why can they not hear me? Or is it just that no one cares?

Finally, a bold idea occurred to Josiah and he picked up a small rock. “I’ll get their attention one way or another!” he said grimly. He hurled the rock up over the edge of the canyon.

The missile struck the neck of a passing horse. Frightened, the animal reared up on its hind legs, nearly unseating its rider. After a moment or two of intense activity, the man succeeded in bringing his mount under control. He reined the horse close to the fence and angrily shouted down at Josiah, “You down there! Did you throw that stone?”

“I need your help!” Josiah cried, elated at having obtained the attention of one who could assist him. “I fell into this dreadful valley, and I’ve been down here for more than a fortnight! Will you help me out?”

“Why did you throw that stone? You hit my horse!”

“I’m sorry about your horse, sire, but I had to do something to get someone’s attention! I need your help! I am perishing down here. Will you help me?”

The horseman seemed heedless to Josiah’s words and to his obvious predicament. “I warn you, lad, do not throw any more stones!” he scolded sternly. “Someone could get hurt.”

“But I need your help, sire,” Josiah pleaded. “Can you help me out of this valley?”

The man glanced upward as if to check the position of the sun. “I’m late for an important engagement,” he replied. “Someone else will stop to help you. But do not throw any more stones!” Clucking to his horse, he rode away without looking back.

Josiah picked up another rock. If you won’t help me, I’ll find someone who will, he thought fiercely. At least I now know how to get people’s attention! He hurled the rock but hit no one, so he fired another. The third missile struck a man’s hat, knocking it from his head.

The man retrieved his hat and then strode over to the railing. “You down there!” he shouted at Josiah. “What ails you, lad?” The man was wearing a long, black frock coat and Josiah surmised that he was a man of the Church.

“I need your help, sire! I have fallen into this lonely Valley of Discouragement, and I cannot get out. Would you be so good as to help me?”

“The King helps those who help themselves,” the cleric replied. “Think positive thoughts, lad. There is tremendous power in positive thinking. When His Majesty created man’s mind, he endowed man with infinite possibilities. There is simply no limit to the good that can be accomplished by the power of positive thinking. Chin up, lad, and always let your thoughts be positive!” With these words, the man walked away, leaving Josiah staring wordlessly after him.

The next person to stop—after her attention was arrested by a well-aimed stone—was a well-dressed woman riding alone in a carriage. After listening to Josiah’s plea for help, she rolled her eyes and then turned and drove away without a word.

The next traveler was a priest. He paused at the railing and looked down into the Valley of Discouragement, noticing the young prince before Josiah even had a chance to signal him with a rock. “Oh, please, sire, help me!” Josiah pleaded, falling to his knees and wringing his hands. “I have fallen into this dark valley and cannot climb out unless someone helps me!”

To Josiah’s utter astonishment, the priest simply stepped to the side of the highway away from the valley and passed on without a backward glance.

A monk was the next to stop, but only after Josiah bounced a small pebble off the top of his bald head. When Josiah explained his predicament, the monk responded just as the priest did—he simply crossed to the other side of the road and continued on his journey without a backward glance.

Why does no one help me? Josiah thought woefully. Can they not see how desperately I need their assistance? Are these people too busy to stop and help a fellow traveler? Or am I unworthy of their time?

Josiah stooped and picked up several more small rocks. “I’ll keep trying,” he vowed aloud, “until someone stops and helps me out of this wretched valley!” At that moment he spotted a dignified gentleman smartly riding a well-groomed horse. The rider’s eyes were not upon the road; he held a small book on the pommel of his saddle and was actually reading as he rode along. Josiah took careful aim and managed to hit the man on the leg with a pebble.

The rider emitted a yelp of surprise and nearly dropped his book. He reined to a stop in the middle of the highway and looked around, trying to spot the source of the flying pebble.

“Down here, sire!” Josiah called, waving his arms in an effort to get the man’s attention. “I need your help, sire!”

The rider peered down into the gloom of the valley and frowned when he saw Josiah. “What seems to be the problem, lad?” Closing his book, he rode closer to the rail.

“This is the Valley of Discouragement, sire, and I have been a prisoner in this dreadful place for more than a fortnight! I need your help!”

“Why do you not climb out, lad?” The man asked the question as if the matter was a simple one, but his tone was not unkind. He smiled in a friendly, encouraging way.

“I have tried and tried to climb out, sire, but the walls are perpendicular and there are no handholds. Can you help me?”

“Indeed I can, lad. I’m always glad to help a fellow traveler.”

Josiah’s heart leaped. Help had arrived at last!

The horseman turned, reached into his saddlebags, and pulled out two items, which he tossed over the railing into the canyon. “I wish you well, lad,” the man called as he rode away with a friendly wave. Josiah sprang forward and picked the items up, discovering to his amazement and dismay that the friendly rider had left him two books. The title of the first was Twelve Steps to Self-Improvement; the second was titled Building a Healthy Self-Image. Josiah shook his head sadly. “I don’t need advice; I need someone to care enough to stop and help me out of this valley. Why doesn’t someone throw me a rope?”

A short while later darkness descended over the countryside as night came to the land of Terrestria. The rising moon was full, but its silver beams could not penetrate the gloom of the Valley of Discouragement. The wind howled mournfully through the valley like a human wailing in distress. Shivering with cold, Josiah crept beneath the overhang of a huge boulder and curled up to go to sleep, confused and alone and despairing of escaping the valley. Once again, his hopes had been raised and then shattered like a clay pot dashed against the rocks.

Josiah spent the next day attempting to get help from passersby. Again, he used rocks to get people’s attention, but just as before, no one was willing to help. He got a variety of responses from the various travelers: some chided him for throwing rocks; some offered useless advice and then hurried on about their business; one lady told him that the Valley of Discouragement was just a figment of his imagination. One sincere young farmer even threw Josiah a length of rope—six feet to be exact—which, of course, proved to be quite worthless. An elderly couple out for a pleasure ride in a dashing landau advised him to ignore his discouragement and “be strong.”

“Why doesn’t somebody help me?” Josiah cried at last, disgusted and disheartened by the response of his fellow travelers. “I cannot escape the Valley of Discouragement by myself. I need someone to care, someone to help.” Finally, he abandoned the idea of receiving help from one of the travelers. Once again, he began searching the valley in hopes of finding a way out on his own.

For the next several days the dejected young prince continued to walk the valley, still seeking a way out of his lonely prison. He came to a pile of loose boulders and a sudden inspiration hit—perhaps he could pile enough boulders against the wall of the canyon to make a ramp high enough to allow him to escape. The project would take days and days, he realized, but at present there seemed to be no other hope of escape from the valley. He set to work with renewed energy and zeal.

After five days of backbreaking work Josiah abandoned the idea. The boulders simply wouldn’t stay in place—when he piled them, they rolled off each other, refusing to be piled high enough for the ramp that he had in mind.

Josiah sank to the ground in defeat. “King Emmanuel, I have failed you again,” he wept. “What am I to do? I have tried and tried to escape from the Valley of Discouragement, but it’s no use. Every idea that I try ends in failure. The travelers on the highway were ready to offer advice, but no one was willing to take the time to actually help me out of here. What am I to do? I’ll never make it to the Castle of Patience!”

“Prince Josiah!” a voice called just then. “Is that you? Whatever are you doing down there in the Valley of Discouragement?”

Chapter Fifteen

 

“Prince Josiah!”

Josiah looked up in astonishment as his name echoed across the Valley of Discouragement. A familiar figure in a golden tunic and green leggings was standing at the brink of the canyon and waving to him. A lyre hung at the man’s side. Josiah rushed forward. “Encouragement!”

The cheerful little minstrel knelt at the canyon’s edge and called down, “Prince Josiah, what are you doing in the Valley of Discouragement? The last time I saw you, you were at the Castle of Faith, and you were living a life of victory!”

“I’ve been down here for almost a month now,” Josiah replied glumly. “I have tried and tried, but I cannot get out.”

Encouragement seemed puzzled. “But how did you get into the Valley of Discouragement? This is not a place for a prince such as yourself.”

“I was tricked,” the young prince replied, hanging his head. “I am on a pilgrimage for King Emmanuel, and I am engaged in a quest for seven castles. A fellow traveler by the name of Woebegone crossed the Mountains of Difficulty with me, and he continually talked about how little King Emmanuel cared for us and how poorly he had provided for us. His evil words entered my heart and caused me to doubt the goodness of my King. As we came down from the Mountains of Difficulty I strayed from the Path of Righteousness and I found myself sliding into this wretched Valley of Discouragement. I am trapped here, and I cannot climb out.”

“Woebegone?” Encouragement repeated. “I know of nobody by that name. Describe this rogue, if you would.”

“He was incredibly thin and looked as if he was starving to death,” Josiah answered. “His raiment was threadbare and his sandals were ready to fall off his feet. He seemed to know his way through the Mountains of Difficulty and I thought that he would be a help to me, but every time he opened his mouth a discouraging word came out.”

A dark look of anger crossed Encouragement’s face. “I know the rogue. He is my twin brother!”

“Your brother, sire? Woebegone is your brother?”

“Indeed, that rascal is my brother, but his name is not Woebegone. His real name is Discouragement, and he is an agent for our enemy, Argamor. In fact, Discouragement is Argamor’s best agent—when Lust or Greed or Temptation fail in their attempts to defeat a child of King Emmanuel, Argamor sends my brother, for he is his most effective agent. Discouragement often succeeds when Argamor’s other agents have failed.”

Josiah was amazed. “I cannot believe that you two are brothers.”

“Language was our mother and Influence was our father. I chose to serve our rightful King, Emmanuel, with music and encouraging words, but Discouragement joined the revolution and aligned himself with Argamor. His words are always filled with hatred and discouragement.”

“But he looks so much younger than you!”

“Discouragement is ancient, yet he can make himself to appear to be any age in order to deceive and discourage. Throughout the history of Terrestria my brother has caused the downfall of many good men.”

“His words have caused me to doubt the goodness of King Emmanuel, and now I am a captive in this wretched valley. Oh, Encouragement, this has been such a difficult journey. I have wandered in the Desert of Doubt, spent time in the Forest of Self-Pity, and nearly drowned in the Swamp of Bitterness. I have tried to serve my King, but I have failed so many times.”

“His Majesty never promised a life of ease, my prince,” Encouragement replied gently. “The Path of Righteousness is sometimes difficult, but it is always the best path.”

“But how do I get out of this Valley of Discouragement? Can you find a rope somewhere and pull me out?”

“I cannot pull you out. You have to—”

“You’re just like all the others!” Josiah shouted angrily, and his voice echoed across the canyon. “Everyone wants to give me advice, but no one cares enough to help me. Go ahead, Encouragement, give me some advice and then leave me here. That’s what everyone else has done!”

“I will stay here until you are safely out of this valley,” the minstrel promised quietly. “I will not leave you, but you have to get out yourself.”

Josiah felt ashamed at his outburst of anger. “I’m sorry, sire. But how do I get out?”

“When your soul is cast down, you have to renew your hope in King Emmanuel. He must be your confidence. Remember that his promises are true, and they are eternal. Think of his goodness to you, and praise and thank him for it.” The cheerful minstrel began to softly strum the strings on his golden lyre and a pleasant melody wafted across the gloom of the valley. “Music will lift your spirits, filling your heart with praise and thanksgiving, and enabling you to escape the Valley of Discouragement.”

“That’s all, sire? That’s all it takes?”

“That’s actually quite a lot, my prince,” Encouragement said, with a slight smile playing at the corners of his mouth. “A heart filled with praise and gratitude is no little thing, Josiah. And there’s one more thing that will help tremendously.”

“What is that?” the young prince asked eagerly.

“Bring someone else up from the Valley of Discouragement with you. Help another out of the valley, and in doing so, you help yourself.”

“But there is no one else down here with me,” Josiah argued. “I am alone down here. That is one of the worst things about this valley.”

“Oh, but you are not alone,” the minstrel replied. “There are many others down there with you, but in your blindness and self-pity you failed to see them.”

“Where, sire?” Josiah challenged. “Where are the others?”

“One is over there, beneath that ledge,” Encouragement replied, pointing. “In the darkness beneath that ledge lies a man who desperately needs your help. He has been in the Valley of Discouragement much longer than you have. Why not bring him with you?”

Josiah hesitated. “How can I help him?”

“Be a friend to him, my prince. Remind him of the goodness of King Emmanuel. Encourage him to praise His Majesty with you, and together you can walk out of the Valley of Discouragement.” Encouragement strummed louder, and the lyre’s melodic sound filled the air. “Go now, Prince Josiah, and help another poor soul from the valley in which you are now imprisoned.”

Josiah hesitated.

“Go, my prince, go!” Encouragement urged. “There is no need to remain in this dreadful Valley of Discouragement a moment longer. Claim the promises of your King. Sing his praises and thank him for his goodness to you. Encourage your fellow man who lies suffering under that ledge, and together you can walk out of the Valley of Discouragement, free and happy. Go now, Prince Josiah!”

Josiah hurried across the valley with giant strides of determination. For the first time in weeks, he opened his mouth and sang a song of praise to his King. Suddenly the valley seemed a little brighter.

The young prince knelt before the ledge of rock and peered beneath it. A pitiful sight met his eyes. Curled up under the ledge in a fetal position of despair and hopelessness was an old man. His tunic was tattered and threadbare; his skin was wrinkled and shriveled. Hollow, lifeless eyes stared unseeingly above a bushy white beard. The man’s breathing was labored and weak; clearly, he was dying.

Josiah seized the arm of the pathetic creature and shook it gently. “Old man,” he called softly, “I’m here to help you.”

There was no response.

Josiah shook the man’s sleeve a little harder, a little more insistently. “I’m here to help you, old man. We do not have to stay in this dreadful valley! Together we can walk out—we can be free again!” But the old man’s eyes were filmy and lifeless and he didn’t even seem to hear Josiah’s words.

Josiah’s heart went out to the old man. Here was a fellow human being who had simply given up hope, a man who had simply lain down and was waiting for death. Josiah took a deep breath. I’m going to help you out of this dreadful valley if it’s the last thing I do, Josiah vowed silently. I will not let you perish in the Valley of Discouragement!

Grasping the inert form by the arms, Josiah dragged him gently from beneath the overhang. The old man stirred and weakly raised his head, seeming to see Josiah for the first time. “Nay, nay!” he protested feebly. “Just let me be, lad.” His head fell back to the ground.

“You cannot stay here, sire,” the young prince told him, lifting the man’s shoulders and cradling his head in his arms. “You’re going to die here. This is the Valley of Discouragement, and I will not let you perish here.”

“Let me be,” the old man insisted. “I will die here.”

“You do not have to die,” Josiah declared. “We can be free from this dreadful valley!”

The old man’s eyes looked deeply into Josiah’s. “There is no way out, lad. I have tried and tried. I’ve explored every inch of this cursed valley and I can tell you this—there is no way to escape. Now please, just let me be.”

“Nay!” Josiah insisted. “There is a way out. We can be free. All we have to do is claim the promises of our King and praise him for his goodness to us. We can help each other. We can be free!”

The old man was crying softly, but no tears coursed down the wrinkled cheeks. “It’s no use, lad, it is no use. We will die here in the Valley of Discouragement. Our King has forsaken us.”

Josiah’s heart cried out at the words. “Don’t say that, sire,” he begged. “Don’t say that. King Emmanuel has not forsaken us—that is a lie that Argamor and Discouragement would have us believe. Our King cares for us—his love is eternal and never ending.”

“He no longer cares for me, lad.” The words were barely a whisper. The old man’s eyes slowly closed.

“He does care for you, sire! He does! That’s why he sent me to help you. King Emmanuel cares for us both.”

The old man’s eyes flickered open and he stared hard at Josiah. “King Emmanuel sent you to help me?”

Josiah was weeping now. “King Emmanuel allowed me to slip into this dreadful Valley of Discouragement that I might help you out,” he said softly. “I just now realized why I am here. I am here to help you. Sire, come with me. Together we can trust and praise our King and leave this dreadful valley behind us forever!”

The old man sadly shook his head. “It is too late for me, lad, too late. Go, and escape this valley by yourself. Kindly leave this old man to die in peace now. Just go.”

“Nay, I will not!” Josiah exclaimed. “You’re coming with me. You do not have to perish in this dark valley, and I won’t let you. You have to come with me, sire.”

Josiah gently lifted the trembling old man to his feet. Placing one skinny, wrinkled arm around his own neck, he tenderly helped the old man across the valley. “Sing!” he urged. “Sing a song of praise to King Emmanuel!”

The old man’s head sagged against his chest, bouncing from side to side with each step that Josiah took. His eyes were closed. Half-dragging, half-carrying him, the young prince moved the lifeless form toward the nearest wall of the valley. Josiah took a deep breath and lifted his voice in song, “I sing the greatness of my King, my Lord Emmanuel.” A shaft of golden sunlight suddenly pierced the gloom of the Valley of Discouragement like a beacon of hope and promise; the golden rays lifted Josiah’s spirits immediately.

“His power is great and far exceeds what mortal tongue or pen can tell,” Josiah sang. The sunlight grew brighter; a rainbow appeared above the valley. “My heart is full; I sing for him, and trust that I may serve him well.” The darkness of the valley had been almost completely dispelled, and Josiah could now see a golden path leading up to the upper rim of the valley. Lifting the old man in his arms, he hurried toward it.

“Sire, we can make it,” he said softly to the silent form in his arms. “Our King has provided a way out of the Valley of Discouragement. We can be free!”

“Sing, Prince Josiah, sing,” Encouragement urged. “It is imperative that you continue to praise King Emmanuel.”

Josiah took a step upwards onto the golden path. His strength suddenly failed and he sagged to his knees under the burden of the old man’s weight. There was an indescribable pressure against his chest, as if there were an unseen hand determined to keep him from escaping the valley. He struggled to breathe.

“Sing, Prince Josiah, sing!” Encouragement cried. “You will not make it out of the Valley of Discouragement unless you continue to praise Emmanuel!”

“I sing the love of my great King,” Josiah sang, at once finding the strength to rise to his feet again. “His lovingkindness ransomed me, but why he did, I cannot tell.”

A second voice joined Josiah’s just then, and the young prince looked down to realize with joy that the old man was singing. “His love led him to die for me,” the wizened old man and the young prince sang together. “I trust that I may serve him well.”

The old man stood to his feet. Side by side, continuing to lift their voices in praise to their King, Josiah and the old man walked arm in arm to the top of the golden trail. As they took the next step, they both realized that they were now free of the Valley of Discouragement and they both shouted for joy. Breaking into song once more, they again praised the name of King Emmanuel, and the valley below them rang with the joyful sound of their voices.

Encouragement hurried forward, beaming with happiness. “You are free, Prince Josiah, you are free! The Valley of Discouragement is a thing of the past!” Josiah embraced him.

“I am Benjamin,” the old man said, “and I am very grateful for your gracious help, Prince Josiah. I would have perished without your encouragement.”

Prince Josiah nodded and smiled modestly. “I am thankful that I was counted worthy to serve my King by helping you.”

Just then a tall knight arrayed in glistening armor approached the jubilant group. “This is Lord Longsuffering,” Encouragement told Josiah. “He is the steward of the Castle of Patience, which is just a furlong from here.”

Lord Longsuffering dropped his left hand to the hilt of his sword as he extended his right hand to Josiah. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance, my prince,” he said in a pleasant, manly voice. “We have been awaiting your arrival at the Castle of Patience.”

Josiah shook his hand. “And I am more than anxious to visit the castle, sire,” he replied. “For a time I had despaired of ever seeing it.”

He stepped to the rim of the Valley of Discouragement and looked down into the dismal recesses. “I am so thankful to be free at last of this dreadful valley.” Movement in the valley arrested his gaze and he stared into the gloom and shadows. Suddenly he could see that there were a number of forlorn creatures still imprisoned in the darkness below. Human beings like himself, they wandered hopelessly through the desolate valley, desperately seeking a way of escape. Their steps were slow and faltering; despair was written upon their faces. As Josiah watched in compassion, he began to see that there were still others in the valley, sitting here and there with slumped shoulders as though they had given up all hope. Still others were in the condition that Benjamin had been, curled up and ready to die.

“May I go back into the Valley of Discouragement, my lord?” Josiah asked Lord Longsuffering.

“Why would you desire that, my prince?”

“There are others who are still imprisoned in the valley,” Josiah replied, as his eyes welled with tears. “Perhaps I can help them find their way out. Perhaps this is why King Emmanuel allowed me to stumble into the valley—that I might learn to help others.”

Lord Longsuffering and Encouragement both seemed pleased by Josiah’s request. “Well said, Prince Josiah. Take care that you sing King Emmanuel’s praises the entire time so that you do not become ensnared again,” Lord Longsuffering urged. “And remember that you cannot bring anyone out unless they are willing to come. They must sing their own song of praise to the King.”

“I’ll go with you,” Benjamin offered, “for we can be an encouragement to each other as we walk into this place of treachery.”

Half an hour later, Josiah and Benjamin led eleven others up the golden path to freedom. Thirteen voices were lifted in songs of praise to their King, and the desolate valley rang with the joyous sound.

Chapter Sixteen

 

Prince Josiah paused in the shade of a huge oak to read the map that Lord Longsuffering had given him. “The Path of Righteousness winds its way right through the Land of Worldliness and the Pitfalls of Worldly Wealth,” Lord Longsuffering had told him as he prepared to leave the Castle of Patience on his journey to the Castle of Godliness. “Stay on the path, read your book and heed the voice of the dove, and you will be safe. Whatever you do, beware of the Quicksands of Possessions, for they have ensnared many an unsuspecting traveler.”

“I will use caution and I will follow the map,” Josiah had promised. “I will listen to the voice of the dove. That is one reason that I ended up in the Valley of Discouragement—I failed to listen for his gentle voice.”

Lord Longsuffering had smiled. “Well said. You will do fine, my prince. I wish you safe traveling and a pleasant journey.”

Josiah traced the route of the Path of Righteousness on the map with his forefinger. “So these are the Quicksands of Possessions that Lord Longsuffering warned me about,” he said aloud, looking at a portion of the map that was marked with danger symbols. “I will avoid the quicksands at all costs!”

Glancing at his Shield of Faith, he felt a thrilling yet humbling sense of accomplishment. A row of four glittering jewels now adorned the shield, magnificent tokens of his visits to the first four castles. The emerald, the sapphire and the ruby had been enhanced by the addition of a large, brilliant cut diamond that glowed with a thousand dazzling points of light as if it had a multi-colored fire deep within its heart. Lord Longsuffering had presented the majestic gem to him just moments before he left the castle.

Rolling the map up, Josiah placed it back within his doublet and resumed his journey to the Castle of Godliness. The morning was sunny and warm, and he soon found himself thirsting for a drink. When the trail crossed a stone bridge he left the roadway and went down to the little stream beneath the bridge to quench his thirst. Kneeling upon the grassy bank of the stream, the young prince dipped up a double handful of the cool water.

“Good day, my lord!” a cheery voice greeted him. “I trust that your journey today is a pleasant one.”

Josiah raised his head and looked around. The grassy bank was littered with snowy white apple blossoms which in places were clustered so thickly that they looked like drifts of snow. Seated on a small, upright boulder among the fallen blossoms in the shade of a gnarled apple tree was a slender woman. She was arrayed in a glistening gown of solid black silk, and she wore more jewelry than Josiah had ever seen on one woman. Countless chains of gold were about her neck; long, pendant earrings hung from each ear; and her fingers and thumbs were adorned with sparkling rings. A tiny round table in front of the woman held a large, perfect sphere of the clearest crystal.

“Come hither, my prince,” the woman crooned.

“I am on a pilgrimage for my King and cannot be delayed,” Josiah answered shortly. “Please do not attempt to detain me.”

“I wouldn’t dream of such a thing, my lord,” the woman purred. Her voice was as slick as oiled glass.

“Who are you?” Josiah asked suspiciously.

“My name is Prosperity, and I am the Countess of Covetousness,” she answered.

Josiah stepped away from her. “I must be on my way.”

She made a small gesture toward the crystal sphere. “But have you ever seen spellavision?”

Josiah took one cautious step closer. “What is it?”

“It’s a magnificent device, truly magnificent,” the temptress replied, caressing the crystal sphere lovingly. “When you look into the depths of the spellavision, you can see all the lovely possessions that others have and you don’t.”

“Why would I want to see such a thing?” Josiah asked.

“So you can make plans to get those possessions for yourself, of course,” Prosperity replied sweetly. “Wealth does have its rewards, you know— power, prestige, possessions, pleasure.”

Josiah shook his head. “I have no desire to look at the spellavision. I am Prince Josiah, of the Castle of Faith, son of King Emmanuel himself. I want for nothing—you can offer me nothing that I need or want. My father the King meets all my needs quite nicely.”

“I notice that you are walking instead of riding,” the countess countered slyly. “Why does your father let you walk, when a prince should ride, and ride in style?” She gestured toward the spellavision. “Look at what Prince Half-Heart of the Castle of Discontent rides! You don’t have anything half as splendid as that!”

In spite of himself, Josiah glanced at the spellavision. The image of a richly dressed young prince had appeared in the crystal sphere, and Josiah saw that he was riding a magnificent white charger. In an instant Josiah’s heart was filled with longing for a horse like the magnificent one that he had just seen in the crystal of the spellavision. Prosperity slipped her cold arm around Josiah’s shoulders. “Quite a splendid horse, is it not, my prince?” she whispered. “I can help you get one just like it.”

Josiah pulled away from her. “I don’t need a horse like that,” he resisted. “When I need one, my father will provide it. I am happy walking.”

The countess laughed in his face. “Don’t be a fool, my prince. Look at what else I have to offer.”

The spellavision flashed with brilliantly colored images, drawing Josiah’s attention to it like a magnet. He saw glittering visions of castles and lands and rich clothing and beautiful women and smartly dressed servants and horses and carriages and—Josiah turned away. “I do not need any of it,” he said flatly. “My father can provide anything I need.”

“What about others?” Prosperity suggested. Her voice was soft, smooth, and tantalizing. “If I provide you with wealth, you can use it to help others.” She placed a slender hand on his arm. “Just down the road is a poor farmer struggling to feed his family. Just think what a blessing you could be to him if you were to leave a small sack of silver on his doorstep. But, of course, you cannot give to others if you don’t have it yourself.”

Josiah thought it over.

“Allow me to take a mere moment of your time to show you something that will be of great interest to you, especially since you are interested in helping others,” Prosperity purred softly, drawing Josiah gently from the pathway. She led him around behind an outcropping of large boulders. “There, my prince. What do you think? Could you not use that to be a blessing to others?”

Josiah stared in astonishment. He was standing at the edge of a large expanse of light-colored sand. Twenty paces away, rising from the sand like an island in the ocean, was the edge of a small mountain. The mountain glittered with a royal treasure: piles of golden coins, huge sparkling diamonds, rubies and emeralds, jewel-encrusted swords and crowns and scepters, silver cups and chalices.

“The jeweled mountain is mine,” Prosperity told Josiah, “but I will allow you to take away as much treasure as you can carry. Keep it for yourself, or use it to help others—I care not. The treasure is yours, my handsome prince.”

Josiah stared at the glittering treasure, enchanted by its beauty and grandeur. “There is a king’s ransom here!” he exclaimed.

“More than that,” Prosperity purred. “No king ever had it this good! Take what you wish, my prince. Keep it or give it away, for it matters not to me.”

As Josiah stepped forward to make his way across the sand, a voice warned, “Prince Josiah, beware! Stay back, for this evil temptress is setting a trap for you!” A man in humble peasant’s clothing leaped in front of Josiah. “Stay back, my prince,” he pleaded. “Beware the Quicksands of Possessions. This is a trap to lure the unsuspecting to their doom.”

“Quicksands?” Josiah echoed. “I see no quicksands.” He looked the peasant over. “Who are you anyway, sire?”

“My name is Contentment, my prince, and I was sent to warn you of the treachery of covetousness and greed. The glittering gold and jewels that you see upon yonder mountain are mere illusions—this is a trap to lure you from the Path of Righteousness. The treasure that you see before you can bring happiness to no one.”

“Liar!” the Countess of Covetousness screeched, glaring hatefully at Contentment. “You despicable, filthy liar!” She turned to Josiah. “He seeks to dissuade you from acquiring the treasure so that he may steal it himself. Pay no heed to the lying thief.”

Josiah hesitated, uncertain as to whom to believe. The dove flew down and alighted on the rocks. “Prosperity is lying, my prince. Contentment is telling the truth.”

“Prosperity is setting a trap for you,” Contentment warned. “Behold!” The peasant picked up a large boulder and heaved it out into the middle of the sand. While Josiah watched in consternation, the boulder quickly sank from sight. “Quicksand,” Contentment told Josiah. “This entire area is a treacherous bog of deadly quicksand. Prosperity uses the glittering gold and jewels to lure travelers into the Quicksands of Possessions.”

As he spoke, a man and woman dressed in rich attire dashed down the trail, paused for just a moment at the edge of the quicksand, and then leaped toward the jeweled mountain. In an instant they were mired in the quicksand and quickly sank from sight, struggling and screaming. Josiah was aghast. “That could have been me.”

“Aye, indeed it could have,” Contentment agreed. “Prince Josiah, beware of covetousness, for it is a trap that lures many a traveler into the Quicksands of Possessions. There is nothing wrong with having wealth; there is nothing wrong with owning possessions. But when the desire for wealth and possessions becomes more important to a man or woman than the desire to serve King Emmanuel, that person is in danger. Prosperity is an effective agent for Argamor; she has distracted many travelers from the Path of Righteousness and lured them to their doom, and that is why Argamor sent her to try to keep you from reaching the Castle of Godliness. Read your book— it will tell you that your life consists of far more than just the things which you possess.”

Josiah looked around. The glittering mountain had disappeared and Prosperity was nowhere to be seen. “Where is Prosperity?” he asked.

“Prosperity is an evil temptress bent on destroying the lives of His Majesty’s servants,” Contentment replied. “She distracts travelers with her spellavision, places them under her evil spell, and then lures them into the Quicksands of Possessions. When she saw that she could not lure you into the quicksands, she quickly moved on to tempt another traveler.”

“But for you, I would have been lured into her trap,” Josiah said fervently. “I thank you.” He shuddered as he looked at the Quicksands of Possessions, thinking of what could have happened. “Let me ask you a question, Contentment. Are riches evil? Is it wrong to be prosperous?”

“Nay, my prince,” Contentment replied emphatically, “riches are not evil. There are many wealthy men who are also good and virtuous men. Nay, riches are not evil, and there is nothing wrong with being prosperous and wealthy.”

“Then why did Prosperity tempt me with riches?”

“Riches and possessions are not evil in themselves, but many times they do distract men from the service of their King. How often a man who seeks to be rich will allow himself to become bedazzled by the enchantments of riches and forget his loyalties to his King! The pursuit of wealth begins to consume his thoughts, his time and his energies. He thinks more about acquiring riches than he does about serving King Emmanuel.

“And then, if he does succeed in acquiring wealth, many times he will begin to trust in his wealth more than he trusts in his King, and love his wealth more than he loves his King. Argamor and the temptress Prosperity are aware of all that, and that’s why they use the glitter of wealth and possessions to lure travelers from the Path of Righteousness.”

The peasant gestured toward the Path of Righteousness. “Continue on your journey to the Castle of Godliness, my prince. Godliness with contentment will provide you with far greater riches than Prosperity could ever have offered.”

Josiah followed Contentment up from the treacherous quicksands and onto the solid ground of the Path of Righteousness. “Argamor will do everything in his power to keep you from reaching the Castle of Godliness,” the peasant warned the young prince. “The temptress Prosperity was just the first of his attempts to keep you from reaching the castle. Be on your guard, Prince Josiah, for the next part of your journey will not be an easy one.”

“What am I facing, sire?” Josiah asked. “Do you know? Can you tell me?”

“The Path of Righteousness traverses the Vale of the Giants,” Contentment told him, with a look of intense concern in his eyes. “The vale is a place of trials and extreme danger, but there is no other way to reach the Castle of Godliness. The giants will oppose you and try to keep you from traveling through the vale, but you can be victorious over every one of them.”

“How?” Josiah asked. “Pray tell me, sire.”

“Go in the name of King Emmanuel, and make good use of your sword. As servants to Argamor, the giants fear the name of your King, and they fear the power of your sword. Any one of them can easily defeat you if you go in your own power, but you can defeat any and all of them in the name of your King. Stay on the Path of Righteousness, and keep your sword handy at all times.”

 

 

Josiah sat quietly on the grassy hillside under a brilliant blue sky filled with fleecy clouds, totally absorbed in the reading of his book. Below him stretched the hills and valleys of the region known as the Vale of the Giants, and Josiah knew that he was about to experience some fierce battles. In order to prepare himself for the conflicts that he would face, he had decided to spend extra time reading and studying. He was well aware of the fact that he would be victorious only if he was ready with his sword.

The dove flew down from the branch of a tall maple and alighted on a holly bush. “Stay close to me,” Josiah pleaded, “for I will need your help in the Vale of the Giants. I cannot do it without you.”

“Fear not, for I would never forsake you,” the dove replied. “Listen for my voice, and you will be victorious.”

An hour later Josiah stood to his feet. “I am ready,” he said simply. “Let us face the giants.”

“Keep your sword ready at all times,” his celestial guide prompted.

Josiah walked quickly down the hillside and entered the vale. The rolling hills on both sides were covered with scores of huge, round boulders. The Path of Righteousness led right through the center of the vale, and Josiah followed it at a brisk pace. He scanned the area carefully, checking the hillsides and glens as he walked, but saw no giants.

“There are no giants here,” he said to the dove in a quiet voice. “Perhaps Contentment was wrong.”

“Draw your sword,” the dove directed. “The giants are upon you!”

Obeying without questioning, Josiah pulled the book from his bosom and swung it fiercely, transforming it into the glittering, invincible sword. At that instant, the ground beneath his feet trembled as an earthquake shook the vale, and a fearsome crashing sound thundered between the hills. The boulders on the hillside trembled and tottered as if they were preparing to crash down upon the young prince.

Josiah turned and then gasped in terror. Fully a dozen giants arrayed in battle armor stood facing him, carrying swords as long as farm wagons and spears as tall as oak trees. The Giant of Worry was there, as well as the Giant of Anger and the Giant of Doubt. The Giant of Complacency stood glaring fiercely at Josiah; beside him were his brothers, the Giant of Laziness and the Giant of Ignorance. The Giants of Pride, Impatience and Resentment carried huge clubs over their shoulders, and Josiah could easily guess what they intended to do with those. The Giant of Temptation cradled an enormous battleaxe in his huge hands, the very sight of which caused Josiah to tremble in his boots. Giant Eviltongue and Giant Hategood both held gigantic crossbows, which were loaded and at that very moment pointed at Josiah’s heart.

“Stand your ground,” the dove said quietly. “These giants intend to kill you to keep you from the Castle of Godliness, but there is no need to worry.”

“No need to worry?” Josiah whispered back. “Did you take a look at the size of that battleaxe? One blow could cut a hay wagon in two!”

“Prince Josiah, of the Castle of Faith,” the Giant of Temptation roared. The sound of his voice shook the trees on the hillside. “Why are you trespassing in our valley?”

Josiah cringed in fear. “What am I doing here?” he asked the dove.

“You are here to defeat some giants,” the gentle guide answered. “Use your mighty sword, Prince Josiah, and charge these enemies of your soul in the name of your King!”

Josiah trembled with fear. “Me? Charge them? Shouldn’t I be running for my life?”

“Now, Josiah, now!” the dove urged. “The victory is yours, but only if you act in faith.”

Josiah raised the invincible sword. “I come in the power of King Emmanuel,” he cried, “and for the honor of his name! Stand aside, every one of you!”

A rumble of laughter greeted his demand. “The tiny prince must think that he’s dealing with Littlekins again.”

“My sword will teach him a thing or two.”

“My sword will chop him into mincemeat!”

“Gentlemen, this arrogant bug has invaded our territory! Let’s deal with him as we deal with all who do not swear allegiance to our master, Lord Argamor!” Roaring with rage, the fierce giants descended on the young prince with their colossal swords and spears and clubs and battleaxes. Fear tore at Josiah’s heart, but, shouting the name of his King and swinging the sword with all his might, he charged directly at his enormous adversaries. Steel met steel, and the valley shook with the force of the conflict.

Moments later, Josiah stood staring in utter amazement, unable to believe what he was seeing. Three of the evil giants lay dead upon the ground, and the others were fleeing for their lives! The astonished young prince took a quick inventory—he had not a single wound; the fearsome weapons of his colossal adversaries hadn’t even touched him. He didn’t have as much as a scratch! Shaking his head, Josiah gazed at the hillsides where the giants had fled, but they had vanished without a trace.

“Pass through the vale,” the dove told him. “Keep your Shield of Faith at hand.”

Looking about the vale for signs of the defeated giants, Josiah walked quickly along the Path of Righteousness. The thrill of victory was sweet.

A rumble like thunder caught his attention and he looked upward. Fear caught in his throat. The hillside above him was alive with motion as scores of the huge boulders rolled down upon him. The giants had dislodged the boulders in an attack from which there could be no escape. Josiah turned to run.

“Prince Josiah,” the dove called, “stand your ground.”

Josiah hesitated, afraid to stand, but unwilling to disobey the voice of his celestial guide. “Those rocks will crush us!” he cried. “There are scores of them, and they each weigh tons and tons!”

“Stand your ground,” the dove repeated. “Use your Shield of Faith to repel the boulders sent upon you by the wicked ones.”

“The boulders weigh tons and tons!” Josiah protested. “They will crush me!” A rumble like thunder shook the valley as the huge boulders tumbled toward him. They would be upon him within seconds.

“If faith can move mountains,” the dove replied, “it can certainly stop boulders. Use your Shield of Faith, my prince.”

Josiah stood his ground. Suddenly the boulders were upon him, crashing down on top of him with a thunderous roar that shook the earth. Josiah held his shield high. As the huge rocks struck his shield, they were deflected into the air where they shattered into tiny fragments and disintegrated like puffs of smoke.

Moments later, the hillsides above him were bare of boulders, and the vale was silent. “Continue on your journey to the Castle of Godliness,” the dove said quietly. “The giants are defeated. They will not bother you again today.”

Chapter Seventeen

 

Prince Josiah fingered the fifth jewel in his Shield of Faith, a deep purple amethyst that seemed to glow with the light of the heavens. The journey to the Castle of Godliness had not been an easy one, but, looking at the latest jewel, Josiah decided that it had been worth every step. Only two more castles remained on this quest, the Castle of Brotherly Kindness and the Castle of Charity, and then the young prince would receive his last two jewels and be prepared for service to King Emmanuel.

Lord Pureheart, the steward of the Castle of Godliness, had given him details about the journey to the sixth castle. “This will be the shortest leg of your journey,” he had said, as he placed the amethyst into Josiah’s shield, “and also the easiest. We are less than sixty furlongs from the Castle of Brotherly Kindness. The Path of Righteousness leads through the City of Wounded Hearts, which is not always a pleasant place to visit, but you can learn much if you will but keep your eyes and your ears and your heart open. The castle lies just beyond the city, not more than six or eight furlongs at most. Farewell, Prince Josiah, and have a pleasant journey.”

After less than two hours of travel, Josiah found himself nearing the City of Wounded Hearts. It was a bustling, noisy place. The roadway was filled with travelers: some on horses and donkeys, some riding in carriages and wagons and other conveyances, and many on foot. Well-dressed merchants bringing their goods into the city shouted greetings or insults to each other while peasant farmers worked the fields just outside the city walls. The unpleasant sound of angry children quarreling was audible above the other noises of the busy city.

Josiah passed a tiny shack perched beside the road. A skinny peasant was busily hoeing a tiny plot of ground beside the humble cottage. The man looked as if he was ready to collapse from hunger or fatigue, and he leaned on his hoe for a moment of rest as Josiah approached. Josiah spoke politely to him. “Good morning, sire, and a pleasant day to you!”

The peasant turned and looked directly at Josiah, scowled fiercely, and then went back to his work without speaking.

Well, thought Josiah, did I say something wrong? He acted as if I had just insulted him. Could he not have taken the time to return my greeting? He shrugged and walked on.

As Josiah passed through the city gate, a heavyset woman leading a small boy with one hand and clutching a large wooden bucket of water in the other moved to one side to step around another traveler. The woman was scolding the little boy as she hurried along, and her attention was not on where she was going. Josiah stepped back to let her pass but she ran right into him, splashing water all over his boots and leggings.

“Bumbling fool!” she raged, dropping the bucket and raising her hand as if she intended to strike him. “Why do you not watch where you are going?”

“I beg your pardon, my good woman, but it was not—”

“Clumsy ox!” the woman shouted, snatching up her bucket and hitting him squarely in the breastplate with it. “Watch where you are going!” The bucket was still nearly half full, so the irate woman upended it over Josiah’s head.

The young prince saw what was coming and managed to leap to one side just in time to avoid most of the water. The woman became angrier still and began to shout threats and insults.

Josiah responded in anger. “You should watch where you are going, woman. You are as big as a cow.” He hurried away. Why did she become angry with me? he asked himself. She ran into me, and I’m the one who got wet, yet she acted as if the accident was my fault!

Remembering what Lord Pureheart had told him, Josiah attempted to follow the street through the bustling city but found that the street made one turn after another. Within minutes, he was hopelessly lost. Hurrying down the busy street, Josiah spotted a huge, bearded merchant selling herbs and spices from a small pushcart, so he approached the man to ask for directions. “Pardon me, sire, but is this the road that leads to the Castle of Brotherly Kindness?”

The merchant stared at him with lifeless eyes. “Are you not intending to purchase my wares, lad?” His voice was gruff and impatient.

“I have no money, sire. I am traveling to the Castle—”

“Then step to one side so that others may see my merchandise!” The merchant rudely shoved Josiah out of the way.

Josiah glanced behind him but saw that no one was approaching the merchant’s cart. He tried again. “Is this the road to the Castle of Brotherly Kindness? I seem to have lost my way and I thought—”

“Move out of the way, knave!” the merchant shouted, giving Josiah another shove. “I must sell my wares today, and you will not interfere with business!”

“But sire, I need your help,” Josiah replied. “I just need to know—”

“Can you not see that I am a busy man?” the merchant shouted, growing red in the face and snorting like an angry bull. “I have no time for idle chatter. I need customers, not idle talk.”

“If you weren’t such a churlish knave, perhaps you’d have more customers!” the young prince snapped. He hurried away. What is wrong with these people? he asked himself. Is everyone in this entire city this ill-tempered? I’m glad that I don’t live here.

The narrow, twisting street grew more and more crowded as Josiah walked uncertainly along. He turned a corner to enter a crowded market place. Making his way through the noisy, shoving throng he spotted a well and hurried toward it. The sun was hot, and a drink of water would be quite refreshing. Several townspeople were waiting ahead of him, so Josiah got in line.

An elderly man had pulled a wooden oxcart close to the well. The cart was loaded with eight large water pots, and the man was using the single bucket from the well to fill them. The windlass creaked and protested as the brimming bucket neared the top of the well, and the elderly owner of the oxcart poured the water into one of the pots, filling it to the brim. Josiah saw that three were now full, with five more to go. He sighed. This was going to take forever!

“Come on, old man,” a woman leading two goats complained. “Other people are waiting. Are you going to take all day?”

The man stopped what he was doing and rested the bucket on the stone edge of the well. He glared angrily at the goat woman. “I was here before you, woman,” he snapped, “so just wait your turn!”

“Well, don’t just stand there,” another peasant growled. “Fill your water pots and get your flea-bitten animals out of the way.”

The old man made an angry face and dropped the bucket down into the darkness of the well. Six or eight minutes later he had completed his task, and all eight water pots were full. He held the bucket out to the goat woman and as she reached for it, turned and dropped the bucket back into the well. With a sneer of contempt for those who were waiting behind him, he struck his oxen with a switch and the wagon lumbered away.

The goat woman cranked a brimming bucket to the top of the well, swung the bucket over the edge, and placed it on the ground to give her animals a drink. “What do you think you are doing, woman?” a huge man with a large, droopy moustache shouted at her. “Don’t let those dirty animals drink from the same bucket that I intend to drink from.”

The goat woman looked at him with a mocking sneer on her thin features. “I wouldn’t concern myself with the goats, you big buffoon,” she taunted him, “for I dare say that they are far cleaner than you.”

The small crowd around the well laughed at this, and the big man became angry. His face grew very red and his jaws twitched angrily. He doubled up his fists, and for just an instant, Josiah thought that he was going to actually strike the woman.

The goats both had their heads in the bucket at the same time and were drinking noisily. They finished drinking and lifted their heads simultaneously. The woman raised her chin toward the man in a gesture of defiance, tipped the bucket over with her foot, and led the goats away.

The big man seized the bucket and dropped it into the well. “Next time, woman,” he roared, “I will throw both of your goats down the well!”

“You are the one that needs a bath,” the woman retorted over her shoulder, “not my goats!”

Prince Josiah stood quietly watching the angry exchanges between the townspeople. Never before have I seen such a place, he told himself. These people get so angry over the simplest little things. It’s as if they walk around looking for a reason to say an angry word to someone else, or to do someone else a discourtesy.

The man had brought the bucket to the top of the well and now he placed it on the well’s edge. Dipping both hands into the water, he lifted them to his mouth and drank noisily. He sighed deeply with satisfaction and then took another drink.

Josiah waited impatiently. I’ll die of thirst if these people don’t hurry.

The big man had now finished drinking and he handed the bucket to Josiah. But at that moment another man stepped forward and took the bucket from Josiah’s hands. “I’m in a bit of a hurry, governor,” he said. “I’ll just take a quick drink first, if you don’t mind.”

“I do mind,” Josiah retorted, seizing the bucket with both hands. “Why don’t you wait until it is your turn?”

The man jerked the bucket away from him. “I intend to drink before you, knave,” he said. “What do you intend to do about it?”

Josiah debated drawing his sword but then thought better of it. “I was waiting before you were,” he declared. “Now give me the bucket!” He reached for it, but the man jerked it away again. “I was before you!” Josiah shouted. He turned and looked at the other townspeople for support. “Was I not?”

“You don’t even belong here,” a young girl replied. “Why don’t you get out of line and wait till we’ve all had a turn?”

Josiah was shocked at her words. “I’ve been waiting just like the rest of you,” he retorted angrily, “and I intend to have a drink from the well!” He turned and grabbed the bucket, catching the man by surprise and successfully recovering possession of the vessel.

At once several townspeople seized Josiah, tore the bucket from his grasp, and pushed him away from the well. “This is our well,” they chorused, “and you will wait till we have finished!” The man who had first grabbed the bucket from Josiah now had possession of the vessel again and was lowering it into the well.

Josiah was furious. Drawing his sword, he leaped forward and cut the rope, causing the bucket to fall untethered into the dark recesses of the well.

The townspeople screamed with rage. “Kill him!” a woman cried, and the crowd surged forward with murder in their eyes. Suddenly realizing the folly of what he had done, the young prince turned and ran for his life. “He cut the rope on the bucket!” a voice cried. “Get him!” More townspeople joined in the chase.

Josiah was perplexed. Darting through the crowded marketplace, he ran for his life. Up one street and down another he ran, yet the angry crowd still pursued him. As he turned a corner, he ventured a quick glance behind him. The street was filled with the furious people determined to catch him, and they were now less than thirty paces behind him. The angry townspeople were gaining on him.

He spotted a narrow alley to his left and darted into it. Garbage and refuse littered the alley, but he thought that it might provide a good hiding place. Dodging around the piles of debris as he ran, he spotted a huge pile of moldy straw. The perfect hiding place! He ran toward it.

As he bent down to scramble under the straw, Josiah failed to see a door open suddenly behind him. Strong hands grabbed him and jerked him through the doorway, slamming the door behind him. He found himself in darkness with a muscular hand covering his mouth. “Don’t make a sound,” a stern voice warned him.

Just then the noise of running feet told him that his pursuers had entered the alley. Josiah stood trembling in the darkness as they rushed past his position and continued on down the alley in their frenzied search for him. The strong hands released him. “They’re gone now, lad.”

Josiah heard the sound of flint striking steel and then saw the yellow glow of a lantern. As the light flared brighter, the young prince was surprised to see an old man wearing thick spectacles. “Who are you?” he gasped in surprise.

“I am Sir Compassion, steward of the Castle of Brotherly Kindness.”

Josiah struggled to catch his breath. “I am Prince Josiah, of the Castle of Faith. I am making my way to the Castle of Brotherly Kindness to learn from you.”

The old man nodded. “I know.”

“Thank you for rescuing me, sire,” Josiah breathed. “Those people would probably have killed me if they had caught me! I’ve never seen such a city—everyone here is mean and ill-tempered! It seems that they just walk about looking for an opportunity to say an unkind word or do something mean.”

Sir Compassion gave him a stern look. “Who are you to judge them, my prince? You responded just as badly as any of them.”

“But did you see how they treated me?” Josiah protested. “I am a prince, yet these common peasants treated me like dirt. I don’t have to take their abuse—I am a prince.”

“Then act like a prince,” Sir Compassion said sharply. “You are a son of King Emmanuel, yet you were acting like a commoner.”

“They had no right to treat me that way, sire.”

The elderly steward sighed. “Prince Josiah, this is the City of Wounded Hearts. Every one of these people that you have seen today is carrying a tremendous burden. Many of them still wear the chains of iniquity—they are slaves to Argamor. Surely you remember the misery and loneliness that brings. It does not excuse their selfish behavior, but it does explain it. And yet you, a child of the King, have responded just like one of them. They treated you unkindly, so you got even by cutting the rope at the well.”

Prince Josiah hung his head in shame. The steward’s words cut him to the heart.

“How would King Emmanuel have responded to these people?”

Josiah was silent.

“Prince Josiah,” Sir Compassion said finally, “I need to take you to see the hearts of these people. When you see their hearts you will see why they treat each other the way they do, and why they were so unkind to you.”

“Sire,” Josiah protested, “I can’t go out there!”

“You have to,” the steward insisted. “You must see these people as King Emmanuel would see them.”

“But they’ll kill me! If you saw what happened at the well then you saw how angry they were with me. Sire, I can’t go back!”

“You will be safe. They will not recognize you.” Sir Compassion unfolded a long, black cape and fastened it around Josiah’s shoulders, concealing his garments and his Breastplate of Righteousness. He then placed a huge yeoman’s hat upon Josiah’s head, completely covering his Helmet of Salvation. A long, gray beard completed the disguise.

Sir Compassion opened the door and Josiah followed him out into the alley. “These will allow you to see the townspeople as your King sees them,” the steward told Josiah, handing him a pair of spectacles. “Put them on. You will now see these peasants in a wholly different light, for you will see their hearts and their burdens.”

Josiah put the spectacles on and followed the old man from the alley. As they stepped into the busy street, Josiah stopped in utter amazement. “They’re wearing chains! Most of the people are wearing chains, just like the ones I wore before King Emmanuel set me free!”

Sir Compassion nodded sadly. “They are still in bondage to Argamor. They lead lives of misery and defeat. Surely you remember the horrors of servitude to Argamor. Perhaps now you will begin to understand why the townspeople treated you as they did.” He led the way through the jostling crowd. “Follow me. There is more to see.”

Moments later Josiah stopped in the street. “Look! There’s the woman who splashed water all over me. It was her fault, yet she was angry at me.”

“Look at her heart, Prince Josiah. What do you see?”

Josiah was amazed to discover that the spectacles allowed him to see within the hearts of those around him. He looked at the woman who had been so unkind to him. “Why, sire, her heart is filled with sorrow! Deep sorrow. And she carries a huge burden upon her back.”

“Aye,” Sir Compassion replied softly. “Her husband was a woodcutter. Just last week he was killed when a tree fell on him. Now she is alone with a little boy to provide for, and she does not know how she will do it. These days her heart is filled with grief and longing for her husband, and with fear of the future. She cries herself to sleep each night. Prince Josiah, can you now find it in your heart to forgive her?”

Josiah’s eyes were filled with tears. “Sire, I didn’t know,” he wept. “I simply didn’t know the heavy burdens that this woman was bearing. If only I had known, I would never have become angry with her.”

“Her grief does not excuse her unkindness toward you, my prince, but now that you can see her heart I think you will understand.”

Josiah nodded silently.

“Come along. There is more to see.”

“Behold!” Josiah said a moment later. “There’s the merchant who wouldn’t take even a moment to answer a simple question. Why was he so unkind to me?”

“Look at his heart, my prince. Tell me what you see.”

Josiah put the spectacles on and studied the huge man. “His heart is filled with fear!” he replied in surprise. “Sire, why would a big man like him be afraid of anything?”

“The merchant is going blind,” Sir Compassion explained. “He lives in a dark world which is growing darker every day. Would you not agree that the merchant has a reason for fear?”

“He also wears a chain,” Josiah observed. “I did not see that when I was talking to him.”

“We cannot usually see one another’s chains, Prince Josiah. These spectacles allow you to see others as King Emmanuel sees them.”

“I did not know,” Josiah said, weeping again. “It’s no wonder that this poor merchant did not want me to interfere with his sales—he knows that he does not have much time left before he is completely blind.” He looked imploringly at his guide. “Can we not help him?”

Sir Compassion pulled a golden sovereign from a purse in his belt. “Give him this.”

Josiah approached the merchant’s pushcart. “Lad, I have no time for idle chatter,” the man said gruffly.

“I am not here to ask directions, for I now know where I am going,” Josiah told him, “but I have come to offer you a gift.” He extended the golden coin.

The merchant’s eyes widened at the sight of the sovereign. “Lad, I—” He fell to his knees. “Forgive my unkind words, my lord!”

Josiah placed the coin in his hands. “I have already forgiven you, sire,” he said softly. “I want you to know that King Emmanuel is willing to remove your chain, if only you will come to him.”

A short while later the steward and the prince passed through the city gate. “There is the peasant farmer who had no time to return my greeting,” Josiah told Sir Compassion. “Why do you think he was so rude?”

“Look at his heart, my prince. What do you see?”

“His heart is filled with worry and anxiety,” Josiah replied, after studying the peasant for a moment or two. “Sire, why is he so troubled?”

“He is a yeoman farmer,” the steward explained. “He works one day out of four for the lord of the manor in exchange for the tiny cottage that you see and the tiny plot of ground to work for himself.”

“But why is he so worried?” Josiah asked.

“His landlord informed him yesterday that he must now work two days out of four instead of just one. The peasant worries that he will not have the time nor the strength to work his own little field and provide for his family.” Sir Compassion put a gentle hand on Josiah’s shoulder. “Come, my prince. Let us pass once again through the City of Wounded Hearts and make our way to the Castle of Brotherly Kindness.”

Josiah studied the townspeople around him as he followed Sir Compassion through the noisy city. He was saddened to realize that almost everyone in the city was dragging a heavy chain. All around him he saw men and women, boys and girls whose hearts were made heavy with sorrow, guilt, loneliness and fear. Each and every person that he passed on the street was carrying a burden of one sort or another, some so large that they were staggering under the weight. By the time he and the steward reached the far wall of the City of Wounded Hearts, the young prince was in tears.

He removed the spectacles. “I didn’t know, Sir Compassion, I just didn’t know. All of these people have burdens!”

“Now you are seeing others as King Emmanuel sees them,” the wise old steward said softly. “Had you listened to the voice of the dove, he would have told you to treat these people with kindness, as your King has treated you. But you did not listen to the dove, and you responded with anger and unkindness.”

Josiah looked up, noticing for the first time that his feathered guide was perched high above him on the city wall.

“Every day of your life you will be surrounded by people who have burdens,” Sir Compassion continued. “Some bear heavier burdens than others, but all have burdens. As a child of King Emmanuel, you must look for ways to ease the burdens of others. Even when you are treated unkindly or unfairly, you must always treat others with the brotherly kindness with which your King would treat them.”

Josiah nodded, weeping profusely.

Chapter Eighteen

 

“But I do not deserve the jewel!” Prince Josiah protested, as Sir Compassion prepared to place the sixth jewel in his shield. “I have not demonstrated brotherly kindness to others! You saw how I treated the peasants in the City of Wounded Hearts.” The young prince had spent several days at the Castle of Brotherly Kindness and now was preparing to leave the castle to travel to the Castle of Charity and thus conclude his quest.

Sir Compassion paused with the large fire opal in his hand. The rare jewel was white in color, with a rainbow of iridescent fire that glowed in a variety of brilliant colors each time the gem was turned. “You will treat others much differently now, my prince,” he answered, “for you have seen their wounded hearts. There will be times when you will be treated unkindly, and you will be tempted to respond with unkind words and actions of your own. But you are learning to see others as King Emmanuel sees them and to treat them with kindness as he would treat them. The sixth jewel is yours.”

The steward knelt and fastened the beautiful opal to Josiah’s shield. He stood and embraced the young prince. “The final castle lies ahead, Prince Josiah—the Castle of Charity. Once you reach it and receive your final jewel, the pilgrimage is over. I wish you a safe and pleasant journey.”

 

 

The young prince paused nervously at the edge of a dense forest. There was danger ahead—he could sense it—but he could see no visible cause for alarm. He stepped forward tentatively. There was nothing to indicate that anything was amiss, yet he had that uneasy, spine-tingling feeling that he was in imminent danger. He stopped again, took a deep breath, and looked around.

Releasing his breath between clenched teeth, Josiah entered the darkness of the forest. His chest constricted with fear and his heart pounded madly. He could scarcely breathe. There was still no visible danger and yet he could not get rid of the uneasy feeling in his heart that something was wrong, that his life was in jeopardy. Glancing upward, he caught sight of a flash of white darting among the trees. “I feel fearful,” he called to the dove. “Am I in danger?”

“Draw your sword, my prince,” the dove replied, “for though you are not in danger yet, you soon will be.”

Josiah obeyed. He felt reassured with the glittering sword in his hand. He strode forward with renewed confidence. The rocky trail wound its way down through a sheltered glen where the foliage was thicker and the sunlight could scarcely penetrate. A cold chill crept down Josiah’s spine.

“Beware, my prince, the danger is upon you!”

A hideous roar shattered the silence of the forest. Josiah spun around to find himself face to face with an enormous serpent. Pale yellow with black markings, the reptile was huge—his head was more than four feet wide and his scales were larger than Josiah’s hand! The giant snake darted toward Josiah, opening his monstrous mouth as he came, and the young prince saw fearsome fangs nearly two feet long. A long, forked tongue darted in and out like black lightning.

Prince Josiah leaped backward in fear. “What is this monster?” he cried to the dove. “I cannot see much of him, but he must be a hundred feet long!”

“This hideous creature is the Serpent of Selfishness,” the dove replied. “Beware that he does not bite you, for his fangs carry a deadly poison that will enter your heart and cause you to lose interest in serving King Emmanuel. Argamor has sent the serpent to stop you from reaching the Castle of Charity.”

The serpent struck at that moment, drawing his head fully twenty feet above the earth and then slashing downward like a bolt of lightning. Josiah leaped backward and the deadly fangs missed his legs by less than a foot. Hissing angrily, the murderous reptile struck a second time, again with the speed of lightning. Josiah anticipated the strike and managed to roll behind a huge boulder just in time. His heart trembled when he saw huge coils of pale yellow reptilian flesh gliding noiselessly through the trees as the giant snake moved closer and gathered himself for another strike.

“Stand up to him, my prince!” the dove called. “Use your sword.”

The young prince suddenly realized that his hands were empty; he had somehow dropped his sword. He panicked.

The huge head rose high in the air above the rock behind which Josiah was crouching. The enormous tongue darted in and out as the snake scented the air; huge, golden reptilian eyes scanned the forest—the snake was searching for him. The enormous fangs were wet and glistening and dripping a clear liquid. Josiah shuddered, knowing that he was seeing the poison that could take his life.

The glitter of steel in the ferns just beyond the rock caught his attention and he lunged forward, snatching up the precious sword and rolling to his feet in one motion. The Serpent of Selfishness struck at that moment, but the young prince was ready for him. As the gigantic head flashed downward, Josiah swung the mighty sword. Steel penetrated reptilian flesh. Hissing angrily, the giant snake recoiled. The fearsome head disappeared from sight behind a clump of trees.

Spotting a thick coil of pale yellow between two trees, Josiah sprang forward and hacked at it with all his might. A screech like a wildcat’s call echoed through the trees and the yellow coil disappeared from sight. Josiah knew that he had inflicted a serious wound. He turned and dashed across the clearing and entered the shelter of the trees.

“Prince Josiah! Beware!”

Josiah turned just as the huge head crashed down through the canopy of branches. Swinging his sword to defend himself, he leaped backward with all his might. The deadly fangs missed him by inches, but the glittering blade of his sword struck home, once again wounding the Serpent of Selfishness. The fearsome head swept upward through the branches and disappeared as quickly as it had come.

Gripping the sword with both hands, Josiah stood ready for another attack. He listened intently, but heard nothing. The forest was silent, as if the birds and the insects of the forest were waiting with bated breath for the outcome of the fierce conflict. Josiah’s heart pounded.

He sensed rather than heard movement behind him. Spinning around, he caught sight of the golden, malevolent eyes and the deadly fangs as they drew back into the dense green foliage. The serpent was watching him, watching and waiting for the opportunity for another strike. The Path of Righteousness ahead was open and inviting, so Josiah turned to dash down it.

“Stand up to the Serpent of Selfishness,” the dove called softly. “Slay him with your sword, or he will stalk you all the way to the Castle of Charity. Do not be afraid—the Sword of the Spirit will give you victory.”

Trusting the words of the dove, the young prince ventured out into the open. The Serpent of Selfishness struck in fury with a roaring hiss that reverberated through the forest. Two deadly fangs loaded with lethal venom slashed downward. Josiah stood his ground, thrusting upwards with all his might at the giant reptilian head. The mighty blade pierced the snake’s mouth between the two fangs, and the Serpent of Selfishness jerked back. He struck again and again, one lightning-quick strike after another in quick succession, but each time Josiah met the deadly strikes with steel. The serpent slowly withdrew, and Josiah’s heart leaped. He had won the battle!

The young prince stepped back and dropped the point of his sword to the earth, resting both hands upon the hilt as he caught his breath and watched the colossal reptile retreat. He felt a crushing pressure around his ankle and looked down in horror to discover that the serpent had somehow come from behind and wrapped his tail around Josiah’s foot. The serpent’s tail whipped through the air, jerking Josiah off his feet and causing him to drop his sword.

Josiah lunged forward with all his strength and managed to grasp the sword with one hand. Rolling over on his side, he hacked at the deadly coil around his ankle. The serpent’s grip relaxed and he jerked his foot free. He leaped to his feet again just as the fearsome head came crashing down in yet another strike. Thrusting upward with all his strength, Josiah drove the blade of his mighty sword through the reptile’s head. The Serpent of Selfishness sagged to the ground, defeated and lifeless. Josiah’s mighty shout of victory echoed through the forest.

 

 

Late that afternoon Prince Josiah hiked wearily down a winding mountain road that meandered around rocky buttes and passed between strange rock formations towering over the roadway. Columns of boulders were stacked upon each other in such unusual arrangements that it looked as if a giant child had placed them there and forgotten them, leaving his toys to weather the eons of time. Josiah could tell from the tracks in the lane that the road was well traveled, but he had not seen another soul for nearly half an hour. He glanced at the sky. “Less than two hours of daylight left. I hope I make it to the Castle of Charity before nightfall.”

A low, moaning noise arrested his attention. He stopped in the roadway. He listened intently for several moments, but the sound was not repeated. “Just the wind passing through the canyon,” he said aloud. He started forward.

The moan came to his ears again, and this time there was no mistaking the sound—the cry was that of a human being in terrible pain. He looked around, but saw no one. “Is someone there?” he called softly. “Is someone hurt?”

The idea suddenly occurred to him that the entire situation might be a trap. He glanced around, realizing for the first time just what a lonely, desolate spot he was in. The location was ideal for an ambush—perhaps the wisest course of action would be to leave the area as speedily as possible.

He thought about Sir Compassion’s words. “Charity is caring for others,” the steward had told him, “even when it involves great expense to oneself.” Josiah paused. This might be a place of danger, but perhaps somebody needed his help. He called again. “Is someone hurt?”

“Help me,” a weak voice called. “Please, help me!”

Josiah looked around, trying frantically to locate the source of the pitiful cry. He listened intently, but all he heard was the gentle whisper of the wind in the canyon. “Where are you?” he called. “I am here to help you.”

“Over here,” the unseen supplicant replied. “Please hurry!” The voice was strained and racked with pain, and Josiah forgot all about the possibility of an ambush. Somebody desperately needed his help.

“I am behind this rock,” the voice told him. “Please…” The voice trailed off.

Josiah spotted a towering rock formation just above the road. He scrambled around behind it and then gasped in dismay. Lying on the ground was a young man just older than he. The stranger was dressed in royal clothing very similar to his own, but the garments were torn and bloody. Josiah dropped to his knees beside the other traveler, noting with dismay the bleeding wounds, the pale, death-white skin, and the trembling limbs. The young prince could tell at a glance that the stranger was severely injured.

“What happened?” he gasped.

“I was traveling to the Castle of Charity and I fell among thieves,” the injured youth whispered through swollen lips. “They beat me severely, and…” He paused, struggling painfully to breathe, and Josiah waited anxiously. “I—I don’t think I’m going to make it,” the youth said, with a look of anguish upon his face. “And I am so close to the castle, so close to my… my seventh jewel.” He gritted his teeth as a wave of pain passed over him.

“You’re going to be all right,” Josiah declared, trying to reassure the youth. “I will help you to the Castle of Charity. I am Prince Josiah, of the Castle of Faith, and I am on a quest to the castle, just as you are. I, too, await my seventh jewel.”

“I am Prince Selwyn, of the Castle of Assurance,” the injured youth whispered. “I wanted so badly to make it to the Castle of Charity and receive my seventh jewel, but I am afraid that—”

“Don’t talk,” Josiah admonished him. “Rest and save your strength.”

“Do you have water?” Selwyn begged. “I have gone for hours without—”

Josiah nodded and swallowed the huge lump in his throat. “I have water.” He uncorked a flask from his pack, and, lifting the other’s shoulders, helped him drink.

“That is good,” Selwyn sighed, as he lay back down.

“Lie still and rest,” Josiah said again. “I will attend to your wounds.”

Prince Selwyn’s eyes fell shut as Josiah tore a sleeve from his own doublet, wet it with water from the flask, and washed the injured youth’s wounds. Tearing more strips of cloth from his own royal clothing, Josiah bandaged the wounds to stop the bleeding. When he had finished, he sat back and watched the young prince. Prince Selwyn is seriously injured—without adequate care, he will die. I have to get him to the Castle of Charity, but how? I certainly can’t carry him!

Opening his book and plucking the parchment from within its pages, Prince Josiah prepared to send a petition to Emmanuel. He quickly scrawled the following message:

Your Majesty,

I have encountered a fellow traveler who is sorely wounded. Somehow I must get him to the Castle of Charity. Please send someone who can help.

Your son, Prince Josiah.”

 

Josiah rolled the parchment tightly, opened his fingers, and watched as the petition disappeared over the looming crest of the mountain. The message had scarcely left his hand when the creaking of a carriage wheel arrested his attention. He sprang to his feet and darted from behind the rock formation. His heart leaped. Coming down the mountain road was a fine brougham coach pulled by four sleek black horses! Josiah leaped into the road and waved both arms to signal the driver. The carriage rolled to a stop less than three paces from him.

“What is the matter, my lord?” the driver, a stout man in blazing red livery, called down.

“A traveler has been hurt!” Josiah replied. “He needs our help. Sire, do you know the way to the Castle of Charity?”

“We are not more than ten or twelve furlongs from it,” the coachman responded. “Of course I know the way.”

“Will you help us, sire?” Josiah pleaded.

To his immense relief, the driver set the brake and clambered down from the coach. “Show me the one who needs help.” Josiah led him behind the formation where Prince Selwyn lay.

“He is in serious need, isn’t he?” the coachman remarked, kneeling beside the still, white form. “And he a prince like yourself.”

“Sire, will you carry us to the Castle of Charity?” Josiah asked eagerly.

“Certainly, my lord, for a price.”

“A price! Aye, but I have no money. And I’m certain that Selwyn has none as well, for he was attacked by robbers. That’s how he received his injuries. Please, sire, we have no money, but we need your help!”

“I must be paid,” the coachman insisted.

“But we have no money. And my friend will die if he doesn’t get help! We must take him to the Castle of Charity!”

“You have something that is just as good as money,” the man said slyly.

Josiah looked at him in surprise. “What is that, sire?”

The driver touched the end of his whip to Josiah’s Shield of Faith. “The gems, my lord. Give me the diamond and I will carry you and your friend to the Castle of Charity.”

“The diamond?” Josiah’s heart sank. “I cannot possibly let you have that, sire. I received the diamond at the Castle of Patience. I had to cross the Mountains of Difficulty and travel through the Valley of Discouragement to reach that castle.” He shuddered at the memory of the many dark, lonely days in the dreadful Valley of Discouragement.

The coachman laughed. “Aye, but you’re a prince. I’m sure that you can easily acquire another jewel to take the place of the diamond.”

Josiah shook his head. “You don’t understand, sire. I am traveling to the Castle of Charity to receive my seventh jewel and therefore be ready to serve King Emmanuel. I simply cannot arrive at the castle without my fourth jewel. The entire trip will have been in vain.”

“I must be paid, my lord.”

“But Prince Selwyn is dying! Can you not take him to the castle just to help a fellow human being?”

“Nay, my lord. No diamond, no coach.”

“Then take the emerald, or the sapphire. Take the ruby, or even the opal—anything but the diamond.” Josiah was desperate. To him, the diamond was the most precious of all the jewels, for he had traversed the Valley of Discouragement to receive it. He could not bring himself to even imagine ever spending another moment in that dreadful place. “Which jewel will you have, sire?” He had resigned himself to losing one of the precious jewels to save the life of Prince Selwyn.

“The diamond, my lord.”

“But I cannot give you that.”

“It’s the diamond or nothing.” The man’s face was hard and unyielding, and Josiah realized that he meant business. This man simply was not about to negotiate.

“Two jewels, sire,” Josiah offered. “Take any two jewels except the diamond.”

“Nay, I want the diamond. Nothing else.”

Josiah shook his head. “I simply cannot give you that.”

“Then there is no reason for me to stay here, is there?” The driver turned and walked toward his coach.

The young prince was in torment. He would give anything to save the life of the young prince who lay dying behind the rock formation, yet he could not bring himself to give up the precious diamond. He could not risk the possibility of another journey through the Valley of Discouragement.

Charity is caring for others, even when it involves great expense to oneself. The words of Sir Compassion rang in his memory like the echo of a brass bell. I’m on my way to the Castle of Charity, yet I have not yet really learned to care for others as my King would have me do. He hesitated. I cannot give this man my diamond! I simply cannot!

Prince Selwyn groaned. “Prince Josiah,” he whispered. His voice fell silent.

Josiah dashed for the roadway. “Wait! Sire, wait! You can have the diamond.”

Bitter tears stung Josiah’s eyes as he watched the greedy coachman use the blade of a knife to pry the precious diamond from its setting.

Chapter Nineteen

 

Prince Josiah’s heart was heavy as the coach rolled up to the moat of the Castle of Charity. This was the last stop in his quest. He had reached the destination toward which he had struggled for so long, but there was no joy in his heart. Although he had completed the assigned quest, he was missing the most valuable of the jewels, his precious diamond.

There was a bit of consolation in knowing that he had helped a fellow traveler reach his destination safely. Prince Selwyn would live—Josiah was almost sure about that now that he was at the Castle of Charity—and he would receive the last of his seven jewels. For some reason that Josiah had been unable to comprehend, the thieves that had robbed Prince Selwyn had been unable to take his Shield of Faith. Selwyn’s seventh jewel would soon shine among the others like the morning star.

Josiah looked at his own Shield of Faith. The hole in the polished surface seemed to him a huge crater, mocking him and reminding him of his failure. “But I helped another,” he told himself quietly. “I was able to demonstrate brotherly kindness, as my King would have done. Perhaps it was worth it.”

The castle walls loomed above him, dark sentinels against the silver of the twilight sky. “Who approaches the castle?” a sentry challenged. A lantern was lowered at the end of a length of chain, illuminating the approach to the castle.

“Prince Josiah, of the Castle of Faith,” the young prince called in reply. “With me is Prince Selwyn of the Castle of Assurance. Selwyn has been grievously injured, so we have hired a coach.”

“Advance and be recognized,” the unseen sentry called, and Josiah hurried from the coach. A tall knight peered at him from across the moat.

“Prince Selwyn is dying, sire! He needs immediate help!”

“Lower the drawbridge and raise the portcullis,” the knight called, and immediately Josiah heard the rattle of chains. Moments later the injured prince was being carried into the castle and the coach had disappeared into the darkness.

“Will he live?” Josiah asked anxiously, as the castle physician leaned over his new friend. Prince Selwyn lay motionless upon a bed in a solar on the first floor of the castle. A cheery fire lighted the circular chamber.

“We have a good supply of the Balm of Gilead, my prince,” the physician replied. “Prince Selwyn will be back on his feet by the time the sun rises tomorrow.”

A stalwart knight stepped into the solar. “Greetings, Prince Josiah,” he said cheerfully. “I am Sir Agape, steward of the castle. We have been awaiting your arrival. Welcome to the Castle of Charity. I understand that you have brought another traveler with you.”

Josiah stood to his feet and shook the hand that was offered. “My lord, I am honored to be here.”

Sir Agape frowned slightly. “Is something amiss, Prince Josiah? Your countenance tells me that you are deeply troubled.”

Josiah struggled to hold back the tears as he displayed his shield and told the story of the loss of the precious diamond. When he had finished, the castle steward began to laugh.

“The jewels in your shield are simply a reflection of the character that you have acquired in the journey,” he explained. “In the hands of that greedy coachman, your diamond will soon become a worthless lump of coal.”

“But look at my Shield of Faith,” Josiah lamented. “The diamond is still missing. Will I have to repeat my journey to the Castle of Patience to replace it?”

Sir Agape smiled at him. “The diamond was nothing more than a symbol of your journey to the Castle of Patience, my prince. The fact that you were willing to sacrifice it to help another tells me that your quest was successful—you now have true charity in your heart.

“As you were told, the purpose of your quest was that you might learn and grow, that you might become like your Lord, King Emmanuel. This is a great day, Prince Josiah, for today you have shown self-sacrificing charity toward another, just as your King would have done. His Majesty will be pleased, for you have honored him by demonstrating his charity toward another.

“We have plenty of diamonds just as magnificent as yours, and we will replace yours first thing tomorrow morning. On the third day of your stay here at the castle we will have a grand ceremony to present you and Prince Selwyn with your seventh jewels.” He smiled suddenly. “Well done, Prince Josiah; you have honored the name of your King.”

 

 

Just as Sir Agape had promised, the ceremony took place on the third day. It was a grand and glorious occasion, one that Josiah would remember for the rest of his life.

Prince Selwyn and Prince Josiah stood side by side outside the entrance to the great hall, dressed in resplendent royal scarlet robes. Josiah laughed nervously. “This is the moment that we have been waiting for, yet all of a sudden, I almost feel afraid. Do you feel the same thing?”

Selwyn nodded. “It is as if a swarm of bumblebees are flying around in my stomach.”

Josiah laughed again. “That is exactly how I feel. I am ready for this, and yet I am apprehensive.” He looked happily at his Shield of Faith where a splendid fiery diamond glowed among the other jewels. “The moment has come, Prince Selwyn. Today we receive the seventh jewel.”

Sir Agape hurried into the foyer. “Ready, my lords? The ceremony is about to begin!”

A fanfare of trumpets sounded just then, and the doors to the great hall swept open. The immense chamber was crowded with eager spectators, but at the sight of the two young princes, an expectant hush settled over the hall. Prince Josiah and Prince Selwyn stepped forward eagerly and began the triumphant march down the crimson carpet.

A moment of sheer joy swept over Josiah’s soul as he realized that he had accomplished his objective and completed his quest. He thrilled in the knowledge that he had honored the name of his great sovereign, King Emmanuel. His heart was full. “My King, I will serve you forever,” he whispered.

Glossary

 

Bailey: the courtyard in a castle.

Barbican: the space or courtyard between the inner and outer walls of a castle.

Battlement: on castle walls, a parapet with openings behind which archers would shelter when defending the castle.

Castle: a fortified building or complex of buildings, used both for defense and as the residence for the lord of the surrounding land.

Coat of arms: an arrangement of heraldic emblems, usually depicted on a shield or standard, indicating ancestry and position.

Crenel: one of the gaps or open spaces between the merlons of a battlement.

Curtain: the protective wall of a castle.

Doublet: a close-fitting garment worn by men.

Fortnight: a period of time equaling fourteen days.

Furlong: a measurement of distance equal to one-eighth of a mile.

Garrison: a group of soldiers stationed in a castle.

Gatehouse: a fortified structure built over the gateway to a castle.

Great hall: the room in a castle where the meals were served and the main events of the day occurred.

Jerkin: a close-fitting jacket or short coat.

Lance: a thrusting weapon with a long wooden shaft and a sharp metal point.

Longbow: a hand-drawn wooden bow 5½ to 6 feet tall.

Lute: a stringed musical instrument having a long, fretted neck and a hollow, pear-shaped body.

Lyre: a musical instrument consisting of a sound box with two curving arms carrying a cross bar from which strings are stretched to the sound box.

Merlon: the rising part of a crenallated wall or battlement.

Minstrel: a traveling entertainer who sang and recited poetry.

Moat: a deep, wide ditch surrounding a castle, often filled with water.

Portcullis: a heavy wooden grating covered with iron and suspended on chains above the gateway or any doorway of a castle. The portcullis could be lowered quickly to seal off an entrance if the castle was attacked.

Saboton: pointed shoes made of steel to protect the feet of a knight in battle.

Salet: a protective helmet usually made of steel, worn by knights in combat.

Scullion: a kitchen servant who is assigned menial work

Sentry walk: a platform or walkway around the inside top of a castle curtain used by guards, lookouts and archers defending a castle.

Solar: a private sitting room or bedroom designated for royalty or nobility.

Standard: a long, tapering flag or ensign, as of a king or a nation.

Stone: a British unit of weight equal to fourteen pounds.

Tunic: a loose-fitting, long-sleeved garment.

Trencher: a flat piece of bread on which meat or other food was served.

 

 

Castle Facts

 

•The daily affairs of a castle were in the hands of a man called the castle steward. The steward answered to the lord of the castle. In the lord’s absence, the steward was in charge of the castle.

•The defense of the castle was the responsibility of the castle constable, or castellan, who had charge of one or two garrisons of knights.

•The castle walls, or curtains, were sometimes as thick as 24 feet!

•A suit of armor usually weighed between 45 and 55 pounds.

•It could take as long as an hour for a knight to get dressed for battle.

•A knight’s sword, horse, and armor could cost as much as a peasant’s lifetime wages!

•An archer with a longbow could send an arrow over three hundred yards and could fire as many as 15 arrows per minute.

•Some castles kept honeybees. Honey was used to sweeten food and drink.

 

 

 

 

The Search

for Everyman

 

 

An allegory

by Ed Dunlop

 

(Book Three in the Terrestria Chronicles)

Copyright 2012 Ed Dunlop

 

The Search for Everyman

 

 

 

Juvenile fiction.

Christian life juvenile fiction.

 

Ebook Edition

 

 

If thou forbear to deliver

them that are drawn unto death,

and those that are

ready to be slain;

If thou sayest, Behold, we

knew it not; doth not he that

pondereth the heart consider it?

And he that keepeth thy soul,

Doth not he know it?

And shall not he render to every manaccording to his works?

Proverbs 24: 11, 12

 

 

 

That others might know

my wondrous King

Chapter One

 

A wispy tendril of gray smoke curled from the dark opening of the cave’s mouth. It wafted across the clearing, pulsating and gyrating like a giant serpent slowly slithering through the air. Prince Josiah’s heart pounded with the anticipation of danger as he dropped behind a large outcropping of rock.

“Aye, you were right,” he whispered to his companion, Sir Faithful, who was just a pace or two behind him. “This is the dragon’s lair! But how did you know?”

There was no answer.

Josiah turned. “Sir Faithful!” The castle steward was gone!

An angry roar rumbled from the darkness of the cavern. The ominous sound echoed across the clearing, growing louder and louder until it crescendoed down around the young prince like a deafening crash of thunder. As Josiah watched in astonishment, a strange light flickered inside the recesses of the cave and then a brilliant tongue of amber flame shot from the opening. The young prince trembled at the sight.

“Sir Faithful!” he whispered. “Sir Faithful! Where are you?” Prince Josiah hastily scanned the rocky hillside, but there was no sign of the kindly old man who had become his mentor and closest companion. Josiah was left to face the dragon alone.

A loud hiss and a thundering roar drew his attention back to the cave. He gasped in fright as a burst of flame more than fifty feet long shot from the cave. A fireball whistled through the air, struck a ledge of sandstone and burst into a thousand fiery fragments that slowly drifted down toward the earth. The smell of burnt sulfur filled the air. At that moment, a huge green form exploded from the mouth of the cavern and burst into the sunshine. Josiah was face to face with an angry dragon more than thirty feet long! Inhaling sharply, the young prince dropped out of sight behind the boulder.

But he was too late—the dragon had spotted him. With footfalls that shook the earth, the huge beast rumbled heavily toward Josiah’s hiding place, roaring fiercely and belching fire and smoke as it came. Josiah cowered in terror. A huge, scaly head with angry red eyes and a fearsome mouth appeared over the top of the rock. The mouth dropped open, and an ear-splitting roar made Josiah’s head throb with pain. A blast of fire shot from the dragon’s mouth, scorching the top of the rock and setting the nearby grass on fire.

Josiah rolled from behind the rock, leaped to his feet, and dashed across the clearing to drop behind another huge boulder.

The dragon spun around and lumbered toward the prince’s new hiding place, snorting and roaring and breathing fire and smoke. The nauseating smell of burning sulfur grew stronger. Josiah coughed and struggled to breathe. The ground beneath him seemed to tremble with fear as the enraged dragon thundered closer.

The fire-breathing monster loomed over him. The scaly, serpentine tail lashed angrily from side to side. A blast of withering fire engulfed Josiah, scorching his face and singeing his throat and lungs. Noxious fumes filled the air. He gasped for breath. He fought against the darkness that threatened to swallow him up. “Sir Faithful!” he cried. “Help me!”

The dragon roared again. Huge wings beat the air as the dragon rose slowly and hovered at treetop level. A jet of flame stabbed the earth less than two paces from Josiah’s foot.

My sword! the young prince thought frantically. I must use my sword! Rolling over with his back against the rock, Josiah reached inside his doublet for his invincible sword. His fingers closed around the book and he drew it hastily, swinging the volume with all his might and transforming it into a glittering weapon of steel. He leaped to his feet.

The dragon’s head slammed into him at that instant, knocking him backwards and sending the sword tumbling harmlessly through the air to land in the grass behind him. “Sir Faithful!” Josiah cried in desperation. “Help me! Sir Faithful!”

He felt a crushing pressure as the immense mouth closed around his upper arm. The dragon had seized him in its teeth! The hillside seemed to fall away in a spinning, whirling confusion of motion and color as the fierce, fire-breathing monster lifted its head, snatching him high into the air. “Sir Faithful!” he screamed. “It has me!”

The furious dragon shook its head, jerking the young prince from side to side. Josiah felt as if his arm would be torn off. His body went limp, and darkness rolled over him in waves.

“Josiah! Wake up!”

Josiah slowly opened his eyes and cautiously raised his head. The dragon was gone. The fearsome, scaly head had been replaced by the grinning, freckled face of his friend, Prince Selwyn. “Josiah! Are you all right?”

“I—I think so,” Josiah faltered. He waited anxiously, but as yet, could feel no waves of searing pain. Perhaps his injuries were so great that his mind was blocking out the pain. He blinked twice, trying to focus his eyes. Over his head, just beyond the face of his friend, he could see the branches of a eucalyptus tree. Just above that, the stone wall of a castle swam into focus. He turned his head. The beds of daffodils and hollyhock, the herb garden, the fountain—it was all so familiar. Suddenly he realized—he was in the east courtyard of the Castle of Faith. He shook his head in confusion. “How did I get here?”

Prince Selwyn stared down at him. “Get where?”

“How did I get back to the Castle of Faith?” Josiah asked, gathering the strength to sit up. His right arm ached. He gripped the flesh of his arm with the fingers of his left hand, squeezing gently and then summoning the courage to lift the sleeve of his jerkin and inspect the damage. To his surprise, there was no torn flesh. Not even a tooth mark. He couldn’t believe his eyes. After the way the dragon had grabbed him and shaken him about, he had expected to find that his arm was badly mangled.

Selwyn laughed at him. “What were you dreaming about, Josiah? The way you were yelling and thrashing around, it must have been one exciting dream.”

“Dream?” Josiah repeated. “I was dreaming? I was asleep?”

“I went to the armory to get a new bowstring, and when I came back you were stretched out on this bench, sound asleep. From the way it sounded, you must have been having one wild nightmare!”

Josiah rubbed his eyes and looked around, still not fully awake. “Then there wasn’t a dragon.” Part of him was relieved while another part was disappointed.

“Dragon?” Selwyn laughed again. “So you were fighting a dragon, were you?”

Josiah was embarrassed. “Well, actually, no. I’m afraid I wasn’t doing much fighting. I dropped my sword, and I think the dragon was getting ready to eat me!” He rubbed his eyes again. “He had me by the arm and he jerked me way up into the air and he was shaking me all around and…”

“That was I!” Selwyn was nearly doubled over with laughter. “When I came down and saw that you were having a nightmare, I grabbed your arm and started shaking you. I was trying to wake you up.”

Josiah joined in the laughter. “I thought for sure that a fire-breathing dragon had me and was ready to tear my arm off. The smell of sulfur was so bad that I could hardly breathe.” He paused and looked teasingly at his friend. “It must have been your breath.”

“Thanks, my friend.”

Josiah shook his head as if to clear his mind. “I’m just glad that whole thing was just a dream. I was terrified!”

“If a dragon ever does grab you,” Selwyn said quietly, “count on me to come to your rescue. You know that I’d risk my life for you, don’t you?”

The two young princes had known each other for just a short while, but already they were becoming close friends. Less than a fortnight had passed since Josiah had found Selwyn dying beside the highway on the way to the Castle of Charity, having been assaulted and nearly killed by a band of robbers. Josiah had saved his life and made a good friend in the process.

“I’ll never forget what you did for me, Josiah,” Selwyn said softly.

“I only did what I knew King Emmanuel would have me do.”

“Aye, but you forfeited your diamond to hire the coachman to take me to the castle. That was a very unselfish thing to do.”

Josiah turned his Shield of Faith and glanced at the face where seven lustrous jewels glittered in the afternoon sunlight. “Sir Agape replaced the diamond for me. I lost nothing by helping you.”

“Aye, but you didn’t know at the time that he would do that,” Prince Selwyn insisted. “You were willing to lose your diamond and forfeit the entire quest to help me.”

“I only did what my King would have done.”

Selwyn smiled. “I know. And I appreciate having a friend that was willing to sacrifice for me. Thank you, Josiah.”

“Now that we have completed our quest,” Josiah said, changing the subject, “what assignment do you think King Emmanuel will have for us? I am eager to serve him, aren’t you?”

His friend’s eyes grew wide. “Let’s hope that it’s something exciting. Something like killing a dragon and rescuing a princess.” He reached within his own doublet and drew his sword. “I’m ready! Bring on the dragons!” The glittering blade slashed through the air.

Josiah laughed. “Your imagination is like a wild horse.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s always running away with you.”

Selwyn turned to him with a mock expression of hurt and betrayal. “And who was fighting dragons in his dreams a moment or two ago, may I ask? Just why should you have all the fun, my friend?”

“Aye, you can have the dragons. That dream wasn’t much fun.”

“Well, if you don’t want dragons, then perhaps King Emmanuel will send us on a mission to storm a castle and recover it from the enemy.”

Josiah laughed again. “Just the two of us?”

Selwyn shrugged. “Well, we would take some reinforcements. Just imagine—you leading one garrison of troops while I lead another.” He raised his sword high in the air. “Forward, men! Storm the walls in the name of King Emmanuel! Charge the gatehouse! The victory is ours!”

Josiah grabbed his arm and pulled the sword down. “Your imagination is running away with you again.”

“Josiah, Selwyn, Sir Faithful is looking for you.”

The boys turned at the sound of a pleasant voice to see a young girl hurrying across the courtyard. Slender and graceful, Princess Gilda was blond like her brother, Selwyn, and wore her long golden tresses in braids. A long, flowing gown of pale green satin and a shawl of exquisite white lace fluttered about her figure. As usual, her cheerful face was graced by a friendly smile of greeting.

“Your sister is every inch a princess, isn’t she?” Josiah said softly. “Selwyn, she’s beautiful.”

His friend snorted. “Don’t let her hear you say that,” he growled, “or she’ll become vain and haughty.”

“Sir Faithful sent me to find you,” Princess Gilda told the boys as she approached them. “He has an assignment for us.”

Selwyn’s eyes lit up with excitement. “I knew it! Josiah, this is it!” He held his sword high as he took a fighting stance. “We’re going to fight a dragon!” Turning in Gilda’s direction, he gave a slight bow. “Fear not, faint-hearted fair maiden. Prince Selwyn, at your service. My trusty sword will soon make mincemeat of yon dragon, and you will no longer live out your days in fear and trembling!”

The girl made a face and shook her head.

Josiah laughed and rolled his eyes as he looked in Princess Gilda’s direction. “Your brother has a wild imagination.”

She smiled sweetly. “Aye, he got that from our mother.”

Selwyn held his sword against his side as she spoke, transforming the weapon into the book again and placing it carefully inside his doublet.

Josiah turned and started across the courtyard. “Where is Sir Faithful?”

Gilda hurried to catch up with him. “He was in the room beside the King’s solar.” She laughed in embarrassment. “It was on the second level, but I don’t remember how to get there.”

Josiah smiled. “I know where it is. Follow me. It does take a while to learn your way around the castle.”

Prince Selwyn and his sister had taken up residence in the Castle of Faith just days before, having come from the Castle of Assurance. Although Selwyn was two years older than his friend, Prince Josiah had the dominant personality, and Selwyn had followed Josiah’s leadership quite readily. Gilda, two years younger than her brother and almost exactly the same age as Josiah, had done the same.

“Sir Faithful seems like a really good man,” the princess said as she fell in step beside Josiah. “He’s so friendly and kind. I like him.”

“Aye, he is a good man,” Josiah said fervently. “He loves King Emmanuel with all his heart, and he lives solely for the purpose of serving him.” His heart warmed as he talked about his friend. “Sir Faithful taught me to read, and he taught me the use of the sword, but most of all, he taught me about serving our King. He taught me to love His Majesty with all my heart. You won’t find a more loyal friend than Sir Faithful.”

He led the way up a flight of stone stairs. “He’s the wisest man I ever met, so I go to him for advice whenever I have a problem. He always has time for me and he always listens.”

They found Sir Faithful at a large oak desk with a quill pen in his hand. He looked up with a smile as the three young people entered the chamber and his clear blue eyes twinkled with warmth and genuine affection. “Well, if it isn’t two of my favorite young knights! Princess Gilda, thank you for finding them for me.”

Sir Faithful set his quill on the desk, stroked his long, white beard with the fingers of his right hand, and then picked up a scroll. “A message just arrived this morning from the Golden City of the Redeemed, my lords and my lady, and I think you’ll find it particularly interesting, since it concerns the three of you.”

Prince Josiah’s eyes lit up with excitement. “Sire, does King Emmanuel have a mission for us? Prince Selwyn and I are eager to serve him. We’ll go anywhere, do anything! Just give us an opportunity to serve our wonderful King.”

Sir Faithful laughed at the youthful enthusiasm. He dropped his eyes and scanned the parchment in his hands. “Your King has placed a great deal of confidence in you, even though you are all so young. This message from His Majesty assigns the three of you to a very important mission. It won’t be an easy assignment, and there will no doubt be some danger involved—but I know that you three are the right ones for the task.”

“What is it?” Josiah asked eagerly. “Tell us—what is it?”

The old man smiled. “Give me just a moment and I’ll tell you, Prince Josiah.” He looked at Selwyn. “You haven’t said a word, Prince Selwyn.”

“I haven’t had a chance to, sire,” Selwyn replied, with a teasing look at Josiah. “Josiah hasn’t given me a chance to get a word in. And in these past few days I’ve been around you long enough to learn that you aren’t going to be hurried—it’s best just to keep silent and let you speak.”

Sir Faithful chuckled and looked at the parchment again. “This mission from your King is of the utmost importance. Somewhere in the land of Terrestria is a man by the name of Everyman—Adam Everyman. He’s being held in a dungeon by Argamor, and he has been condemned to be executed in just three weeks. King Emmanuel has issued Everyman a pardon. That’s where you three come in—you are to find Everyman and deliver the King’s pardon before the poor man is executed.”

Josiah shuddered at these words, for his mind went back to the horrible days when he, too, had been held prisoner in a lonely dungeon by Argamor, the cruelest of taskmasters. It had been slightly more than a year ago that the Coach of Grace had come and Josiah had been set free by the nail-scarred hands of King Emmanuel. His heart went out to the condemned man. “Sire, where is this dungeon?” he asked. “How do we find Everyman?”

“Everyman is being held in an undisclosed location,” Sir Faithful answered, reading the parchment. “Your mission is to locate the dungeon and deliver the pardon. But time is short, my lords and my lady, for the prisoner is to be executed in just three weeks. You must make haste. If you fail in this mission, this man will die.”

Chapter Two

 

Prince Josiah, Prince Selwyn, and Princess Gilda stood speechless for several moments as the significance of Sir Faithful’s words sank in. Josiah could hear the pounding of his own heart. Suddenly he felt completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of the mission to which he and his companions were being assigned by King Emmanuel. Suppose they couldn’t find the condemned man in time?

He cleared his throat. “Sire, are—are you certain that the message was for us? There must be some mistake.”

Sir Faithful shook his head. “King Emmanuel personally selected you, Gilda, and Selwyn. There’s no mistake. His Majesty is placing great confidence in you to give such an assignment to ones so young.” He sighed. “And it won’t be an easy mission, I assure you. Argamor and his men will do everything in their power to stop you from delivering the pardon.”

“Does—does Argamor know about this?” Prince Selwyn’s voice came out as a nervous squeak, and Josiah suddenly realized that he was not the only one overwhelmed by the magnitude of the assignment.

“Aye, I’m afraid he does,” the old steward said slowly. “He has spies everywhere in Terrestria, and nothing escapes his attention. Rest assured, Argamor knows and will try to stop you.”

Gilda spoke for the first time. “Sire, why is King Emmanuel sending us? What if we can’t find Everyman in time? What if we fail to deliver the pardon?”

Sir Faithful raised his eyebrows. “This is indeed a very difficult mission,” he told her. “But King Emmanuel chose you for a reason. He has confidence in you. Apparently, in all the kingdom of Terrestria, none is more suited for the task than you three.” The old man smiled. “Go in faith, trusting King Emmanuel for the results.”

A look of confidence spread across Gilda’s pretty face. “When do we leave?”

“You must leave right away,” Sir Faithful replied. “Today. There is no time to lose.”

“But why us, sire?” Selwyn asked. “Why didn’t King Emmanuel give this assignment to someone older? Someone with more experience?”

The old man carefully put the fingertips of both hands together before answering. “His Majesty has made the right choice. Youth are just as valuable in King Emmanuel’s service as older folk. You and Prince Josiah have just returned from a pilgrimage of learning and growth and you were anxious to serve. King Emmanuel has given you an assignment—an important one. Why not throw yourself heart and soul into this assignment and thereby honor the name of your King?”

“But sire, what if we fail? What if we don’t find Everyman in time?”

“This is no time for fear and speculation of failure,” the old steward replied. “You must leave immediately. The King’s business requires haste. Never was that more true than right now. Don’t worry about failure; simply obey His Majesty and carry out his assignment.”

Josiah was feeling the same timidity. “Where will we look?”

“Everyman is in the Dungeon of Condemnation,” Sir Faithful answered. “He—”

“I know where that is,” Josiah interrupted. “It’s in the Village of Despair. That’s where Argamor held me prisoner for so long.”

Sir Faithful shook his head. “This is a different dungeon, Prince Josiah. It is called by the same name, but it is in a different location.”

“Then how do we find him, sire?”

“I would start by searching the Land of Unbelief,” Sir Faithful said thoughtfully. “Undoubtedly that is where he is being held.”

“Where is the Land of Unbelief?”

The castle steward rose from his desk. He turned and pointed to a large map on the wall. “This is a map of Terrestria.” He touched a point on the map. “The Castle of Faith is right here on the north shore of the Sea of Conviction, just east of the Bay of Opportunity. If you travel two hundred forty furlongs due west across the Bay of Opportunity,”—he moved his finger across the map—“you will come to the Land of Unbelief. You ought to begin the search there.”

Josiah moved close to the map and studied the region that Sir Faithful had indicated. The old steward placed his strong right hand on Josiah’s shoulder and his left hand on Selwyn’s. “Use caution, lads. The Land of Unbelief is a treacherous region with a vast, arid wasteland of skepticism and unbelief. It’s a perilous place of dangerous quicksands, hazardous storms and ravenous predators that have claimed the life of many a knight. The land is inhabited by treacherous individuals who are not loyal to King Emmanuel, and they will seek to do you harm. Argamor’s forces will seek to oppose you and distract you and lead you into all sorts of temptations in order to keep you from delivering the pardon for His Majesty. This mission will not be an easy one.”

Josiah felt uneasy. “Sire, what if we can’t find Everyman?”

“Your book will guide you.”

“But we’ve never done anything like this before. What if we say the wrong things?”

“Josiah, Josiah. All your King requires of you is that you simply deliver the news of the pardon. That’s all.”

“But what if we find Everyman and he won’t listen to us? What if he won’t receive the pardon?”

“The decision is Everyman’s;” Sir Faithful replied softly, “your assigned task is but to deliver the pardon.”

“I’m not sure that I want to go,” Gilda spoke up. “This is beginning to sound like a very dangerous mission.”

“I’m afraid, too,” her brother admitted.

“And I,” Josiah said quietly.

Sir Faithful sadly shook his head. “My precious friends, your King has not given you the spirit of fear. He has given you the spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. And remember, at any time during this mission you may send a petition to Emmanuel to request guidance or assistance. Go not in fear, but in the spirit of your King!”

He stepped to the door of the chamber and looked out at the sky. “Time is escaping like the falling grains of sand in an hourglass. You must make haste! The good ship Obedience is waiting at the postern gate to take you across the Bay of Opportunity. Provisions for your journey are already on board.”

He glanced downward. “Are your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace? Good! Then there is not a moment to lose—you must set out on your mission immediately.”

He thrust a rolled parchment into Josiah’s hands. “Guard this with your life—it is the pardon for Everyman, which you must not fail to deliver. Remember, the man’s life hangs in the balance!”

The three young people hesitantly followed the old steward to the postern gate, which was located on the southwest corner of the castle, guarded by a fortified gatehouse much like the main gate of the castle. The sentry raised the portcullis and opened the gate. Sir Faithful led the way down a protected walkway that led right down to the sea. A small boat bobbed gently in the swells at the foot of the walkway. Less than a furlong from the shore, a sleek sailing ship rode at anchor.

“You have the authority of His Majesty,” Sir Faithful told them, “and no man may rightfully oppose you. There will be opposition, but you shall overcome it in the name of King Emmanuel. Captain Faithful Witness will take you across the sea to the Land of Unbelief where you shall search for Everyman. Go in faith, my princes and princess, and you shall honor the name of Emmanuel and return in victory.”

Prince Josiah embraced the old man, and Princess Gilda and Prince Selwyn did the same. Without looking back at the castle they climbed bravely into the boat where a sailor was waiting at the oars. After a few moments of hard rowing, the small craft came alongside the ship Obedience. A rope ladder hung over the side. The sailor held the boat steady while the three young people climbed aboard the larger vessel.

“Welcome aboard!” a stout sea captain called, hurrying across the deck to greet them. “I am Captain Witness, and my crew and I will take you across the bay to the Land of Unbelief. The entire ship is at your disposal—make yourselves comfortable. We will get under way immediately.”

The captain turned and called out a series of commands. The crew sprang to life, weighing the anchor and hoisting the sails. A brisk wind soon filled the billowing sails and the ship moved across the water at a rapid pace. The afternoon sun danced on the sapphire waters of the bay.

Josiah went to the bow and leaned over the rail, watching the breakers foaming against the forepart of the ship. Selwyn and Gilda joined him at the rail. “This happened mighty quickly, didn’t it?” Selwyn said with a laugh. “It seems that just a moment ago I was wishing that King Emmanuel would send us on a mission— and suddenly here we are, sailing to a strange region to deliver a pardon to a man we’ve never even met!”

“I just hope we get there in time,” Gilda worried aloud. “You heard what Sir Faithful said—Everyman will be executed in three weeks unless we can find him and deliver the pardon in time.”

Josiah began to relax. “I’m thankful that King Emmanuel chose us to deliver the pardon. This is quite an honor.”

“I too feel honored that His Majesty chose us for this assignment,” the girl replied, “but I just hope that we can find Everyman in time.”

With an energetic, bounding motion, the good ship Obedience surged eagerly through the sparkling waters of the Bay of Opportunity. High overhead, the huge sails were filled with a brisk wind, and the tall wooden masts creaked and groaned. The day was bright and sailing was pleasant. The three young messengers of King Emmanuel relaxed and began to enjoy the voyage.

“This doesn’t look good!” Selwyn said abruptly. “There may be trouble ahead. Behold!”

Josiah glanced upward. The sky overhead was clear; the day was still sunny and bright. But to the west, far in the distance, a black line of forbidding storm clouds lay low on the horizon. As Josiah watched, the ominous thunderheads swept swiftly across the water like an advancing army of horsemen sweeping down upon a defenseless village. Lightning split the sky and thunder exploded with a vengeance. With a deafening roar that blotted out all other sound, a whirling black cloud swept down out of the heavens and touched the surface of the sea, drawing a swirling mass of water high into the air.

“It’s a waterspout!” one sailor cried in fear. “We’re all doomed!”

The wind struck at that instant, shrieking through the ship’s rigging and instantly shredding the sails. The main mast snapped in two with a report that sounded like a crack of thunder. Sails, spars, and rigging came crashing down upon the deck. A huge wave slammed into the side of the ship and cascaded over the rail, soaking everything and everyone. The ship reeled and staggered like a drunken sailor.

“We’re all going to die!” Princess Gilda wailed.

“The winds of adversity may blow,” Captain Witness said quietly, “but the good ship Obedience can weather the storm.”

Josiah stared in amazement. The captain stood calmly at the helm, gripping the ship’s wheel in his strong hands. His chin was held high and the look on his face declared that he was almost enjoying the storm.

“Look, Captain!” a sailor cried.

Josiah turned, and the cold hand of fear gripped him. A frothy white wave taller than a mountain towered over the ship! The good ship Obedience rose to meet it, but the wave crested and broke, burying the vessel under countless tons of cold seawater. The young prince grabbed a stanchion and held on with all his might. His lungs screamed for air but he knew that if he lost his grip the surging waters would sweep him overboard to his death. With a strange slurping, gulping noise, the waters receded, and he gratefully gulped huge lungfuls of precious air.

“Josiah! Help me!” The scream cut through Josiah’s preoccupation with his own perilous predicament. He turned to see Princess Gilda floating past, carried across the deck by the powerful currents. She was about to be swept overboard into the violence of the waves. “Help me, Josiah!”

Josiah released his hold, lunged forward, and managed to seize her by the wrist. The fingers of his other hand closed around a deck cleat, and he hung on for dear life against the surging water that threatened to hurl them both to their deaths in the depths. The Obedience suddenly rose through the water like a cork float bobbing to the surface as the water poured from her decks. Still clutching Gilda, Josiah rose to his feet.

“Oh, Josiah,” Gilda sobbed. “You saved my life!”

Prince Selwyn appeared beside them. “I-I couldn’t reach her, Josiah,” he said quietly. “Thank you for saving my sister!”

The ship was still being pounded by the relentless waves. She tossed and reeled helplessly. The bow of the ship raised high in the air one moment, and then dropped with such force that Josiah felt sick at his stomach. The wind screamed in fury, hurling volumes of chilling seawater at them with a vengeance. The deck of the stricken ship was a confusion of tangled lines, broken fragments of mast and various items of ship’s tackle. The three young people struggled across the deck, scrambling frantically over the debris, and managed to reach the companionway leading to the crew’s quarters. They hurried inside, grateful to be alive.

“We’re not going to make it, Josiah,” Prince Selwyn said plaintively, wrapping his arms around his sister and drawing her close. “The ship is going to be broken to pieces! It will never survive the violence of this storm.”

Josiah didn’t answer.

In one incredible moment, the scream of the wind suddenly gave way to complete silence. The ship became as motionless as a rock. An unearthly silence prevailed. Captain Faithful Witness burst through the door. “The good ship Obedience has been sorely tested and tried, but she came through,” he announced. “The storm is over.”

The three young people followed him out onto the deck of the ship. The deck was littered with tangled lines, broken fragments of wood and various pieces of the ship’s rigging, but she was still afloat. Josiah stared in amazement. There was no trace of the dark storm clouds that moments before had blackened the entire sky. The sun shone brightly in a cloudless sky and the surface of the sea was as calm as a millpond. The storm was over. Most amazing of all, the shore was less than a furlong away.

“Opposition will arise nearly every time that you undertake a great mission for King Emmanuel,” Captain Witness told his wide-eyed young passengers, “but the good ship Obedience will take you through every time.”

He pointed toward a narrow strip of sandy beach that bordered a dark, forbidding forest. “The Land of Unbelief,” he announced. “My first mate will take you ashore in the longboat. May I wish you safety and success on your mission. We will make repairs to the ship while you are gone.”

Ten minutes later, the longboat grated on the sand. Prince Josiah stepped timidly from the bow to be followed by Princess Gilda and Prince Selwyn. All three stood silently staring at the darkness of the forest before them. They were alone in a strange and hostile land, facing unknown dangers in their search for Everyman. Josiah suddenly felt very small and very much afraid.

Chapter Three

 

“What do we do now?” Prince Selwyn asked, speaking in a low voice as if he was fearful of betraying his presence by speaking aloud. The trees of the forest rose above them as strange and unfamiliar silhouettes, quite unlike any trees that Josiah, Gilda or Selwyn had ever seen. In the silver twilight of the approaching night they stood like hostile sentries guarding the perimeter of the forest against intruders. The young emissaries felt very vulnerable.

The lonely call of a bird floated across the silence, mournful and strange and eerie, and a cold chill went up Prince Josiah’s back. He took a small step forward. “First we need to find shelter for the night,” he suggested. “The darkness will be upon us before we know it.”

As the young travelers neared the trees, Josiah realized just how enormous they were. Huge, twisted forms that rose hundreds of feet into the air, the massive trees towered over them, making the young prince and his companions feel as small as ants. Josiah took a deep breath and then let it out slowly. His heart pounded with fear.

The trio entered the forest, following a narrow path that ran up from the beach. The forest was dark and cold, with enormous hanging vines and huge, unusual plants unlike any that Josiah had ever seen. Grayish tufts of moss hung high overhead from dark branches slick with moisture. The atmosphere in the strange forest made Josiah uneasy. He turned to Gilda and Selwyn. “Stay close together,” he said, whispering without realizing it. “This forest is unlike anything I have ever seen. There’s no telling what sort of creatures inhabit a place like this.”

“It’s so dark in here,” Princess Gilda whispered, looking around fearfully in the gloom of the forest. “How will we find our way?”

The two boys pulled their books from their doublets at the same instant. When they opened the volumes, the pages began to glow with a brilliant white light. Turning his book so that the light illuminated the footpath before him, Josiah led the way. A gentle rain began to fall on the dense canopy of trees overhead and within minutes the water was dripping down upon them with every step.

“We need to find a place of shelter,” Selwyn suggested. “We’re already soaked from our plunge into the sea, but this rain isn’t helping anything.”

“There,” Josiah declared, holding his book high. “What do you think?”

They were standing at the edge of a small, mossy clearing ringed with tall trees. In the center of the clearing stood a cluster of giant toadstools which appeared as indistinct shadows in the dim light. The unusual fungi ranged in height from four to six feet, with caps that were bigger than the wheels on a farm wagon. Josiah, Gilda, and Selwyn scrambled under one of the shorter toadstools and huddled together for warmth.

“The parchment!” Josiah’s heart sank. “Selwyn, I lost the pardon for Everyman. It must have washed overboard when that huge wave struck the ship!”

“Are you sure?” his friend asked in dismay.

“I don’t have it with me.”

Discouragement descended upon Josiah, Selwyn, and Gilda as they realized that the precious pardon from King Emmanuel was missing. Without it, there was no point in continuing. “Maybe we should go back,” Gilda suggested in a timid voice that quavered with emotion. The boys said nothing.

Night stole swiftly over the forest and it soon became so dark that they could scarcely see one another. An owl hooted nearby. Josiah shivered at the sound. “Maybe we should go back,” Gilda said again. “Captain Faithful Witness said that they would stay and repair the ship, so the Obedience should still be moored in the bay.”

“Aye, but we’d never find our way in the darkness,” her brother retorted.

“We can’t go back,” Josiah said resolutely. “King Emmanuel sent us on this mission. He’s counting on us to deliver the pardon! I won’t fail my King.”

“But we don’t have the pardon,” the princess argued, “so there’s no point in going on. We’ve failed already.”

“Listen!” Selwyn said urgently. The sound of twigs snapping told them that someone or something was coming down the path toward them.

Moments later they all heard an odd wheezing, scratching sound. Josiah held his breath as he waited to see what sort of creature was coming down the path. A pale green light glowed softly as it moved toward them with a fluid bobbing motion. When it came closer, the trio was amazed to see a huge, glowing caterpillar nearly three feet tall and more than twelve feet long! The unusual creature snorted and puffed as it resolutely wriggled its way through the dense forest.

The enormous caterpillar paused as it entered the clearing. The green glow illuminated the area and the young people could now see that the toadstools were a pale purplish color. The caterpillar raised the front portion of its body into the air and slowly swiveled from side to side as if it were searching for something. The creature’s face was a hideous black mask that writhed and contorted continuously.

“It knows that we’re here,” Gilda whimpered softly. “It’s looking for us!”

“Sh-h!” Josiah whispered.

The caterpillar shuffled closer and then raised up again and slowly turned from side to side. It did indeed appear to be searching for them. The three young people flattened themselves fearfully against the mossy ground.

After a few moments the enormous caterpillar turned and shuffled away, puffing and snorting as it went. The green glow faded from view when the unusual creature had passed. Selwyn let out a low whistle. “That is going to be one huge butterfly!”

“Hark!” Gilda said quietly. “Something else is coming!”

A pale green glow again illuminated the lower trunks of the gigantic trees. With the snapping of twigs and branches announcing its arrival, a second giant caterpillar entered the clearing. Just as the first had done, this one raised the front portion of its body off the ground and moved slowly from side to side as if it were searching for something. Moments later it moved away through the forest and the green light faded away.

“How many of these things are there?” Gilda whimpered. “They’re so big and so… so horrid!”

At that moment a tremendous racket shattered the silence of the forest, startling the three young people. The sound was deafening. Josiah listened intently. The noise was so loud that it pounded painfully inside his head, but there was something strangely familiar about it.

“Behold!” Selwyn whispered. He had opened his book and in the light of its pages the three young people could see a gigantic cricket just beyond the cluster of toadstools. The huge insect’s wings vibrated rapidly as a thunderous chirp reverberated through the forest. This cricket was a thousand times louder than any cricket that Josiah had ever heard.

“It’s just a cricket,” Josiah said.

“Aye, but it’s almost four feet tall!” Gilda replied. “Oh, Selwyn, I’m afraid!” She huddled closer to her brother.

The night was long. The darkness was alive with strange clicks and buzzes and grunts and chirps and other bizarre sounds that struck fear into the hearts of the three royal visitors huddled beneath the toadstools. All throughout that long night the mossy clearing was visited countless times by gigantic, glowing caterpillars. They usually came singly, sometimes in groups of two or three or four, and each and every time Josiah, Selwyn and Gilda cowered in terror. Finally, the darkness gradually gave way to the light of morning.

“I didn’t sleep once,” Gilda said, crawling from beneath her toadstool hiding place and stretching. “Those scary noises kept me awake all night, and those horrid, horrid, caterpillars…” She shuddered, leaving the sentence unfinished.

Prince Josiah stood and stretched. He turned in a full circle, studying the little clearing in which he and his companions had spent the night. A thick mist hung just above the ground, giving the area an eerie, unearthly atmosphere. The toadstools now appeared powder blue in the pale light of morning. “Which way did we come?” Josiah asked. “I don’t even see the trail.”

“I don’t know, but we need to head back to the ship,” Selwyn said, appearing at his elbow just then. “Perhaps we can travel back to the Castle of Faith and somehow obtain another pardon for Everyman.”

Josiah frowned. “Aye, but which way do we go? The trees are so thick that we cannot even see the sun, and I see no sign of the trail. How are we going to find our way back to the bay?”

Just then the ground shook violently beneath their feet, causing them to lose their balance and fall to their knees. Gilda sprang forward and grabbed her companions by the arms. Her eyes were wide with fright. “It’s an earthquake!” she cried.

The earth shook again. “It’s worse than that,” Josiah replied. “It’s a giant!”

The earth trembled and convulsed as the three travelers scrambled back under their toadstool. Their hearts pounded with fear. A huge boot suddenly crashed down through the branches at the edge of the clearing. Black and shiny with a huge silver buckle, the boot was more than twelve feet tall! Just above the boot was a huge green legging as thick as an oak tree. The smaller trees of the forest obscured the rest of the leg from view.

The boot swept upwards and disappeared from sight. Josiah leaned forward and peered from beneath the toadstool. Through a gap in the trees he saw a fearsome sight—a colossal, familiar face framed with red hair and a curly red beard. “It’s the G-Giant of F-Fear!” he stammered. “But now he’s ninety feet tall!”

A roar of rage shook the forest. “Who’s trespassing on my land?” the giant cried. “I know that you’re there! Come out and show yourselves!”

“W-what s-should we d-do?” Selwyn stammered.

“Stay hidden!” Josiah whispered. “If he finds us he’ll lock us up as prisoners!”

“Beware!” Gilda screamed.

A huge thumb and fingers had suddenly appeared beside the toadstool. Josiah, Selwyn and Gilda dropped to the ground to avoid the grasping fingers. The cap of the toadstool abruptly disappeared as the giant hand plucked it from the stem, exposing the three terrified youth. “There you are!” the giant roared. “You can’t hide from me!”

A huge hand reached for them, but Josiah was ready. With all his might he drove the blade of his sword into the huge thumb of the giant. A roar of pain shook the forest and the hand disappeared.

“Run!” Josiah shouted. Leaping to his feet he scrambled under another toadstool. Selwyn and Gilda were right behind him.

The cap of that toadstool disappeared as the Giant of Fear plucked it from the stem. The giant’s face was contorted with rage. Cupping both hands, he pounced, but his intended quarry were already scrambling to other hiding places. “I’ll catch you!” he screamed in fury. “You’ll not escape me again!”

Josiah crouched beneath a dense thicket, breathing hard and trying to quiet his pounding heart. Remembering that the giant could not easily hear one so small, he called softly, “Selwyn! Gilda! Where are you?” We’ve got to stay together, he thought desperately. If we get separated, we’ll never find each other!

“Josiah!” The young prince turned, and, to his immense relief, saw Selwyn scramble in beside him.

“Where’s Gilda?”

“I don’t know,” Selwyn said with a look of anguish on his face. “I was hoping that she was with you.”

Josiah turned. “Look!”

The Giant of Fear was down on his hands and knees, carefully parting the vegetation and searching diligently. Both boys knew immediately what he was seeking. “Josiah!” Selwyn whispered urgently, “we have to find her before he does!”

“Follow me,” Josiah urged, and darted from beneath the thicket. The giant’s back was to him, so he felt safe in dashing across the clearing to dart beneath a row of gigantic ferns that hugged the ground. Selwyn joined him.

“We have to find Gilda!” Selwyn said urgently. “Josiah, we have to find her!”

Josiah turned and faced his friend. He put both hands on Selwyn’s shoulders and looked into his eyes. “We’ll find her, Selwyn. We’re not going anywhere without her. We’ll find her.”

“Come hither, tiny maiden,” the Giant of Fear called suddenly. “You can’t escape from me!” Still on his hands and knees, the giant leaned down until his face was just a few feet above the ground. Parting the dense vegetation with his huge hands, he flattened small trees and bushes as easily as a child would part a clump of grass.

“He’s seen her, Josiah!” Selwyn cried. “Come on!”

The two young princes dashed through the woods as fast as they could. Josiah circled around to the side of the giant to avoid being spotted. Selwyn followed him. Josiah ducked behind a fallen log. “Gilda!” he called softly. “Gilda! Where are you?”

“The giant will hear you!” Selwyn warned.

“He can’t hear us very well,” Josiah replied. “We’re too small.”

“Gilda!” Selwyn called. “Gilda, we’re coming!”

The boys moved closer. A huge hand swept over them, flattening the bushes around them and knocking the boys flat. Josiah rolled over and seized his sword, but the hand passed on. Apparently the giant hadn’t seen them.

“Look!” Selwyn pointed. Ten paces away, a dense thicket trembled with movement. “It’s Gilda! Come on!”

The two princes dashed forward and threw themselves beneath the thicket. “Gilda!” Selwyn called in greeting. “We thought you—” The words died in his throat. The disturbance in the thicket wasn’t caused by his sister. The boys were face to face with one of the enormous caterpillars! The huge, repulsive creature wriggled toward them. The large mouth was rapidly opening and closing in the middle of the hideous black face. Selwyn was closest to the terrifying creature and he stood frozen with terror, unable to move.

“Run!” Josiah shouted. He scrambled to the edge of the thicket and then paused to check for the giant. Turning back, he saw that his friend was standing motionless, staring at the giant caterpillar. Selwyn’s eyes were wide and his mouth was open, but he was paralyzed by fear, unable to move. The caterpillar wriggled closer, its black face writhing and contorting, its mouth still opening and closing rapidly.

“Selwyn! Run!” Josiah scrambled over and grabbed his friend by the arm, wrenching him away from the caterpillar, which now was less than two feet away. Selwyn fell backwards. He recovered his senses and scrambled to his feet. “Run, Selwyn!” Josiah urged.

“Josiah! Selwyn! Over here!” The boys turned to see Gilda waving frantically from beneath a nearby fallen tree. “Over here! It’s a splendid place to hide.” The trunk of the tree was nearly ten feet thick with a small ravine beneath it, creating the perfect hiding place.

The two boys dashed over and rolled into the ravine beneath the giant tree. Selwyn grabbed his sister and hugged her. “I thought the giant had gotten you,” he teased, plainly relieved at being reunited with her. Gilda’s eyes were wet with tears.

“What do we do now?” the young princess asked. “He’s still searching for us!”

“We won’t find a better hiding place than this,” Josiah replied. “We’ll just wait here until he gets tired of searching and decides to leave.”

At that moment huge fingers closed around the trunk, whisking the enormous tree high into the air. “Run!” Josiah shouted, leaping to his feet and dashing toward the densest part of the forest in the hopes that the Giant of Fear would not be able to follow as quickly. Selwyn and Gilda were right on his heels.

The giant hurled the tree to one side and started after them. He tripped over his own feet and fell headlong, crashing to the earth with an impact that shook the forest.

The three terrified young people ran for their lives. The forest abruptly opened into a wide, unprotected meadow, but there was no time to choose a better course. Running as hard as they could, they dashed across it. Josiah looked over his shoulder just then to see a huge red head rise among the trees. The forest echoed with the giant’s snarl of rage. “Selwyn! The giant is now hundreds of feet tall!”

“Josiah! Beware!”

Josiah turned just in time to stop himself from plunging headlong into a deep chasm that bordered the meadow. Standing on the very brink, he stared down into the rocky canyon. Far below, a raging river thundered furiously over jagged rocks, throwing white spray high into the air. There was no way across the chasm, and the Giant of Fear was right behind them. Josiah could see no escape.

Chapter Four

 

The Giant of Fear turned and spotted Gilda, Selwyn, and Josiah. With a roar of indignation, he raced across the meadow toward them. The ground shook with his every step. The three young people were terrified. Not knowing what else to do, Josiah drew his sword. It’s no use, he told himself despairingly. This sword is no match against such a giant! I might as well fight a lion with a needle!

The angry giant tripped and fell just then, striking the earth with such force that acorns fell from nearby trees. He roared with pain and rage.

Josiah dashed toward a small clump of scraggly pine trees, the only hiding place that he could spot. “Selwyn! Gilda! This way!” The others followed.

“Prince Josiah!”

Josiah turned at the voice, and, to his amazement, saw a familiar figure standing at the brink of the chasm. “Sir Wisdom!”

The old man beckoned with his hand. “Come hither.” The three terrified young people needed no second invitation.

“Help us!” Josiah gasped, as he and his companions reached the spot where Sir Wisdom stood. “The Giant of Fear is after us!”

Sir Wisdom shook his head sadly. “Josiah, Josiah. Where is your faith?”

“Do something, sire,” the young prince begged. “Hide us! The giant is after us, and he’s several hundred feet tall!”

The Giant of Fear had reached the edge of the meadow. Seeing his prey standing at the brink of the canyon, he calmly stalked toward them, confident that they could not escape. Gilda was trembling as she seized the sleeve of the old man’s robe. “Save us, sire,” she pleaded.

“Josiah, give me your sword,” Sir Wisdom instructed. Josiah complied. The nobleman walked straight toward the Giant of Fear, raising the sword as he went. “You have no authority over these young ones!” he shouted. “They are servants to His Majesty, King Emmanuel, and I order you to harass them no more!”

“Stand aside, old man!” the Giant of Fear bellowed. “My quarrel is not with you.”

“I order you to leave them alone!” Sir Wisdom shouted, still advancing fearlessly toward the towering giant. “You have no authority here.”

“They are trespassing on my land,” the giant thundered, but his voice carried a conciliatory tone, as if he felt obliged to explain his actions.

“This is King Emmanuel’s land,” Sir Wisdom retorted. “All of Terrestria is his domain.”

“I have no quarrel with you, old man,” the Giant of Fear repeated. “Now, stand aside and let me have the trespassers,” With these words he stepped forward. Stooping down, he reached a colossal hand toward the three cowering youth.

“Behold what faith and your sword can do!” Sir Wisdom said to Josiah. Leaping forward, he drove the steel blade of the invincible sword right through the giant’s heart. A look of amazement and pain crossed the giant’s face. Without a word, he toppled backward and fell to the earth. The impact shook the meadow.

“You killed him!” Gilda cried with joy. “The Giant of Fear is dead!”

Sir Wisdom handed the sword to Josiah. “He will live to trouble others yet, I am sure, but we have won the victory today.”

“We thank you, sire,” Selwyn said fervently. “You have saved the life of my friend and my sister, and mine as well. We are grateful.”

Sir Wisdom smiled and turned to Josiah. “Why did you run from this ruffian?” he scolded. “Why did you not use your sword?”

“He was so tall,” Josiah said lamely. “And he…” His voice trailed off.

“Then why did you not send a petition to Emmanuel? His Majesty always stands ready to help in time of need, my prince. As his child, you have the assurance that he will receive every petition that you send.” The old nobleman sadly shook his head. “Josiah, I was greatly disappointed to see you and your companions running like frightened rabbits before this powerless buffoon.”

“But—but did you see how big he was?” Prince Selwyn squeaked nervously. “Josiah was right—the Giant of Fear was several hundred feet tall.”

Sir Wisdom turned toward him and gave a quiet snort of disgust. “Then why did you not send a petition to His Majesty? Enormous giants are child’s play to him.”

Selwyn shrugged, too embarrassed to speak.

“You do know how, do you not?” the old man queried kindly, stepping toward Selwyn. “My prince, you do know how to send a petition, do you not?”

“Certainly, sire,” Selwyn responded quickly. “I simply write a message, roll it up, and release it. It reaches the Golden City in an instant.”

“And King Emmanuel always receives the messages,” Gilda chimed in. “He is always ready to help.”

“The Giant of Fear has no authority over a child of King Emmanuel,” the old man said sternly. “The next time he harasses you, claim victory over him in the name of your King.”

“Of a truth, we will, sire,” Josiah said meekly. He paused, almost afraid to voice the question that he had to ask. “What path do we follow to get back to the ship?”

Sir Wisdom stared at him. “Pray, why would you desire to go back to the ship?” he asked. “Prince Josiah, I know about the mission upon which His Majesty has sent you. You have not yet delivered the pardon to Everyman. Why would you leave without completing your assignment?”

“We have lost the King’s parchment,” Prince Selwyn said quietly, coming to Josiah’s defense. “We cannot deliver the pardon to Everyman, for we no longer have it.”

“If we can get back to the ship, perhaps we can go back to the Castle of Faith and get another pardon from King Emmanuel,” Gilda spoke up. “But we do not even know in which direction the Bay of Opportunity lies, or how to find the ship.”

“We have failed our King already,” Josiah finished, hanging his head.

The old man smiled. “You have not failed your King,” he reassured them gently, looking from one young person to another. “You have not lost the pardon.” He extended a hand to Josiah. “Give me your book.” Josiah reached within his doublet and withdrew his book, a bit perplexed as he handed it to the old man. “King Emmanuel’s pardon for Everyman is found within the pages of your book,” Sir Wisdom told Josiah, opening the volume to the back. He held up a parchment, which was sealed with the royal seal of King Emmanuel. “Behold the King’s pardon.”

The three young people immediately felt a tremendous sense of relief. “Then we can continue with our mission,” Josiah declared.

Sir Wisdom replaced the precious document within the pages of the book. Closing the volume, he handed it back to the young prince. “The King’s pardon is always found within the pages of your book.”

He gestured across the mighty chasm stretching before them. “This is the River of Timidity,” he told them. “The Land of Unbelief lies on the far side. To reach the dungeon where Everyman is held, you must cross this river.”

“But how can we do that?” Prince Josiah asked in astonishment. “I see no way across.”

“Step across it,” the old man replied, with a slight smile. “How else?”

“What?” Josiah searched Sir Wisdom’s face, trying to determine whether or not the old man was jesting. “But sire, the chasm is at least a furlong across!”

“It is not as large or as difficult as you perceive it to be.” Sir Wisdom turned to Prince Selwyn and Princess Gilda. “Can you not step across it?”

The brother and sister both shook their heads. “I don’t think so, sire,” Selwyn said slowly. “As my friend Josiah has said, sire, the chasm is at least a furlong across. No man in Terrestria could hope to leap over that.”

“The River of Timidity must be crossed by any messenger from the King who will take a pardon to the inhabitants of the Land of Unbelief. For some, the crossing is very easy. Others falter and turn back when they reach this chasm, but the crossing is not as difficult as it would seem at first. Any child of the King may cross it with a simple step of faith.”

“But, sire, that’s impossible!” The words were out before Josiah could stop them.

Sir Wisdom turned to him. “Do you trust me, Josiah?”

“Aye, sire, but—”

“Have I ever lied to you?”

“Nay, sire.”

“Would I ever lead you astray, or do anything to harm you, or cause you to dishonor the name of your King?”

“Nay, sire.”

“Then do as I say, my prince. The River of Timidity must be crossed, or the pardon from King Emmanuel will never reach Everyman in time. Simply step across the chasm. It is not as difficult as you might think.”

“But, sire—”

“Trust me, Josiah. I speak for King Emmanuel. Step across the chasm.”

Josiah stepped to the very brink of the perilous chasm. His heart pounded with fear. His legs grew weak and began to tremble. He struggled to draw a breath.

“Simply step across, my prince.”

Taking a deep breath, the young prince stepped forward. He looked down, and to his utter astonishment, saw that he was stepping across a tiny furrow, at the bottom of which was a tiny trickle of water! In an instant he was standing safely on the opposite side.

“Are you all right?” Gilda stood at the edge of the little crevice, leaning forward and cupping her hands to her mouth as she shouted, though Josiah was standing barely a pace away.

“Aye, I’m all right,” Josiah replied in a quiet voice. Come on across.”

“What?” Gilda shouted.

“Come on across,” Josiah repeated. “It’s easy, and there is no need for fear.”

“I’m afraid!” Gilda shouted.

Josiah laughed. Could she not see that one small step would take her across the tiny rivulet of water? What was there to be afraid of?

“Step across, my child,” Sir Wisdom admonished her. “There is no need to fear.”

“Let my brother go first,” Gilda begged. “He’s the oldest, anyway.”

“That would be appropriate, would it not?” the old man agreed. “An older brother setting the example of faith for his little sister. Prince Selwyn, why don’t you go next?”

Selwyn paled, but he stepped to the edge of the tiny ditch, eyeing it with apprehension written across his face. He hesitated, glanced across at Josiah, and then shook his head. “I—I can’t,” he faltered. “I just can’t.”

“Trust me,” Sir Wisdom said gently. “I have served King Emmanuel faithfully for many generations, and I would never lead one of his children astray. The River of Timidity must be crossed if the pardon is to reach Everyman in time. Your King would not have sent you upon this assignment unless he knew that you would be successful. He will never lay upon one of his children any burden that is too great to bear. Prince Selwyn, trust your King and simply step in faith across the chasm.”

Selwyn hesitated for a moment, glanced across at Josiah, and then stepped across the tiny rivulet. Josiah saw the look of fear upon his face change instantly to one of utter astonishment.

After seeing the two boys cross successfully, Princess Gilda stepped to the edge of the chasm and without hesitation stepped across the River of Timidity. She immediately turned and stared down at the tiny streamlet of water. “It’s just a little trickle!” she exclaimed in astonishment. She turned to Sir Wisdom, who had stepped across to join them. “But why did it appear to be so huge a moment ago? It was a tremendous canyon.”

“There are obstacles in the path of anyone who will serve King Emmanuel,” the old man replied quietly. “Fear will magnify any obstacle, making it seem far larger than it really is. That’s why the tiny stream called the River of Timidity appeared to be a raging torrent at the bottom of a hazardous canyon. But when one steps out in faith and obedience to the King, the obstacles become small and insignificant.”

He gestured toward a narrow path that led through the woods. “Follow this path, for it will lead you right into the heart of the Land of Unbelief. It is there that you must begin your search for Everyman. Be careful to guard your own hearts for the King, lest the unbelief of this impoverished land should influence you. Take care that you do not wander into the Valley of Indifference, for it is perhaps the most treacherous place of all. The poisonous vapors from the swamps in that region produce a lethargy that is deadly to a child of the King.”

The forest before them was dense and foreboding, filled with ominous shadows and dark, indistinct forms. Anxious to show that she was unafraid, Princess Gilda hurried ahead around a bend in the trail. Seconds later her scream of terror filled the air. Josiah felt his own heart constrict with fear.

Gilda’s face was white as she darted back around the bend. She ran to Sir Wisdom and seized both of the old man’s hands. “It’s one of those horrid caterpillars!” she wailed. “It’s coming this way! Help us, sire!”

At that moment a huge caterpillar wriggled into view with the curious humping motion peculiar to such creatures. The enormous beast’s baggy skin was pale green with streaks of soft yellow and sagged in great folds and wrinkles like a garment three sizes too large. Fine, silvery hair several inches long covered most of the huge body, sparkling and glistening in the bright morning sun. The caterpillar’s hideous black face writhed and contorted and its mouth opened and closed repeatedly. As the three young people watched in dismay, the caterpillar wriggled up to Sir Wisdom, raised the upper portion of its body into the air, and proceeded to wriggle from side to side as it rubbed its ugly head against the old man’s shoulder.

“Leidra, old girl, how are you?” Sir Wisdom asked, gently stroking the head of the unusual creature with both hands.

The three young people stared in bewilderment. “Do you—do you know this caterpillar?” Gilda asked in amazement. “You were talking to it.”

“This is Leidra,” the old man replied. “She’s an avral. They’re quite friendly to humans, and can be very helpful in times of distress.” He beckoned with one hand to Gilda. “Come, my dear, stroke Leidra’s face for her. Avrals love to be touched.”

Gilda drew back. “I—I can’t,” she faltered.

“She won’t hurt you,” Sir Wisdom said gently. “She and her kindred have been searching for you, in order to guide you across the badlands.”

“They—they want to help us?” Josiah blurted.

“They’re really very helpful creatures,” the old man explained, “and they take great delight in being with humans.”

Josiah stepped closer. Reaching out timidly, he touched the black face of the avral, finding that the creature’s flesh was at the same time both firm and soft to the touch. The avral’s face writhed and contorted furiously. The mouth opened and closed erratically. Josiah drew back. “Did I hurt her?”

“Nay, nay,” the old man replied with a chuckle. “That’s her way of showing her delight at having you stroke her. She likes you.”

Josiah dropped his hands down on the avral’s body and began to stroke the fine silver hair, finding it extremely soft and silky to the touch. The huge creature wriggled with delight. Its face distorted and twisted even more rapidly. “This is incredible!” Josiah breathed. He vigorously stroked and petted the soft, silky body. Leidra responded by raising her upper body in the air and pressing against Josiah, like a dog jumping up to lick its master’s face. Instead of revulsion, the young prince felt a sense of wonderment and delight.

“She trusts you, Josiah,” Sir Wisdom told him, beaming with approval. “Avrals love to be with humans, but they usually don’t take to a stranger as readily as she has to you. She likes you.”

Selwyn stepped close and began to pet the giant caterpillar, and before long, Gilda was doing the same. “She’s so soft,” the young princess remarked. “Her hair is like silk.”

“I must leave you,” the old man told them, “but Leidra will accompany you across the badlands. Simply tell her where you want to go, and she will take you there. You can trust her implicitly.”

“Do avrals understand English?” Josiah asked in astonishment.

“They understand almost everything you say,” Sir Wisdom replied. “They’re very intelligent creatures, and, as I said, very helpful and affectionate. Leidra will be a great help in your search for Everyman.”

Gilda stepped in front of the great caterpillar and placed her hands on each side of the ugly, rubbery face. “I’m sorry for what I said about you, Leidra,” she said quietly. “I was afraid of you, for I had never seen an avral before last night. You really are quite nice; you really are. I hope we can be friends.”

Leidra’s face wriggled furiously. She leaned against Gilda. Sir Wisdom laughed. “I think she accepted your apology, Gilda.”

He glanced skyward to check the position of the sun. “Well, I really must be hurrying along. Go trusting in your King, and you shall find success in your mission. Leidra will assist you.”

“Wait, sire,” Prince Selwyn said. “I have a question. Do avrals become big butterflies or moths?”

“Avrals are the larva stage of huge butterfly-like creatures called lepidopteras,” the old man answered. “Lepidopteras have thirty-foot wingspans with the most dazzling, iridescent colors that you can imagine. They’re the most magnificent creatures in all of Terrestria! Leidra is relatively young, as avrals go. I think she’s a little less than three hundred years old, so she won’t change into a lepidoptera for another two or three hundred years.”

Sir Wisdom embraced each of them briefly. “Farewell, my young friends. I wish you every success in your mission for our King. You must make haste, for Everyman does not have much time left. If the King’s pardon does not reach him in time, he will perish. You must make haste.” With these words, the old man gave the avral an affectionate pat and then hurried off through the forest.

“Which way do we go?” Selwyn asked, looking about in the gloom of the forest. “There doesn’t seem to be any sort of a trail.”

Josiah moved forward and stepped in front of the avral, which immediately raised the front half of her body into the air. The young prince reached up and stroked her face. “Can you show us the way, Leidra?” he asked. “We have to find Everyman, but we don’t know the way.”

Leidra dropped to the ground and shuffled forward through the undergrowth. “Come on,” Josiah called to his companions, “I think she’s showing us the way!” Gilda and Selwyn fell in behind him and they began to follow her single file.

The avral scurried forward at such a brisk pace that the three young people had to hurry to keep up with her. Turning neither to the right nor the left, the huge caterpillar led them in a straight line through the forest, crashing through brambles and thickets, climbing over fallen logs, scrambling through ravines and gullies. Never varying one inch from her course, Leidra turned aside for nothing. Josiah waited to see what would happen when she encountered one of the mammoth trees, but to his amazement, the route that the avral had chosen passed between the trees without running up against any of them.

After twenty minutes of traveling at a brisk pace, the travelers left the forest behind. Leidra topped a small rise and then came to an abrupt stop. Huffing and puffing as they caught up with her, Josiah, Selwyn, and Gilda stared in amazement at the scene that met their eyes.

They found themselves standing at the brink of a gentle valley that looked as if it were made from transparent blue glass. The hillside on which they were standing fell away below them in a series of gentle ridges that shimmered and glistened with a strange blue light. There was no vegetation of any kind in the valley. Buttes and mesas and strange formations rose before them in the center of the valley, and all were made of the same glistening, transparent blue material.

“It’s a valley of glass,” Gilda breathed softly. “How beautiful.” She pointed. “Look, you can see the reflections of the clouds!”

Josiah stepped around Leidra. As his boots touched the transparent blue material, his feet shot out from under him without warning. He found himself sliding headfirst down the slick incline. It happened so quickly that he didn’t even have time to cry out.

Chapter Five

 

Prince Josiah’s heart raced as he plunged helplessly down the slippery slope. He picked up speed, sliding faster and faster and faster until his surroundings melted into a pale, indistinct blue. He reached out with both hands in an attempt to slow his descent, but the slope was as slick as wet ice and his frantic struggles found no handholds. Drawing his arms and legs close to his body, he curled up into a ball and waited.

He was abruptly thrown sideways, spun about, and catapulted back in the opposite direction. Moments later he found himself spinning dizzily round and round on his back. The blue world around him slowed to a gentle stop. He looked around. He was lying in a large depression of blue glass—or ice or crystal or whatever it was—about fifty feet across. Above him rose several shapeless projections of the transparent blue material. Apparently, they had halted his unexpected slide into the valley of glass. He rose shakily to his feet, but the basin was as slick as the rest of the valley, and his feet shot out from under him again.

“Josiah!” A tumbling, spinning form shot past him, careened wildly up the smooth face of one of the formations, and then plunged straight back at him. He rolled out of the way in the nick of time. As the whirling body slowed to a stop, Josiah saw that it was Gilda. Afraid to stand, he crawled carefully toward her.

“Josiah! Are you all right?” She tried to stand and fell flat.

“Don’t try to stand up,” Josiah cautioned. “It’s too slick. Are you hurt?”

“I think I’m all right,” she assured him. “Are you?”

“I’m fine,” he told her. He looked back up the slope in the direction from which he thought he had fallen. “Where’s Selwyn?”

“I—I don’t know,” she replied, biting her lip. “When you fell we both stepped forward and fell at the same time. I thought he’d be down here, too.”

“I’m right here,” Selwyn’s voice called, and they both turned to see him crawling carefully across the basin toward them. “How do we get out of here?”

“I don’t know,” Josiah replied, rising up on his knees and glancing around. “This stuff is as slick as glass!”

“It is glass,” Gilda said.

“We don’t know what it is, but it is slick,” Josiah told her. “Don’t try to stand up—you’ll just fall down again.”

“But how do we get out of here?” Selwyn asked again. “We’ll never climb back up that slope.”

Gilda pointed. “Look.”

The boys looked in the direction that she indicated and to their delight saw Leidra making her way down the slope toward them. The avral was gliding toward them with the same humping, wriggling motion that she used in the forest. The slippery slope seemed to cause her no difficulty whatever. “She can walk on glass!” Gilda cried.

The giant caterpillar came to a stop in front of the three young people and raised up in the air as if to greet them. Gilda crawled forward, and, gripping the avral’s fur, pulled herself to a standing position. “Leidra, are we glad to see you!”

“What is she doing?” Selwyn asked. The avral twisted her head around to one side and touched her back. Jerking back and forth, she repeated the motion several times.

“I think she wants us to climb on her back!” Josiah cried. “Perhaps she can carry us out of here.”

Gripping the avral’s silvery hair, Gilda managed to clamber up onto Leidra’s back. The creature’s rubbery face writhed and contorted and Josiah recognized the movements as a sign of pleasure. “That’s what she wanted,” he said. In no time, the two young princes were seated behind the girl, and the avral started forward.

“It’s like riding a horse made of silk,” Josiah commented, as Leidra carried them swiftly across the slick contours of the glass valley. “She’s softer than any saddle, and her movements are smoother than any horse.”

Gilda laughed. “This is like riding a horse and riding an ocean wave at the same time. Every few seconds it feels as if a wave is passing under us.” The wave of gentle motion passed beneath the three riders just then, lifting them two or three feet higher and then lightly lowering them again.

“Up and down, up and down,” Selwyn remarked. “It really does feel like we’re bobbing about in the water, doesn’t it?”

Leidra came to a steep incline, but the slippery slope proved to be no problem for her and she climbed it effortlessly. Gripping her silky fur, her three passengers hung on tighter than ever and somehow managed to keep their seats. “We would never have made it out of here without Leidra,” Josiah told the others.

The avral topped the incline and started down into a steep hollow. Josiah grasped Leidra’s fur with one hand and leaned down to touch the glassy surface upon which the giant caterpillar traveled so effortlessly. He marveled at the ease with which the avral moved.

Gilda pointed. “Look.”

Josiah leaned to one side to see around Selwyn and Gilda. A peasant man and woman were down upon their knees in the bottom of the slick ravine, clawing at the blue glass of the wall above them in a vain attempt to climb out of the valley. “We can help them,” Gilda suggested. “Leidra can carry them, too, I’m sure.”

“We’re here to help you,” Selwyn called to the two peasants as the avral approached the point where they struggled so helplessly. “Climb on.”

“We don’t need your help,” the man answered gruffly, never pausing in his attempt to climb the glassy wall. “We’re doing just fine on our own.”

The woman turned and glared at them. “Do you think that you’re better than we are? Why do you condemn us? Why do you look down on us? We’re just as good as you are.”

“We’re not trying to condemn you,” Josiah replied. “We’re trying to help you. The valley is slick, and the walls are too steep to climb, but the avral can climb them easily. She can have you out in no time.”

“We told you that we don’t need your help,” the man growled. “Now why don’t you just go away and leave us alone?”

Leidra moved on, leaving the peasants to their futile struggles. Josiah looked back and watched them for a moment, shaking his head in sorrow. The man and woman would never make it out of the glass valley on their own, but they were too proud to admit that they needed help.

Less than fifteen minutes later, Leidra had reached the far side of the glass valley. As she topped a small rise, the three young people could see a wilderness area with gently rolling hills and bright meadows. A narrow trail led across a small clearing and disappeared over the crest of a grassy hill adorned with colorful splashes of wildflowers. The avral scurried across to the trail and then stopped when she reached it.

“What is she waiting for?” Princess Gilda asked impatiently. “Come on, Leidra, let’s go!”

“I’m afraid this is the end of our ride,” Prince Josiah told her. “I think she wants us to get down.”

The three young people scrambled down from their comfortable perches on the back of the avral. “It’s back to walking,” Prince Selwyn said with a sigh. “This was a great way to travel.”

Leidra raised her upper body and rubbed her head against Josiah’s shoulder as if to say good-bye. She did the same with Gilda, and then with Selwyn. After saying her farewells, the giant caterpillar glided across the meadow to join two other avrals that were feeding on the lower branches of the trees bordering the clearing. “I’ll miss you, Leidra,” Gilda called softly. “I’m sorry for what I said about you and all the other avrals; for I had never met an avral before.” She wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand.

Watching Leidra wriggle across the meadow, Prince Josiah felt a haunting sense of loss. He would miss the enormous, gentle creature. In spite of her frightening appearance, the giant caterpillar had been a tremendous help to the young prince and his companions.

“Where do we go from here?” Selwyn asked.

“I suppose that we just follow the trail until we come to a town or village to ask directions,” Josiah replied.

“Perhaps we should send a petition to King Emmanuel,” Gilda suggested.

Josiah nodded. “Indeed we should. Our mission to deliver the pardon to Everyman will end in failure unless we have Emmanuel’s help and guidance.” He took a parchment from his book and wrote a brief message to Emmanuel.

To His Majesty, King Emmanuel:

We have entered the Land of Unbelief in search of Everyman that we might deliver your pardon to him. We humbly ask for your guidance and that you would grant us success in our mission for you. Keep us safe from harm.

Your children, Prince Selwyn, Princess Gilda, and Prince Josiah.”

 

Josiah rolled the parchment tightly and then released it. All three watched in silence as the petition shot from the young prince’s hand and disappeared over the trees. “It’s still so amazing, isn’t it,” Gilda remarked softly, “to think that we can communicate with King Emmanuel in an instant, no matter where we are!”

“The thing that thrills me,” Selwyn replied quietly, “is that His Majesty always receives our petitions simply because we are his children.”

Josiah smiled, for he had been thinking the very same thing.

The three young people started down the trail at a brisk pace. “If this is the Land of Unbelief,” Gilda said a moment later, “are we in any danger? I have heard of this land, and it seems that it was always spoken of as a place of peril and danger. And Sir Faithful warned us that it was a land of quicksands and storms and people who would try to hurt us.”

“I would not choose to come here,” Josiah replied, “were we not on a mission for King Emmanuel. If we go trusting in our King, I believe that we shall be safe from harm, even in the Land of Unbelief.”

“Sir Wisdom told us to guard our hearts,” Selwyn said, turning to look over his shoulder, for he was in the lead. “He said that the unbelief of this land can influence us if we are not careful.”

Josiah paused in the middle of the trail. Using his sword, he cut a stout staff to use as a walking stick. When Selwyn and Gilda admired his, he cut two more walking sticks. The three royal visitors continued their journey.

“We must be careful,” Josiah agreed, resuming the conversation from a moment before. He swung his staff at a leafy branch hanging over the trail. “The Land of Unbelief is a perilous place, but it is here that we will find Everyman.”

“What will happen to him if we do not find him in time?” Gilda worried.

“Everyman is a condemned man,” Josiah replied soberly. “If we fail to deliver King Emmanuel’s pardon in time, I suppose that he will be hanged.”

The young princess shuddered. “We must hurry,” she declared. “We must find him before it is too late!”

The boys both nodded in agreement.

Josiah had never met Everyman, but in his imagination he could almost see the condemned man languishing in his cold, dreary cell. He could imagine the look of terror that passed across the man’s face as he heard the tramp of the guards’ feet on the stone floor of the dungeon corridor. He could almost see the leering grins on the faces of the cruel guards as they unlocked the door. “Come, Everyman,” they would say, “Your time is up. The time has come for your walk to the gallows.”

“No!” Josiah shouted aloud, and his companions both looked at him in alarm. “We must not allow that to happen! Everyman has been pardoned. He has been set free by the King’s decree. We must not allow him to perish. We must reach him with the pardon!”

Selwyn grasped Josiah’s elbow. “We’ll reach him in time, Josiah,” he said quietly. “We must.”

Josiah looked up and the prison scene vanished. “I’m sorry,” he said sheepishly. “I was imagining the dungeon where Everyman is being held, and I could see the guards coming to take him to the gallows, and…” His voice faltered. “We have to reach him in time, Selwyn. We must!”

“We will, Josiah. We will.”

 

 

Two hours later the trio came to a fork in the trail. “Which way should we go?” called Gilda, who was hiking along five or ten paces ahead of the two young princes. “Both trails look the same.”

Josiah paused when he reached Gilda and reached within his doublet for his book, but at the same moment he spotted a woodcutter hiking up the trail toward them. The man was dressed in homespun and carried a sharp, double-bladed axe over his shoulder. “Sire,” Josiah called, forgetting his book for the moment, “are you a resident of this land? Do you know this region?”

“Indeed I am, my lord, and indeed I do. How may I be of assistance to my lords?” He gave a slight bow in Gilda’s direction. “And, of course, to my lady.”

“We’re looking for the Dungeon of Condemnation,” the young prince told the woodcutter. “We have a pardon from King Emmanuel for a prisoner who is called by the name of Everyman.”

“The Dungeon of Condemnation,” the woodcutter mumbled. “A pardon from the King. Hmm-mm. Aye, my lord, I can direct you there.” He turned and pointed down the pathway to the left. “This trail will take you through the Valley of Unfortunate Mistakes. Follow the trail, for it will lead you to the dungeon of which you speak.”

“We thank you, sire,” Selwyn told the man. “We are grateful for your help.”

The woodcutter bowed to each of them in turn. “I am thankful that I can be of service.” With these words, he hurried away.

Following the helpful woodcutter’s directions, Selwyn, Gilda, and Josiah took the trail to the left. The path was wide and easy to follow, but meandered back and forth repeatedly as it descended a rocky hillside with dense stands of young trees. As the travelers followed the winding trail, they soon found themselves passing through a strange, gray mist that hung just above the ground, obscuring the path.

“It’s hard to see the trail,” Gilda complained, looking at the unusual mists that swirled around her ankles. “What is this stuff?”

“It’s just fog,” Josiah answered, swinging his stick and breaking the top from a tall weed beside the trail. “I’m sure it won’t hurt us.”

The three travelers had no way of knowing it, but they had just entered the Valley of Indifference, a region of hidden swamps and marshes. The harmless-looking mists around their feet were in reality poisonous vapors from the marshes and were known as the Miasma of Lethargy. Had Prince Josiah, Prince Selwyn, and Princess Gilda known how harmful the misty vapors had been to many of the King’s messengers before them, they would have fled in haste.

Chapter Six

 

As Prince Josiah and his companions descended into the Valley of Indifference, they found themselves completely engulfed by the swirling mists. The vapors had now become so thick that the trail was all but invisible, and they had to stay close just to be able to see each other. Unaware of the extreme danger they were in, they pressed on, unconcerned.

“The fog is so thick that I can hardly see,” Princess Gilda complained, coughing a bit as a result of the vapors. “How will we know which way to go?”

“Just stay on the trail,” Josiah called, bending low in an effort to make out the path through the swirling mists. “The fog can’t last forever. If we press on I’m sure we’ll soon be out of it.” Pausing in the middle of the trail, his body was wracked with a fit of coughing but he failed to notice that anything was amiss.

Prince Selwyn bumped into him. “It’s getting harder and harder to see, Josiah. Maybe we should go back and wait until the fog lifts. If we come to a cliff or a drop-off, we could step right off the edge without even knowing that it’s there.”

Josiah laughed at him. “Your imagination is getting the best of you again, my friend. We’re on the trail. Do you think that the trail would lead over the edge of a cliff?” He hurried on. Gilda and Selwyn, not knowing what else to do, followed close behind.

A moment later Josiah spotted a plot of marshy ground bordering the trail. Bending low to examine the spot more closely, the young prince pointed it out to Selwyn. “Look,” he said, tauntingly, “we’re at the edge of a swamp. Do you think now that we’re in danger of falling off the side of the mountain? We’re down in a valley. I told you that we’re not in danger.”

Gilda moved closer. “Listen,” she said softly. “What is that sound?”

Selwyn and Josiah both heard it at the same time. From somewhere out in the mists, sounding faint and indistinct as if it were far away, came the soft sounds of a human voice. Somewhere, a young woman was singing. Mysterious, haunting, and incredibly beautiful, the melodic song rose and fell as the sound wafted across the valley. The woman’s voice was enchanting, and Josiah felt strangely drawn to the mysterious singer, although he could not see her. He longed to hear more.

“Perhaps we should keep going,” Gilda said quietly. Her voice trembled.

“Wait,” Josiah replied curtly. “I want to listen. I can’t make out the words of the song.”

“But I don’t like this fog,” the girl protested. “It makes me feel uneasy and… afraid.”

Josiah had already stepped from the path and was standing at the edge of the miry swamp. “Did you ever hear anything so beautiful?” he said softly to Selwyn, who had appeared through the mists to stand beside him. “Who is she?”

“I don’t know.” Selwyn’s eyes were glazed and held a faraway look, but Josiah didn’t notice.

Gilda appeared beside them and took her brother’s hand. “I don’t like this, Selwyn,” she said quietly. “I feel afraid. We need to keep traveling. We must find Everyman and deliver the pardon.”

“We’ll only be here a moment or two,” Josiah said sharply.

“But what about Everyman?” the girl whispered, as if she were afraid to speak aloud. “What if we don’t reach him in time?”

“If we don’t find him in time, someone else will. We’re not the only servants King Emmanuel has, you know.”

Intimidated by Josiah’s gruff manner, Gilda nodded and fell silent.

The mysterious song continued, soft and melodious and enchanting. The melody was at the same time both lonely and mournful, creating a deep sense of emptiness within the soul of the listener, and yet at the same time it was exhilarating and stimulating, creating the desire to hear more. Selwyn and Josiah, enchanted by the voice of the unknown singer, stepped from the trail and began to make their way through the swamp. Their boots sank deeply into the mire, but, completely mesmerized as they were by the haunting melody, neither youth noticed.

“Selwyn, wait!” Gilda called. “Josiah, wait! Come back! We must stay on the trail and continue with our search for Everyman.”

The two young princes ignored her and plodded on through the muck and mire. Terrified at the thought of being left behind in the swirling mists, the frightened girl stepped reluctantly from the trail and hurried after them. The mud of the swamp rose around her ankles, pulling at her feet with an unrelenting suction that frightened her, but she plunged on ahead resolutely.

Josiah also noticed the curious suction that pulled at his boots. It was as if the swamp was determined to swallow him up, and the sensation was a bit frightening. Ignoring his fears, the young prince slogged through the slimy mire. The voice was calling, wooing him, and beckoning him. The muck rose above the tops of his boots, but he failed to notice. His right foot plunged into a void and he fell face forward in the swamp. Struggling to regain his footing, he rose to his feet, covered from head to toe with the foul-smelling slime of the swamp.

He paused. Silence reigned over the marsh—the voice was gone. He stood quietly, head cocked to one side, listening intently. He scanned the marsh, eager for a glimpse of the stranger who sang so alluringly, but all he could see was the swirling mists around him. Selwyn appeared at his elbow. “She stopped,” he said quietly, with disappointment written across his face. “She stopped singing. How will we ever find her if she doesn’t sing?”

Prince Josiah held up one hand. “Listen.”

The enchanting song came again, sounding so tantalizingly near, and yet so far away. Josiah turned. “It’s coming from over there now.” He started toward the sound. The muck and mire of the swamp was deeper now, but he failed to notice.

“Josiah, wait! Selwyn, wait!” The boys turned. Gilda struggled toward them, lifting each foot high as she fought the unrelenting swamp. The filthy water was higher than her knees. Her gown, hands and arms were caked with mud; her hair was matted, and tiny rivulets of dirty water ran down her face. “Let’s go back!” she wailed. “The swamp is getting deeper, and we will soon lose our way. We must find Everyman! If we don’t find him—” The alluring voice of the unseen woman grew louder at that moment. Gilda paused in mid-sentence, turned toward the sound, and started in that direction.

Josiah, Selwyn, and Gilda pursued the elusive sound for the next hour. Enchanted by the beauty of the melody, they stumbled blindly through the swamp, always in hopes of catching a glimpse of the mysterious singer. The plight of Everyman was soon forgotten. Mesmerized by the ethereal music and overcome by the poisonous vapors, they had lost sight of their mission for King Emmanuel, lost their concern for Everyman, and forgotten their reason for even coming to the Land of Unbelief. The Valley of Indifference had taken its toll.

Selwyn stopped suddenly and Josiah bumped into him. “Why did you stop?” he demanded irritably. “Keep going! We’ll never find her if you keep stopping!”

“Listen,” Selwyn replied.

“Listen to what? I don’t hear anything.”

“That’s just it,” Selwyn replied. “She stopped singing. I haven’t heard her for the last several moments.”

“Well, we can’t find her if she doesn’t sing.”

“Keep searching for her,” Gilda begged softly.

Josiah ignored her. “Sing,” he urged in a whisper, unaware that he was even speaking aloud. “We can’t find you unless you sing! Please, sing.” But the mystery voice was silent.

The three royal messengers stood quietly in the Swamp of Indifference, listening intently, but the enchanting voice of the mysterious singer was not heard again. They waited and waited, but the lovely melody had died away like an echo in a canyon. The woman had vanished. Deep within his soul, Josiah felt an overwhelming sense of loss.

“Well,” Selwyn said with a sigh, “what do we do now?”

Josiah shrugged. “We need to find our way out of this wretched swamp,” he replied. “Somehow we need to find our way back to the ship.” Already King Emmanuel’s mission had been forgotten.

“But which way do we go?” Gilda wailed, staring in dismay at the swirling mists around them. “I have no idea which way we came.”

“We came this way,” her brother said confidently, turning about and slogging through the mire. After three or four laborious steps he paused and looked about uncertainly. “No, maybe we came from that direction.”

Gilda looked up at Josiah. “What do you think?” she asked timidly. “Which way should we go?”

Josiah hesitated. “I—I don’t know,” he said finally. “I have no idea which direction is which. The fog keeps us from seeing anything very clearly.” Selwyn and Gilda watched Josiah expectantly, waiting for him to make a decision. “I think we need to simply walk in a straight line,” the young prince said finally. “I have no idea which way we came, but if we just start walking we can get out of this swamp, as long as we don’t wander.” The others agreed and so they started off, doing their best to keep a straight course through the swirling mists.

An hour later they paused for a brief rest. Josiah noticed a troubled look pass across Selwyn’s face. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“That bush with the log lying across it,” his friend replied, pointing. “I saw it less than half an hour ago. We’ve been walking in circles!”

“That’s what I was afraid of,” Josiah said with a sigh. “But how are we to find our way out of here, if we can’t see more than five feet in front of us?”

“The book!” Gilda exclaimed. “Use the book. It will guide you.”

Josiah felt a sense of relief as he reached within his doublet for the book. Opening the precious volume, he turned it about until the pages began to glow with a bright light. Reassured, he started forward with his companions right behind him. Ten minutes later, the trio once again found themselves on firm ground, having left behind the Valley of Indifference with its poisonous vapors.

The narrow footpath on which they were now traveling led past a small farm. Two men, strong and solidly built, were busily loading hay onto a crude two-wheeled cart. Hitched to the cart, a steel-gray ox waited patiently. The men looked up from their work as the trio approached, and Josiah could tell by their features that they were father and son.

“Strangers in this region, are you not?” the older man called. “And what is your business in the Land of Unbelief?”

“We’re on business for His Majesty, King Emmanuel,” Josiah answered proudly, once again remembering their mission. “We have a pardon to deliver to a prisoner in the Dungeon of Condemnation. Would you be so kind as to tell us how we might find it, if you know the way?”

To Josiah’s surprise, both peasants burst into laughter. “On business for the King, are you?” the younger man snorted, howling with laughter. “Sure you are! And I’m the Crown Prince of Terrestria!” Both men doubled over, leaning on each other for support and laughing until the tears ran down their faces.

Gilda stamped her foot. “We are on business for the King!” she declared angrily. “All three of us are part of the Royal Family. I’m Princess Gilda, and this is Prince Selwyn and Prince Josiah.”

“Excuse us, Your Highness,” the younger peasant said with a sneer. “We humbly beg your pardon. We didn’t realize that we were in the presence of royalty!” He bowed, sweeping his yeoman’s cap off his head and bending from the waist in a long, exaggerated bow. His father roared with laughter.

Josiah boiled with anger at the mockery. “Princess Gilda tells the truth!” he said hotly. “You are in the presence of royalty. All three of us are the children of His Majesty, King Emmanuel, and we are engaged in a mission for His Majesty.”

The older peasant stepped close to Josiah and looked him over from head to toe. “Where did you sleep last night, Your Highness,” he taunted, “in a pigsty?” A row of even teeth flashed white in the broad, sunburned face as the man grinned derisively. “Your mouth says that you are royalty, lad, but your garments say otherwise.”

Selwyn spoke for the first time. “My sister and my friend are telling you the truth,” he said hotly. “Mock us if you will, peasant, but you are indeed in the presence of royalty. We are the sons and daughter of King Emmanuel, and we have come to the Land of Unbelief to deliver the King’s pardon to a condemned man.”

The peasant stepped backward and looked the three of them over with disdain. “I have never met King Emmanuel, but I find it hard to believe that he would send his children dressed in filthy garments such as you wear.” He laughed again. “And if you did find this condemned man of whom you speak, he would not receive the pardon from your hands. My young friends, you do not look like children of the King.”

Turning back to the oxcart, he used his pitchfork to pick up a huge clump of hay and hurl it onto the cart. “Come, son,” he said, “let us detain our royal visitors no longer. We have work to do, and they are on business for the King!” Both men were laughing as they resumed the work of loading the cart.

Josiah, Selwyn, and Gilda hurried down the trail. “They didn’t believe us,” Gilda pouted. “We are the children of King Emmanuel and we are on a mission for our Father, but they didn’t believe us.”

Josiah was thoughtful. “The peasant was right, though. We don’t look like the children of King Emmanuel. We weren’t careful to keep our garments clean, and now we don’t look like the representatives of King Emmanuel at all. I suppose if we were to find Everyman just now and attempt to deliver the pardon, perhaps he would not even listen to us. We didn’t keep our garments clean.”

Gilda and Selwyn stopped in the middle of the trail. Their faces fell as they examined their hands, arms and clothing, seemingly noticing for the first time that they were caked with mud and slime. “What do we need to do, Josiah?” Selwyn asked quietly. “We can’t go looking like this, since we represent King Emmanuel.”

Josiah’s heart leaped as his gaze fell upon a quiet stream flowing parallel to the path. “The Stream of Forgiveness!” he cried. “I did not expect to see it here in the Land of Unbelief, but it flows from the hill where King Emmanuel died for us, and it will cleanse our garments.” Without hesitation Josiah stepped into the water, wading out until the water was so deep that it flowed around his shoulders. “Come on in,” he called to Selwyn and Gilda. “This is the cleansing that we so desperately need. Once our garments are clean and spotless, we will be ready to deliver the King’s pardon to Everyman.”

At Josiah’s urging, the brother and sister joined him in the water. Moments later as they stepped from the stream, Gilda gave a shout of joy. “Look at my robe!” she cried in delight. “It’s so clean and white that it almost hurts my eyes to look at it.”

“My armor shines like the noonday sun,” Selwyn said happily.

“And now we are ready to deliver the pardon,” Josiah replied, “for we now look like children of the King.”

“What happened to us?” Selwyn asked. “How did we allow ourselves to become so covered with that foul mud and slime? It was as if we simply didn’t care.”

Josiah thought it over. “Sir Wisdom warned us about a place known as the Valley of Indifference,” he said slowly. “He said that the poisonous vapors could overcome us so that we would no longer care about fulfilling the King’s mission or delivering the pardon to Everyman. Apparently the fog we saw was more than just fog—it was the poisonous vapors that Sir Wisdom warned us of.”

“That man was sent by Argamor!” Gilda blurted suddenly. “He was sent to keep us from finding Everyman and delivering the King’s pardon.”

“What man?” her brother asked.

“The woodcutter who sent us through the valley,” the girl answered. “He gave us wrong directions to keep us from reaching the Dungeon of Condemnation and delivering the pardon to Everyman! He was sent by Argamor.”

“Aye, you may be right,” Josiah told her.

“Then the woman who sang so beautifully was also an agent for Argamor,” Selwyn surmised. “She lured us deeper into the Swamp of Indifference for the very same reason—to keep us from reaching Everyman. We lost sight of our mission and almost failed our King.”

“Aye, and we soiled our garments,” Gilda reminded him. “We might have dishonored the name of King Emmanuel if we had attempted to deliver the pardon when we were in that condition.”

“We must be very careful from now on,” Josiah told them both. “We must be on the lookout for any more agents of Argamor who will try to stop us from reaching the Dungeon of Condemnation. We must also be careful to keep our garments clean that we might honor the name of His Majesty and that we might deliver the pardon when we find Everyman.”

Prince Selwyn and Princess Gilda nodded in agreement.

“We will stop for no one,” Prince Josiah declared. “No one will keep us from finding the Dungeon of Condemnation and delivering the pardon to Everyman. Agreed?”

“Agreed,” Selwyn and Gilda chorused.

“No matter what happens or who tries to hinder us, we will not stop until we have completed our mission for the King. Agreed?”

“Agreed.”

The trio found themselves passing through a forest. The narrow path on which they walked was shaded by tall stands of sturdy oaks, maples and poplar. Occasional rays of golden sunlight penetrated the leafy canopy overhead to form bright pools of light on the dark floor of the forest. Wildflowers grew in abundance on both sides of the trail, creating brilliant splashes of color against the dark green of the forest. White sulfur butterflies danced in the air above the flowers.

“This is a pretty place,” Gilda remarked, pausing in the middle of the trail to look about in wonder. “Let’s stop and rest awhile.”

“We must press on,” Josiah told her, “for we lost so much precious time wandering in the Swamp of Indifference.”

“Timber!” an urgent voice shouted in warning. The startled young people looked up just in time to see a huge tree crashing down upon them.

Chapter Seven

 

With a loud cracking, snapping sound, the huge tree fell straight toward Prince Josiah and his two companions, slicing like a giant knife through the canopy of smaller trees around it. Josiah tensed, preparing to leap clear of the danger, but saw that Selwyn and Gilda stood rooted to the spot. Open-mouthed, they stared up at the immense tree about to crush them to the earth.

“Run!” Josiah shouted, leaping forward and shoving his companions with all his might. The tree crashed to the earth behind them with an impact that shook the forest.

Josiah stood shakily to his feet. “Are you all right?” he asked Gilda and Selwyn, who were picking themselves up from the forest floor.

“I—I think so,” Gilda replied, brushing bits of grass and leaves from her clothing.

“Josiah,” Selwyn said quietly, “that tree would have flattened us had you not pushed us out of the way.”

“A thousand pardons, my lords!” A thin-faced peasant hurried forward, clutching a double-bit axe. “Are you all right? The tree was already falling, and then I saw you on the trail, and…” His voice trailed off. A worried look creased his face, and he bit his lower lip nervously. “I ask your pardon, my lords and my lady,” he said again. “It was an accident, I assure you! The tree was falling, and I could not stop it, and…”

“Aye, we’re all right,” Josiah assured him. “The tree came close, but it did not harm us.”

A look of relief swept across the woodcutter’s face. Dropping his axe, he clasped his hands in front of his face. “I am so thankful,” he said softly. “If the tree had injured you…”

A loud groan of distress interrupted his words. Josiah turned in the direction of the sound and gasped in horror. “There is a man beneath the tree!” he cried in dismay. “The tree has pinned him to the earth!”

The woodcutter leaped forward with a look of anguish upon his features. “It is my partner, Diversion,” he cried. “He tried to save you, and behold—the tree has fallen upon him!”

The woodcutter gazed at the young people with a beseeching look on his thin features. “You must help me,” he begged. “Help me get the tree off my friend. Please, we cannot leave him here to die!”

“We will help you, sire,” Josiah promised. “Show us what to do.”

The man beneath the fallen tree groaned again.

“Take my axe,” the woodcutter urged, pressing the tool into Selwyn’s hands. “Fell a small tree to wedge beneath the fallen one. Your friend and I will use the saw to cut my friend free.”

Prince Selwyn began to swing the axe against the base of a nearby tree. The woodcutter hurried away, and then reappeared moments later with a long, two-man saw. Prince Josiah manned one end of the big saw and helped cut the fallen tree into sections in order to free the pinned man. Princess Gilda helped by moving branches out of the way. In just minutes they were able to raise a section of the log high enough to drag the injured man from beneath it.

The thin-faced woodcutter knelt beside his friend, whose eyes were closed. “Diversion, are you all right? Speak to me!”

Diversion slowly opened his eyes. “It’s my legs,” he groaned. “I can’t move my legs.”

Just then two men appeared on the trail. Spotting the injured man lying on the ground, they immediately rushed over. “What happened?”

“A tree fell on him,” the thin woodcutter told them. “He can’t move his legs.”

“We’ll take him back to his hut,” the newcomers offered. Carefully lifting the fallen man, they carried him away through the woods.

“We’re going to be short a man,” the thin-faced woodcutter told the young people. “I need to ask for your help.”

“I’m sorry, sire, but we’re on a mission for the King and cannot stop to—” Josiah began, but Selwyn cut him off.

“What kind of help do you need from us, sire?”

“A bridge is being built over the stream, and Diversion and I were hauling the lumber for it. Now that he is hurt, we will be short a man and the builders of the bridge will be delayed. You must help us.”

“We wish that we could help, sire, but the King’s business requires haste,” Josiah began again. “Perhaps there are others—”

“What can we do?” Selwyn asked the man.

“We need you to haul timber,” the woodcutter. “I’ll show you what to do.”

Josiah stepped close to Selwyn. “We agreed not to stop for any reason, remember?” he said in a low voice. “We must continue until we have found Everyman and delivered the pardon.”

“Aye, but this is an emergency,” Selwyn argued. “And in a way, I suppose that we are responsible. The man was trying to save us when he was hurt.”

“But we are on the King’s business,” Josiah insisted. “We must not turn aside! Everyman will perish if the pardon is delayed.”

Gilda spoke up. “Selwyn’s right,” she declared. “We need to stop and help, especially since we were involved in the mishap.”

“But we have to keep going! We are on the King’s mission.”

“Go on without us if you must,” Selwyn retorted, “but my sister and I have chosen to stay and help.”

Josiah was frustrated. “You’re making a mistake.”

“So go on without us.”

“You know that I can’t do that! If we get separated, we’ll never find each other again.”

“Then do as you want, but Gilda and I are going to stay and help.”

The thin-faced woodcutter was watching them closely. Josiah stared at him. “Where have I seen you before, sire?”

“I do not know that you have ever seen me before, my lord. Have you ever traveled through this region before today?”

“Never, sire.”

“Then you have never laid eyes on me before this, my lord, for I have lived all of my days in the Land of Unbelief.”

“But you look familiar. I know that I have seen you somewhere.”

The woodcutter shrugged. “Not unless you have journeyed through the Land of Unbelief, my lord.” He turned to Selwyn and Gilda. “My partner and I have cut a number of crossbeams for the bridge, and I can use your help in carrying them to the building site. Follow me, and I will show you where they are.”

Selwyn and Gilda followed him readily. Josiah watched them for a moment, shrugged, and then followed along.

The woodcutter led them to a stack of freshly cut lumber. “Grab a beam and follow me,” he said. “I’ll show you where the bridge is being built.” Josiah, Selwyn, and Gilda obligingly each shouldered a beam and followed him down the narrow path through the woods. Moments later they came to the site of the bridge.

The structure, half-completed, spanned a narrow, slow-moving river. A sturdy stone abutment on each bank supported the ends of the wooden bridge while the center rested upon a stone pier standing in the middle of the river. Half a dozen workmen were busily putting the finishing touches on the stonework while another crew was adding crossbeams to the supporting framework. A third group of workmen was already preparing to put the planking in place. The building site swarmed with activity.

A stonemason looked up as they approached. “Aye, will you look at that! Unless my eyes deceive me, we now have royalty working for us.”

“Place your beams on that pile yonder,” the woodcutter told them, ignoring the stonemason. “You know where to find the rest of the beams. I’ll get back to work cutting timber.”

The three young people spent the next three hours hauling timbers, stone, and mortar for the building of the bridge. On one trip, Josiah noted that the new structure was wide enough for two farm wagons to pass each other easily, but that there was no road leading to the bridge. A narrow footpath meandered down to the bridge approach, and on the opposite side of the river, the riverbank terminated in a sheer granite cliff. The bridge went nowhere.

That’s strange, he told himself. Why would they build a bridge that leads to a dead end? This bridge is useless!

The thin-faced woodcutter came down to the bridge just then to check on their progress and noticed that Josiah was studying the bridge. “Back to work, my young friend,” he prompted. “There is much to be done. One must never stand idle.”

“Distraction,” one of the workmen called to the woodcutter, “give the lad a chance to catch his breath. There’s no need to work him until he drops.”

“We have our orders,” the woodcutter retorted sharply. “The bridge must be completed on schedule.”

Distraction! The woodcutter is called by the name Distraction! Josiah inhaled sharply. Suddenly he knew where he had seen the thin-faced man before.

He turned and hurried back into the woods and met Selwyn coming down the trail with a heavy beam on his shoulder. “I know where I’ve seen the woodcutter before,” Josiah said urgently. “He is called by the name Distraction. He works for Argamor!”

Selwyn stared at him. “Are you certain?”

“Aye,” the young prince replied. “I was on a mission for King Emmanuel one day when Distraction stopped me and asked me to help him catch a chicken. I caught the chicken instead of attending to the King’s business, and, as a result, failed in my mission. Later I realized that Distraction had been sent by Argamor to keep me from doing the King’s business.”

Selwyn looked skeptical.

“Selwyn, that’s exactly what’s happening today! We’re busy on a worthless project instead of carrying out the King’s mission. Distraction is keeping us from delivering the pardon to Everyman.”

“I’d hardly say that building a bridge is a worthless project, Josiah. And we do have a certain obligation here, you know. Diversion was injured while trying to keep us from getting hurt by the falling tree. We’re just taking his place.”

“I think that whole thing was staged,” Josiah told him. “Remember what we were talking about just before the tree fell? We had just agreed that we would let nothing stop us from reaching Everyman with the pardon. Moments later the tree falls and here we are, delayed again.”

“Are you saying that you think Diversion was not really hurt?”

Josiah nodded. “I think the entire episode was just a charade to distract us from the King’s business.”

Selwyn shook his head. “Josiah, that’s preposterous! And I think you’ll have to agree that we have an obligation to help since Diversion was hurt trying to save us.”

Josiah sighed. “Then look at the bridge we’re building, Selwyn. It leads nowhere! Did you see the riverbank on the other side? There’s a cliff there that must be at least eighty feet high. There’s no place to build a road. Why are we building a bridge in such a place?”

Selwyn frowned. “There’s a cliff there?”

“Just beyond the bridge. Didn’t you see it? The bridge goes nowhere!”

“I guess I was too busy working to notice,” Selwyn admitted.

“We need to leave this place immediately and resume our journey to the Dungeon of Condemnation,” Josiah insisted. He glanced upward. “There’s barely an hour of daylight left. Let’s find Gilda and tell her that we’re leaving immediately.”

“I heard my name,” Gilda’s voice announced, as she stepped around a bend in the trail. She was carrying a sack full of wooden pegs for the bridge. “Why aren’t you two working?”

“Gilda, we need to leave here immediately,” Josiah told her.

A puzzled frown appeared on her pretty face. “Why?”

“Josiah says that the woodcutter is an agent for Argamor,” Selwyn offered, and the tone of his voice told Josiah that his friend still did not fully believe him.

“His name is Distraction, and he works for Argamor,” the young prince explained. “Once, when I was on a mission for King Emmanuel, he distracted me from the King’s business and got me doing something else.”

“Chasing a chicken,” Selwyn snorted.

“A chicken?” Gilda looked confused.

“There’s no time to explain now,” Josiah said hastily. “Anyway, Distraction kept me from the King’s business and as a result I failed in my mission for His Majesty. Gilda, that’s what he’s doing to us today! We’re building this useless bridge instead of taking King Emmanuel’s pardon to Everyman.”

“But we have to help,” the girl replied. “Diversion was hurt because of us. We’re just taking his place.”

“That’s what Distraction wants us to think,” Josiah told her. “But I think that the whole episode with the falling tree was just a charade to draw us away from our mission.”

Gilda was thoughtful. “What should we do?”

“We need to leave right now,” Josiah insisted. “Drop the lumber and the pegs and let’s hurry away from here as fast as we can go.”

“Get back to work!” an angry voice snarled. “You three aren’t going anywhere until the bridge is finished!”

Startled, Josiah and his companions turned to see Distraction standing in the middle of the trail with an angry expression on his thin countenance. In his right hand he held a glittering sword. Behind him stood six workmen with drawn swords.

“Gilda, move behind us,” Josiah said quietly, as the men advanced toward them. The slender princess sought refuge against the base of an outcropping of granite. The boys took up positions in front of her. Josiah turned to Selwyn. “These men serve Argamor, and they are determined to stop us at any cost. Prepare to fight for King Emmanuel.”

Chapter Eight

 

Prince Josiah’s heart raced as the seven armed men stalked toward him and Prince Selwyn. He reached within his doublet and felt a calm assurance when his fingers closed around the book. “Draw your sword,” he said softly to his companion, “and remember that we fight in the strength of King Emmanuel!”

There came a terrific crashing sound from the bushes beside the trail, and the two young princes turned to see five more armed men step into view. Josiah was not surprised to see that Diversion was among them. Both boys drew their swords, and at the same instant, their opponents were suddenly clad in dark armor.

“It’s twelve against two,” Selwyn quavered, looking about in terror as the two groups of dark knights advanced upon them. “We don’t stand a chance!”

“We fight in the name of King Emmanuel,” Josiah answered quietly, “with swords that were fashioned by the King himself. We have the Shield of Faith. The victory is ours, Selwyn, for there is no restraint to our King to save by many or by few. And don’t forget that Gilda also wields a sword.”

“Throw down your swords, lads,” Distraction called, “or you will never leave this spot alive!”

“We serve King Emmanuel,” Josiah replied evenly. “By whose authority do you seek to detain us?”

“By the authority of Lord Argamor,” Distraction answered, “sovereign ruler of the Land of Unbelief and Lord of all Terrestria!”

“There’s your proof, Selwyn,” Josiah whispered to his companion. “King Emmanuel is Lord of Terrestria,” the young prince cried, “and Argamor is merely a usurper who would attempt to seize His Majesty’s throne!”

“Hold your tongue, lad!” Distraction shouted. “Drop your sword— or prepare to die!”

Josiah glanced at Selwyn and saw that his face was white and that his sword was trembling. “Trust in your King,” Josiah whispered.

“Th-there are t-twelve of them,” Selwyn stammered.

“And they are doomed to defeat,” Josiah replied. Raising his sword aloft, he shouted with all his might, “We fight in the name of His Majesty, King Emmanuel, and for the honor of his name!”

Both groups of dark knights came charging in at that instant, and the battle was joined. Gripping his invincible sword with both hands, Prince Josiah swung the mighty weapon with all his strength. The gleaming blade cut cleanly through the armor of the nearest dark knight, inflicting a mortal wound. The man retreated quickly.

A second knight came dashing in, swinging his sword furiously, and steel clashed against steel as Josiah met the assault. Josiah fought furiously, meeting each thrust of the enemy’s sword with a parry of his own blade. Within moments, the second knight was seriously wounded and retreated hastily.

Josiah glanced over at Selwyn and saw to his relief that his friend was beating back the advances of two dark knights.

Screaming furiously, the entire band of enemy knights charged in. Prince Josiah and Prince Selwyn stood shoulder to shoulder, meeting each blow of the enemy swords with the Shield of Faith and the Sword of the Spirit. The clearing rang with the sounds of the conflict—the clash of sword against sword, the shouts and cries of the combatants, the dull clank of swords striking shields and armor. Argamor’s band of dark knights could not stand before the invincible power of the mighty swords wielded by the two young princes. Shouting the name of their King and swinging their swords with all their might, Selwyn and Josiah drove the enemy backwards.

“We have them on the run, Josiah!” Selwyn exulted, his eyes wide with astonishment. “There are a dozen of them, but they cannot stand before us!”

“I wish Sir Faithful could see me now,” Josiah replied, thrusting with his sword and dealing an enemy knight a mortal blow. “I don’t think he realizes how well he taught me, or how well I can wield a sword.”

Selwyn laughed. His face was flushed with excitement, and he was clearly enjoying the sweet taste of victory. “May I remind you that you’re not the only one engaged in this battle against evil? I’d say that my sword is also doing rather well. Distraction didn’t know what he was getting into when he challenged the two of us, did he?”

At that moment the tide of the battle turned, and the two young princes suddenly found themselves driven backwards by an unexpected assault. Within moments they had lost every bit of ground that they had gained and found themselves forced back against the rocky ledge where Gilda stood.

“What happened, Josiah?” Selwyn cried in dismay. “We were easily winning the victory over these evil ones, and now they are about to overcome us!”

An enemy knight swung a vicious blow just then, and Josiah failed to get his Shield of Faith up in time. The sword pierced Josiah’s armor, inflicting a serious wound to his shoulder. Josiah reeled in pain. Anxious to follow through, the knight lifted his sword for a second blow. Selwyn came to Josiah’s rescue, leaping in and desperately swinging his sword as he drove the knight back. Gilda swung her sword with both hands, inflicting a mortal wound to the enemy knight. With a crash of armor, he fell to the ground.

“Selwyn! Beware!” Gilda screamed. A tall knight had leaped in between Selwyn and Josiah. Raising his sword with both hands, he clearly intended to take off Selwyn’s head. Josiah saw what was about to take place. Unable to raise his sword in time to fend off the blow, he lowered his head and charged straight into the enemy knight, knocking him off balance. With the clatter of armor both combatants tumbled to the ground.

Panting heavily, Selwyn leaped out of the midst of the danger and dashed to the rock. Holding his sword at the ready, he stood with his back to the rock as he attempted to catch his breath. Josiah rolled free, leaped to his feet, and managed to reach Selwyn safely.

“This is it, Josiah,” Selwyn panted. “I can’t take much more, and you are wounded. We’re losing the battle. The enemy knights have won!”

“Oh, no, they haven’t,” Josiah declared fiercely through gritted teeth. “We are losing because we grew overconfident and started trusting in ourselves and our own abilities. Our pride has been our downfall. We must trust in our King, Selwyn, for only then shall we win the battle. But we are not yet defeated.”

Raising his sword high, the young prince cried, “For the honor and glory of King Emmanuel!” His shoulder throbbed with pain but he gritted his teeth and charged forward, swinging the glittering weapon with all his strength. Selwyn was at his side. Shoulder to shoulder, the two young princes valiantly fought their way through the band of dark knights. “Fight in the strength of King Emmanuel,” Josiah called to his companion. “We cannot win the battle in our own strength!”

A tall knight leaped forward swinging a heavy mace at Josiah’s head. Josiah took the blow with his Shield of Faith, and then put the enemy knight to flight with the Sword of the Spirit.

“His strength becomes our strength as we trust him for it,” Selwyn agreed, swinging his sword furiously to meet the attack of two dark knights. “We dare not attempt to fight this battle in our own strength, for then we must surely be defeated.” One of the enemy knights leaped forward at that instant, thrusting viciously with his sword as he attempted to run the blade through Selwyn’s heart. The young prince met the attack with his Shield of Faith and then used his sword to vanquish the adversary.

“And King Emmanuel must receive the glory when we are victorious,” Josiah said, “for in reality, the battle is his.” He lifted his sword high. “For the honor of King Emmanuel!”

Shouting the name of their great King, Prince Josiah and Prince Selwyn advanced steadily forward, driving the enemy before them. The clearing rang with the sounds of the conflict. Gilda held her position beside the rock, using her own sword to defend herself as she watched the furious battle.

Josiah raised his shield just in time to protect himself from the violent blow of a sword. His adversary, a tall knight whose shield bore a fiery dragon as his coat of arms, swung his great sword with both hands. Screaming with fury, the enemy knight rained blow after blow down upon the young prince, moving so quickly that Josiah was hard pressed to meet the assault. “Help me, King Emmanuel!” he cried. Meeting the blow of the enemy sword with his shield, Josiah swung his own sword with all his might. The steel blade sliced cleanly through the dark knight’s shield, shattering his armor and inflicting a terrible wound. The knight fell to the ground.

A dark knight with sword drawn slipped quietly up behind Selwyn. “Selwyn!” Gilda called. “Beware!” Swinging her own sword with both hands, the girl dashed bravely forward and brought the weapon down hard against the back of the knight’s helmet. The man crumpled to the ground.

“Gilda,” Josiah teased, “that wasn’t ladylike!”

Gilda shrugged in mock despair. “A thousand pardons, my lord. I hope that my actions haven’t made a bad impression upon you.”

Selwyn laughed as he looked at the badly dented helmet on the motionless form of the knight upon the ground. “Your actions, my lady, made quite a lasting impression upon that unfortunate knight!” He hugged her. “Thanks, Gilda.”

Josiah laughed. He took a deep breath and looked around. Several dark forms lay motionless upon the ground, but there were no dark knights ready to do battle. “Where is the enemy?” he called.

Selwyn was breathing heavily. “We have won the battle in the name of King Emmanuel!” he exulted. “The enemy knights who have not been killed or severely wounded have fled for their lives. The victory is ours.”

Josiah raised his sword triumphantly. “And the glory belongs to King Emmanuel.”

Selwyn lowered his sword as he walked over to Josiah. “How is your shoulder?”

“It hurts badly,” Josiah admitted. “You can help me bandage it as soon as we know for certain that the enemy will not return.” He smiled ruefully. “Perhaps it will serve as a reminder to me not to trust in my own strength the next time we face an adversary.”

Gilda lowered her sword as she eyed the fallen forms upon the ground. “I was so afraid,” she whispered. “For a few moments it looked as if those knights were going to kill us all. There were so many of them.”

“King Emmanuel gave us strength,” her brother replied. “When we remembered to trust in him instead of in ourselves, we won the victory.”

Josiah’s shoulder was soon bandaged and the royal trio once again set out on their mission. “Nothing will stop us now,” Josiah declared. “We must find the Dungeon of Condemnation and deliver the pardon to Everyman.”

The path upon which they traveled led down to the edge of a small, winding river, then turned and began to follow its banks. Large willows hung gracefully over the path, providing shade as they walked along. Before long they came to a gristmill. Pausing in the middle of the trail, they watched the waterwheel as it turned round and round, spilling water into a narrow channel.

Princess Gilda laid a gentle hand on Josiah’s arm. “Listen,” she said softly. “I hear someone weeping.”

The boys paused, listening intently. Barely audible above the buzz of insects were the quiet sounds of a woman crying. Josiah looked around.

Gilda pointed. “Over there.”

Slumped against the stone wall of the mill, partially hidden from view by the deep green leaves of an elderberry bush, was a peasant woman. Her face was buried in her hands and she sobbed as if her heart would break. Josiah, Gilda, and Selwyn walked timidly forward.

Prince Josiah cleared his throat. “My good woman,” he said quietly, completely unsure as to how to begin, “it appears that you are in deep trouble. How can we help?”

The woman did not even raise her head. “Alas, no one can help me,” she sobbed. Rocking back and forth in her grief, she let out a wail of anguish. “It is too late.”

“But—but we would like to try,” Josiah said timidly, swallowing hard and wishing for the right words to say. “Will you please let us try to help?”

“Nay, no one can help me,” the woman said again. “It is too late, too late, too late.” She let out another wail. “Oh my poor, poor husband!”

Josiah looked at Selwyn and Gilda for help, but they both stood silently, staring first at the woman and then at him. The young prince cleared his throat again. He stepped forward and placed a gentle hand on the woman’s shoulder. “What is the problem with your husband?” he asked quietly. “Is there something we can do?”

“There’s nothing that anyone can do!” the woman wailed. She lowered her hands and raised her eyes to look at Josiah for the first time. Josiah saw an attractive young woman in her middle twenties. Her dark eyes were filled with misery as she silently studied Josiah’s face, then turned and looked at Gilda and Selwyn. Sobs racked her body and she lowered her face into her hands again. “Alas, it is too late for my poor husband,” she wailed, again rocking miserably from side to side like a small child. “There’s nothing that anyone can do.”

“Please tell us what the trouble is,” Josiah said softly.

“Alas, what will we do when my poor husband is gone?” the peasant woman moaned, as if she had not heard him. “Whatever will my little child and I do?”

“Tell us how we can help,” Gilda said softly.

The woman lowered her hands until her eyes were just visible above the tips of her fingers. “Please, leave me alone. There’s nothing that anyone can do now. It’s too late.”

Josiah gently squeezed her shoulder. “Please, tell us what is wrong,” he requested softly.

“My poor husband is in the dungeon, he is,” the woman whispered in a voice that was barely audible, “though if the truth be known, I am just as guilty as he.”

“Why—why is he in the dungeon?” The question came from Selwyn.

“He runs the mill,” was the whispered reply. “Or at least he did, that is, until it was discovered that he was shorting the farmers who came to have their corn and wheat ground. I had a part in it too, I did, but the constable took just him to the dungeon. And now I have learned—” The mournful woman dropped her face into her hands and began to sob again. “My poor husband is to be executed! Alas, they are going to hang him, and there’s nothing that I can do!”

Her body shook with convulsive sobs. Josiah, Selwyn and Gilda stood helplessly by, uncertain as to what to do.

The woman raised her head. “We have a two-year-old daughter, we do, and what will my child do without her father? I even went to the constable, I did, and offered to take my poor husband’s place, seeing how I was involved in the stealin’ too. But the constable wanted no part of it and told me that my husband would hang within a week! And that was three days ago.”

Josiah looked at Selwyn and Gilda and then turned back to the woman. “Perhaps we can help. We are the children of King Emmanuel, and perhaps—”

“Nay, there’s nothing anyone can do for my poor sweetheart,” the woman sobbed. “Now, please, just let me be. Woe is me, that I should see such a day!”

“Please, good woman, by what name is your husband called?” Gilda asked, taking the woman’s callused hand in her own small, smooth ones. “Please tell me.”

The peasant woman looked up at her. “I see not how it matters to you, my lady, but his name is Everyman. Nathaniel Everyman.”

The young princess gave a little shriek of joy. She turned to Josiah. “Tell her, Josiah! Tell her!”

Josiah was puzzled by the girl’s reaction. “Tell her what, Gilda?”

Gilda was jumping up and down. “Pray tell her about King Emmanuel’s pardon. Josiah, her husband is called by the name Everyman! We found him! We found Everyman! If she knows where the dungeon is, we can deliver the pardon to Everyman!”

Chapter Nine

 

Princess Gilda jumped up and down with joy and then hugged the peasant woman. “We have a pardon for your husband!” she exclaimed, dancing about in her delight. “A pardon from His Majesty, King Emmanuel.”

The woman looked up hesitantly at the three young people. “It’s true, good woman,” Selwyn assured her. “King Emmanuel has issued a pardon for your husband. He is now a free man.”

The woman bit the back of her knuckles and began to cry again. “If only it were so.” She dropped her head and her sobs shook her entire body. “Oh, if only it were so!”

Josiah withdrew his book from his doublet and then produced the pardon. He unrolled the document and showed it to the woman. “Here it is, good woman, signed by the King’s own hand and sealed with his royal seal. Your husband is now a free man! He has been pardoned by His Majesty, King Emmanuel. This document makes it official.”

Everyman’s wife raised a trembling hand to her mouth. The look of despair upon her face was slowly replaced by one of hope. “How can this be true?” she asked softly, not quite ready to believe the message that she was hearing from the lips of her three visitors. “Is it really true? Can such a thing be?”

“Aye, it’s true, good woman,” Josiah assured her, holding the precious parchment open for her inspection. “See for yourself! This is the pardon for your husband, and it was issued by King Emmanuel himself.”

The miller’s wife glanced at the parchment, and then back at Josiah’s face. “I cannot read, my lord, but if you say it is true, then it must be true.” A look of elation spread across her face as she stood to her feet. “Let’s go to him right now, shall we?” She clasped her hands in delight. “They won’t hang him! Oh, I can’t wait to see the look upon his face when I tell him that he is a free man!”

Impulsively, she hugged each of them. “Thank you for bringing me this piece of wonderful news,” she told them, with tears of joy streaming down her face. “This is the happiest day of my life!” Dipping her hands in the water at her feet, she washed the tears from her eyes. “Let me fetch my little one and then we’ll be off.”

The miller’s wife ran to the door of a small cottage hidden among the trees, disappeared inside, and then reappeared almost immediately. She was clutching a small, curly-haired child who was sleepily rubbing her eyes with the back of her fists. “This is Matilda,” the happy mother told them. “I woke her up from her nap, but I know that she will be delighted to see her father.”

She looked from one visitor to another. “Are we ready?”

Prince Josiah nodded. “Lead the way, good woman.”

The trek to the Dungeon of Condemnation where Everyman was being held took almost two hours. Josiah, Gilda, and Selwyn took turns carrying Matilda. Everyman’s wife bubbled over with joy. “Oh, you don’t know how happy I am,” she said repeatedly. “Thank you, thank you for bringing the wonderful pardon for my husband. This is the happiest day of my life!”

Josiah felt a warm glow inside. “We are honored that King Emmanuel chose us to deliver it,” he said quietly.

The sun was hanging low in the sky as the little party made their way over the crest of a rocky hill. “There it is!” Everyman’s wife exclaimed, pointing. “We’re almost there.”

A huge, ominous structure of dark stone lay in the fog-shrouded valley below. The setting sun cast its dying rays across the massive walls, sturdy gates and tall towers, giving them a reddish hue. Josiah knew that the forbidding building was the Dungeon of Condemnation, and he shuddered as he looked at it.

“There’s no time to lose,” Selwyn urged. “Darkness is almost upon us, and they’ll soon be locking the gates for the night.” Together, they hurried down the path and approached the gloomy dungeon. The walls towered above them, imposing and ominous.

A guard challenged them at the main gate. “What is your business here?” he growled.

“We—we have come with a pardon for one of y-your prisoners,” Josiah managed to croak, surprised to realize that he was trembling. What’s wrong with me? he asked himself. I’m a child of the King! Why should this man, a mere servant of Argamor, frighten me?

“Be off with you!” the guard snapped. “We have no time for such foolishness!”

“You must open to us,” Josiah demanded. “We have a pardon for one of the prisoners.”

“I know of no such pardon,” the guard snarled. “Now, be off with you!” Tipping back his head, he called to his companions high atop the wall, “Bar the gate!”

Josiah stepped closer. “But you must open to us,” he insisted. “We have a pardon for Everyman.”

Selwyn joined him. “The pardon is from His Majesty, the King. You must open the gate at once and allow us to deliver it to Everyman.”

The guard drew his sword. His dark eyes glittered with hatred. “I’ll give you a count of five,” he threatened, advancing slowly toward them, “and then I take off your heads!”

Everyman’s wife whimpered and took a step backwards, and the surly guard glanced in her direction. “The women, too,” he growled. “Be off with you now, or I take off all your heads!”

Selwyn and Josiah drew their swords at the same instant. “We come in the name of King Emmanuel,” Josiah insisted, “and you will open to us!”

“I gave you fair warning, and now it will be a pleasure to take off your heads,” the guard said, grinning with anticipation as he stalked toward them. With a snarl of rage, he was suddenly upon them, furiously swinging his sword.

Josiah met the attack with the steel of his own blade. After a few seconds of vigorous fighting, he dealt the guard a deadly blow, and the man fell to the pavement at his feet. The young prince strode forward. When he touched the latch on the massive iron gate, the barrier slowly swung open by itself. “Come on,” he urged the others, “let’s hurry!”

Four well-armed soldiers met them in the entryway below the gatehouse. “What is your business here?” they challenged.

“We come in the name of King Emmanuel,” Josiah replied boldly, displaying the parchment with one hand but holding his sword ready in the other. “We have a pardon from His Majesty for one of your prisoners, a man by the name of Everyman.”

One of the guards stepped forward, snatched the parchment from Josiah’s hand, and scanned it quickly. “Summon Captain Exclusion,” he called to his companions. One of the guards quickly disappeared down a shadowy corridor of the dungeon.

A huge, mean-tempered officer strode angrily into the light. “What is the meaning of this?” he barked. “Who is causing all the trouble?” His gaze fell upon the group standing timidly in the entryway, and he strode over. “Who are you?” he challenged. “What is your business here?”

“Sire, we have a pardon for one of the prisoners,” Josiah began, “and we are to have him released—”

“None of our prisoners will ever be released!” the huge man bellowed. “They are all under the sentence of death, and that sentence will be carried out.” He gestured toward the gate. “Now, be gone.”

Josiah stood his ground. “We have a pardon, sire, from King Emmanuel himself. We demand that the prisoner be released immediately. You have no authority to hold him.”

Captain Exclusion drew his sword. “The sentence of death has been passed upon every prisoner in this dungeon, and not a single one of them is to be released,” he declared. “I will not repeat myself. Now, you are to leave immediately.”

“Not without the prisoner Everyman,” Josiah announced flatly.

The captain’s features were contorted with rage. “Then I shall chop you into little pieces and feed you to the buzzards,” he announced, advancing menacingly toward them with his sword raised.

Josiah quickly unrolled the pardon parchment. “We have been sent by His Majesty, King Emmanuel,” he declared. “This pardon for Everyman was issued by King Emmanuel, and therefore you have no authority to hold the prisoner. We demand his release.”

Captain Exclusion paused with sword raised as he thought it through. Finally, he lowered the sword in frustration. He turned to one of the guards. “Take these… these people to the prisoner that they seek. Release him and be done with it!”

“Aye, sire,” the guard replied quietly. He took a sputtering torch from the wall and turned to the royal visitors. “Follow me.”

“Take the wretched prisoner and be gone,” the huge captain snarled at Josiah and his companions. “Don’t ever set foot within these walls again—or you will regret it, I assure you.”

The flickering torch did little to dispel the darkness as the guard led the silent group into the heart of the dismal Dungeon of Condemnation. Grotesque shadows danced on the cold stone walls of the narrow corridor that seemed to wind its way down into the very heart of the earth. The footfalls of the group echoed and reechoed through the dark passageway. Water seeped down the walls to flow across the floor in little rivulets. A large rat dashed past them in the darkness, and Gilda stifled a scream.

Josiah shuddered. His heart pounded as if it wanted out of his chest. The frightful atmosphere in the Dungeon of Condemnation was too much like the dungeon in which he had spent so many nights before King Emmanuel had set him free.

They came to a point where the narrow corridor intersected another, and the guard took the passageway to the left. “This way.”

This corridor was lined on both sides with prison cells. The flickering torch illuminated the narrow chambers as they passed, revealing some of the most pitiful wretches that Prince Josiah had ever seen. Empty, lifeless eyes stared back from the darkness. Skeletal hands clutched the bars. Tears welled up in Josiah’s eyes. These doomed souls—men, women, and children—were the captives of Argamor, and the sentence of death was upon every one of them. Josiah’s heart cried out in anguish at the thought.

A tiny hand reached through the bars as the flickering torch passed one cell, and Josiah saw the pitiful face of a child in the dark recesses of the filthy chamber. “Help me,” a pathetic voice called softly, hopelessly. “Won’t somebody help me?”

Gilda burst into tears. “Can’t we do something?” she begged. “Someone has to do something!” She reached out and touched the child’s arm. Tiny fingers grasped her wrist in a grip of desperation.

“Silence,” the guard growled, hurrying along the dark corridor. “Move faster!”

Gilda let out a wail as she pulled free from the child’s grasp and hurried to keep up with the others. Josiah saw the look of despair that swept across the tiny prisoner’s face and he felt as if his own heart were being torn out.

The flickering torch hurried past cells containing prisoners of all ages. Josiah saw men whose faces were filled with despair, women who had given up hope. He saw the empty stares of helpless youth, heard the crying of frightened children. He saw the feeble, twisted bodies of old men and women. And all of them were doomed to die. Sorrow overwhelmed him, settling with such a heavy weight upon his chest that he could scarcely breathe.

He looked at the miller’s wife and saw that her face was filled with terror. She clutched her little daughter fearfully to her chest.

An old woman stood with her body pressed against the bars of her cell. As the flickering torch approached, she reached a thin hand toward the little group. Silently, wordlessly, she was clearly asking for help.

“Can’t we do something for these poor people?” Gilda cried out again as they passed the desolate woman. Josiah’s heart ached.

Moments later the guard paused before a cell and held his torch high. “Everyman? Nathaniel Everyman? On your feet, wretch!”

The miller’s wife sprang forward eagerly, but after one glimpse of the cell’s occupant her countenance fell. “Guard,” she said in a trembling voice filled with disappointment, “this is the wrong cell. That is not my husband.”

The prisoner had been sitting upon the cold stone floor with his head down between his knees. As the group approached the bars he raised his head, and Josiah saw a gray, lifeless face with sunken eyes, matted brown hair, and a long beard. The man stood slowly, painfully, to his feet. His tall, battered frame was so thin that he had the appearance of a living skeleton. His hands were white and trembling as they gripped the bars.

“Guard,” the miller’s wife said again, stepping away from the bars, “you have brought us to the wrong cell. This is the wrong man. This is not my husband.”

“Rachel?” the skeleton croaked. “Rachel, is that you?”

The woman gave a cry of anguish. “Nathaniel! Oh, Nathaniel!” Springing forward, she reached through the bars and grabbed the pitiful figure in an embrace with one arm as she held her child with the other. “Oh, Nathaniel, I didn’t even know you!”

The tall prisoner was sobbing as he stroked the curly hair of his child with his left hand and the face of his wife with his right. “Rachel, Rachel. My dear, precious Rachel. And my dear little Matilda. I never thought that I would see your lovely faces again.”

Josiah swallowed hard. The tears streamed down his face. He looked at Selwyn and Gilda and saw that they were crying as well.

“Stand back, stand back,” the guard demanded in a flat, lifeless tone. With the clank of keys and the screech of rusty hinges, he unlocked the cell door.

The miller’s wife handed Matilda to Selwyn and sprang into the tiny cell, wrapping her arms around her husband. The tears flowed freely. “Oh, Nathaniel, Nathaniel.”

Everyman held her close for a moment. His eyes were closed but Josiah could see that his lips trembled with emotion. He took a deep, sobbing breath, and then, grasping the shoulders of his wife, held her at arms’ length. “Rachel,” he said in a husky voice edged with sorrow, “you shouldn’t have come. This will only make it worse. Dear Rachel, I am to die tomorrow!”

His wife grasped both of his hands in her smaller ones. Her eyes glittered in the light from the torch as she exclaimed, “That is why we have come, darling. The King has granted you a pardon. You are now a free man! They won’t hang you!”

Everyman was speechless. His mouth dropped open and he stared wordlessly at his wife. His lips moved, but no sound came out. Suddenly, his face flushed with color and his eyes sparkled with new life. He turned to the guard. “Is it true, sire? Is it true? Am I to be set free?”

The guard grunted and nodded without replying. His eyes smoldered with resentment.

Everyman gave a whoop of elation. He seized his wife and hugged her repeatedly as the tears of joy streamed down his face. Releasing his wife, he stepped from the cell and snatched his daughter from Selwyn’s arms. “Did you hear that, Matilda?” He hugged the tiny child so tightly that Josiah was sure that the life would be squeezed from her. “Papa’s coming home again! I’m a free man!”

It was a joyous group that followed the surly guard back to the entrance of the Dungeon of Condemnation. Josiah never even noticed the other prisoners in the surrounding cells; his attention was focused on the happy reunion taking place between Everyman and his family. As they reached the main gate, a resentful guard reached up to unbar the huge iron barrier.

With the screeching protest of rusty hinges, the huge gate swung open. Clutching his little daughter to his heart with one hand and embracing his wife with the other, Everyman stepped through to freedom. “I never thought that I would see this day,” he whispered, with tears streaming down his face. “I thought that I would be facing the hangman’s gallows tomorrow.”

Josiah felt a thrill of satisfaction sweep across his soul. “Thank you, King Emmanuel,” he whispered, “for allowing us to be the ones to deliver this poor man’s pardon.”

Selwyn touched his shoulder. “Josiah,” he said quietly, “this is the greatest mission that His Majesty could possibly have sent us on. This was better than storming a castle or conquering a city.”

“Wait!” a harsh voice called, and the happy group turned as one to see Captain Exclusion striding angrily toward the gate. “Wait just a minute!”

Everyman’s face paled with fear. “Is s-something wrong, sire?”

“Prisoner, by what name are you called?” the huge officer demanded, stepping so close to Everyman that he was breathing in his face.

“Everyman, s-sire,” the newly released prisoner stammered, with a desperate glance at his wife. “Nathaniel Everyman.”

The captain turned on Josiah. “Let me see this man’s pardon,” he demanded.

“Certainly, sire,” Josiah said calmly. Pulling the book from his doublet, he opened it and produced the precious document. He handed it to Captain Exclusion. “Everything is in order, sire. The pardon was signed and sealed by King Emmanuel himself.”

“I’ll see for myself,” the officer growled, unrolling the parchment and squinting at it in the dying light.

Josiah felt a sense of apprehension as the stern captain examined the document. There’s nothing he can do to stop Everyman from walking out as a free man, he told himself. King Emmanuel himself has ordered Everyman’s release, and there’s nothing the captain can do to stop it.

“Aha!” Captain Exclusion cried, with a note of satisfaction in his voice. He turned around. “Guards! Guards, return the prisoner to his cell. This man is not going anywhere until tomorrow, and then it’s only to walk to the gallows!”

Two burly guards sprang forward and seized Everyman by the arms. The miller’s wife stepped toward Captain Exclusion with a look of horror in her eyes. In desperation she clutched his arm. “You can’t do this, sire! My husband is now a free man!”

The officer laughed in her face. “Your husband is to be returned to his cell, you wretched woman, but just until tomorrow morning. At that time he will be marched to the executioner’s gallows.”

Josiah’s heart was pounding furiously as he addressed the captain. “Everyman is a free man, sire, and I order you in the King’s name to release him. The pardon you hold in your hand is signed and sealed by His Majesty, King Emmanuel, and grants a full pardon to this prisoner.”

Captain Exclusion grinned maliciously as he turned to face the young prince. “The pardon I hold in my hand may be from King Emmanuel, but if you’ll read it carefully, you’ll see that it’s for Adam Everyman. My prisoner is called by the name Nathaniel Everyman, and he dies first thing tomorrow morning! My condolences, young prince, but you tried to free the wrong man.”

Chapter Ten

 

Prince Josiah stared into the dancing flames of the campfire. “I felt so helpless!” he cried aloud. “When Captain Exclusion pointed out that we had the wrong man, I wanted to draw my sword and run him through. I would have done anything to set Everyman free. But when I saw that the pardon was not for that poor miller, I realized that there was nothing that any of us could have done.”

He bowed his head. “I suppose that even if we could have attempted a rescue by force, it would have been wrong, even if we had succeeded. Everyman could not be set free without the King’s pardon.”

Prince Selwyn spoke up. “We did our best, Josiah. That’s what matters. We did our best for our King, and for this poor miller. We could do no more.”

Josiah’s heart ached. “But we failed! Everyman will die tomorrow morning.” He bowed his head. “I felt so helpless.”

Princess Gilda slipped over and sat beside him on the log in front of the fire. Her face was wet with tears. “J-just think what Everyman’s poor wife is feeling right now,” she sobbed. “She was so happy! She thought that her husband was going to be released, and now—” Sobs choked off the rest of her words.

“But what right does Captain Exclusion have to hold her and little Matilda in the dungeon?” Selwyn declared angrily. “Even if he executes Everyman, he has no right to hold them.”

“Well,” Josiah said slowly, “Everyman’s wife is guilty, too. She admitted that.”

“But what about little Matilda?” Gilda asked. “She’s just a little child. She had no part in her parents’ scheme to cheat people.”

Josiah shook his head sadly. “I don’t know. Captain Exclusion seemed to think that she was guilty simply because she was the descendant of two people who were guilty.”

“But that’s not right!” the young princess declared hotly. “How could she be guilty, just because her parents are guilty?”

Josiah shrugged. “It doesn’t seem right to me, but then again, I guess I don’t understand royal law.”

“What will happen to them?” Selwyn asked anxiously. “Do you think—” He let the sentence go unfinished.

Josiah sighed. “Everyman will face the executioner tomorrow morning,” he said sadly. “We all know that. I suspect that his wife will be hung tomorrow as well. As for little Matilda, well, I don’t know. I just can’t imagine them putting a little child to death, can you?”

Gilda sobbed softly.

Her brother scooted over beside her and squeezed her hand. “What a mess we made of things,” he said miserably. “We tried to set a man free, and instead, we helped Argamor’s forces capture his family. How could we possibly have done any worse?”

Josiah glanced over at Selwyn and realized that he was weeping.

The somber trio sat silently staring into the fire for several minutes. Each was consumed by sorrow for the poor miller and his family, and each felt a deep sense of personal failure. Our first mission for King Emmanuel, Josiah thought dejectedly, and it ends this way. The fire snapped and popped, throwing sparks heavenward. The insects of the night hummed and buzzed and chirped, but the three young people around the fire were silent.

Selwyn spoke at last. “So what do we do now?”

Josiah sighed. “Continue our search for Everyman, I suppose. And hope that we’re in time. I hate to think of failing a second time and allowing another man to die.”

“I want to go back to the ship,” Gilda said quietly, staring at the flames and not allowing herself to look at either of her companions.

“Why?” her brother asked.

“I can’t bear to go through this again. I know we have to camp here tonight, but I want to start back for the ship first thing in the morning.”

“We have to deliver the King’s pardon to the right man,” Josiah replied. “We can’t let another man die.”

The young princess shook her head. “I can’t do this again, Josiah, I just can’t!”

“Josiah’s right, Gilda, we do have to deliver the pardon. We were commissioned by the King.”

Gilda raised her eyes and looked pleadingly at her brother. “I-I can’t Selwyn. I just can’t! When I saw the look on Everyman’s face—” She burst into tears again. “And his poor wife! And little Matilda! We had given them hope, Selwyn, and then suddenly that hope was snatched away like a bully snatching sweets away from a smaller child. It would have been better if we had never come.”

“But what about Adam Everyman?” Josiah argued. “Are we just going to let him die, even though he’s been pardoned? And what about King Emmanuel? What will he think of us if we return to the Castle of Faith without delivering his pardon? Gilda, I cannot fail my King.”

The young princess was sobbing now. Clasping her arms around her knees, she rocked back and forth. “I want to go back to the ship.”

“What’s all this talk about going back?” The voice came from the darkness beyond the campfire, startling the three young people nearly out of their wits. Josiah leaped to his feet, drawing his sword as he did. Selwyn followed his lead.

A familiar figure strode into the circle of light from the campfire. Josiah stared in disbelief. “Sir Wisdom!”

The old nobleman stopped at the fire’s edge and glared at them sternly. “What’s all this talk about going back?” he asked again. “You haven’t completed King Emmanuel’s assignment, have you?”

Josiah didn’t know whether he should hug the old man or hide from him. “We failed, sire,” he said sadly. “We failed to deliver the King’s pardon to the right man.”

“So what happened?” The old man’s eyes were still stern, intimidating, accusing.

“We made a mess of things, sire.” Selwyn spoke without lifting his head. “We delivered the pardon to the wrong man.”

“The wrong man?”

“Aye, the wrong man. Sire, we found another man by the name of Everyman. But he was Nathaniel Everyman, not Adam Everyman. The captain was just about to release him when he discovered the mistake, and now things are worse than ever!”

“So you delivered the King’s pardon to the wrong man, did you?”

“Aye, sire.” Selwyn was struggling to blink back the tears.

“You three listen to me,” Sir Wisdom said quietly, kindly. “King Emmanuel’s pardon was for Everyman. It matters not if it’s Adam Everyman or Nathaniel Everyman; the pardon is for Everyman! And that includes every woman, too.” He stepped around behind the log on which the three dejected young people were seated and briefly touched each of them on the shoulders. “Go back to the Dungeon of Condemnation tomorrow morning before the sun casts its first rays across the ridges. Deliver the pardon to Everyman and his wife before they are marched to the gallows.”

“Will Captain Exclusion hang Everyman’s wife, too?” Gilda asked, looking over her shoulder at Sir Wisdom.

The old man nodded. “But the King’s pardon is for her, too.”

Josiah stood to his feet and faced Sir Wisdom. “But, sire, Captain Exclusion refused to release Everyman. He insisted that we were trying to free the wrong man.”

“Captain Exclusion is in the service of Argamor, and he would have you believe that King Emmanuel’s pardon is not for everyone. But, my friends, King Emmanuel’s pardon is for Everyman! It matters not whether the man’s name is Adam or Nathaniel, the King’s pardon is for anyone and everyone who will receive it.”

“But, sire, what if Captain Exclusion refuses to release Everyman? What are we to do then?”

The old man reached inside his robe and withdrew a book identical to the one that Josiah carried. Opening the volume, he pulled out a parchment. “Here,” he said, handing the document to Josiah. “This specifies Nathaniel Everyman by name. Captain Exclusion cannot argue with that!” He took out a similar parchment and handed it to Gilda. “And this one is for Everyman’s wife.”

“What about little Matilda?” Gilda asked as she took the document. “Do you have one for her, too?”

“Captain Exclusion knows King Emmanuel’s law,” the old man replied. “Little Matilda cannot be held in the Dungeon of Condemnation until she is old enough to know right from wrong.”

“But don’t we need a pardon just for her?” Gilda argued.

The old man regarded her with gentle eyes. “Trust me, my dear. Little Matilda is quite safe.”

He walked around to the far side of the fire. “Get some sleep, all three of you. You must be back at the main gate of the Dungeon of Condemnation before sunrise, for the pardons must be delivered before Everyman and his wife are marched to the gallows.”

Prince Josiah let out a long sigh of relief. “Thank you, Sir Wisdom.”

 

 

The eastern sky was just beginning glow with soft hues of pink and purple as Gilda, Josiah and Selwyn made their way down the hillside toward the forbidding walls of the Dungeon of Condemnation. “We must hurry,” Josiah urged. “Sunrise is almost upon us, and Everyman and his wife will be executed at dawn. We must not fail to deliver the pardons in time.”

Selwyn scrambled down a shale-covered slope and paused to catch his breath. He glanced toward the dungeon. “Josiah! Look!”

Josiah looked toward the Dungeon of Condemnation. His heart sank. In the dim light of the coming morning he could see that the main gate of the dungeon was open and several guards were leading two prisoners outside. Even though the group was some distance away, Josiah immediately knew the identities of the condemned prisoners. “Hurry!” he urged the others.

The trio rushed frantically down the rugged hillside, leaping over fallen logs, scrambling through bushes and briars, jumping across small ravines and gullies. They had to reach the dungeon before it was too late! Josiah fell headlong on a rocky slope, painfully skinning his hands in the process. Ignoring the pain, he leaped to his feet. He threw a desperate glance toward the valley below. The rising sun was just beginning to peek over the ridges to the east. The guards and their prisoners had paused at the base of a tall wooden structure on the south side of the dungeon. Josiah inhaled sharply. The hanging gallows!

As Josiah, Selwyn and Gilda reached the valley, the guards were already leading two forlorn figures up the stairs of the gallows. “We’re too late!” Gilda wailed.

“Oh, no, we’re not!” Josiah cried. Summoning every ounce of strength he possessed, he dashed toward the execution site.

Moments later he reached the gallows. Darting past the guard at the bottom of the stairs, he took the steps two at a time. He reached the platform and stopped in dismay. Two hooded figures stood side by side with their hands tied behind their backs. Thick nooses of knotted hemp rope were already in place around their necks. Captain Exclusion stood nearby with a smirk of satisfaction upon his cruel face. “Executioner,” he called to the hangman who stood at the lever operating the trapdoors, “do your duty.”

“Wait!” Josiah screamed, leaping forward and throwing his body against the lever so that the hangman could not pull it. “Stop the execution! These people have been pardoned!”

Captain Exclusion stared in astonishment for a moment, and then a dark look of anger swept across his face. Drawing his sword, he stepped toward Josiah. “Stand aside, knave,” he snarled. “You will not hinder this execution!”

Josiah drew his own sword with one hand and produced the pardon for Everyman with the other. “Captain,” he said boldly, “I order you in the name of King Emmanuel to release these prisoners. His Majesty has issued pardons for both of them.”

The big officer grimaced. “We went through this last night, you fool. Your pardon is for the wrong man. Now, stand aside!”

“Read the pardon,” Josiah insisted, thrusting the parchment in the man’s face while keeping his foot firmly planted against the trapdoor lever. “This pardon specifically names Nathaniel Everyman.”

Selwyn and Gilda came scrambling up on the platform at that moment with swords drawn. “Here is a pardon for Rachel Everyman as well,” Gilda called, unrolling the parchment she carried. “Both prisoners are to be set free.”

Captain Exclusion snatched the pardons from their hands and quickly scanned them both. Josiah saw a look of frustration cross his features as he read the documents. “Pull the lever,” he ordered. “This changes nothing. Both prisoners have been condemned to die, and nothing will stop us from carrying out their sentence.”

The executioner stepped toward the lever.

Josiah quickly brought his sword up and pressed the tip of the glittering blade against the man’s tunic. “Reach for the lever and I will stop you forever,” he challenged. “These prisoners have been freed by King Emmanuel, and no one will harm them.”

Selwyn had stepped around behind the miller and his wife and began removing the nooses from around their necks. As he pulled off their hoods, their shoulders sagged with relief. Moving quickly, he untied their hands and led them toward the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs, several guards drew their swords and blocked their escape.

“Call off your men, Captain,” Josiah ordered. “These prisoners are being released by the express order of His Majesty, King Emmanuel, and no one will hinder us!”

Captain Exclusion gritted his teeth and thrust the parchments at Josiah. “Stand back and allow the prisoners to pass,” he ordered in a subdued voice.

The guards stepped back sullenly. Selwyn kept his sword ready as he led the miller and his wife down the stairs of the gallows. Josiah and Gilda quickly followed.

“They still have our little girl,” the miller’s wife said quietly. “What can we do?”

“Where are they keeping her?” Josiah asked.

“She was with us in the cell,” the miller told him. “They left her there when they took us out to the gallows.”

“Can you lead me to the cell?” the young prince asked.

Everyman nodded confidently.

“You and Gilda take Rachel to that big oak we passed up on the hillside,” Josiah told Selwyn. “Everyman and I will return to the dungeon and get Matilda. We’ll meet you at the oak.”

Selwyn nodded.

Selwyn and Gilda quickly led Rachel Everyman across the valley. Josiah and Everyman hurried toward the main gate of the dungeon. The young prince watched over his shoulder from time to time but to his relief, Captain Exclusion and his men made no move to follow them.

The guards challenged them at the gate, but Josiah simply claimed the authority of the name of King Emmanuel and gained access to the dungeon. “Lead the way,” Josiah told the miller, taking a torch from the wall in the main corridor. Gates and doors opened of their own accord as they hurried along the dark passageways and, within minutes, they had reached the cell where the Everyman family had been imprisoned.

“Papa’s here, little Sweetheart,” Everyman called to his tiny daughter, who sat sobbing within the cell. “Papa’s going to take you home.”

The cell door snapped open when Josiah touched it. Everyman sprang eagerly inside, snatched up his daughter, and clutched her to his chest. “It’s going to be all right, darling.”

Josiah touched the sleeve of the miller’s threadbare garment. “Let’s meet the others at the oak, sire.”

 

 

“We came just in time,” Gilda remarked as she, Selwyn and Josiah climbed the steep slope above the valley. “If we had been just a moment later, Everyman and his wife would have been executed.”

“King Emmanuel sent us,” Josiah replied. “The honor and the gratitude belong to him, for he is the one who pardoned them. We were merely his messengers.”

“I am thankful that His Majesty trusted us with this mission,” Selwyn said, “and that we were allowed to have a part in their rescue.”

“Look!” Gilda cried, pointing. “Down below!”

Prince Josiah turned. Down in the valley, a regal gold-and-white coach pulled by four powerful horses was speeding toward the distant mountains. An overwhelming sense of gratitude and wellbeing swept over the young prince. “The Coach of Grace,” he said quietly. “It came for Everyman and his family.”

Prince Selwyn smiled. “We must hurry on,” he told his companions. “There is yet another pardon that we must deliver before it is forever too late.”

Chapter Eleven

 

“Delivering the King’s pardon was the most thrilling thing that I’ve ever done in my entire life,” Prince Selwyn remarked, as he, Princess Gilda, and Prince Josiah hiked along the narrow trail. “Did you see the look on Everyman’s face when I pulled the hood off his head? Did you see the look on his wife’s face? In that moment I realized that this entire trip had been worthwhile!”

Josiah nodded soberly. “We were able to serve and honor our King today, and for that I am grateful.”

“They would have died,” Gilda said with a faraway look in her eyes. “I’m glad we didn’t turn back.”

Josiah nodded again. “I just hope that we reach Adam Everyman in time. He’s facing the hangman’s gallows, too, you know. Time is running out.”

Selwyn turned to Josiah with a concerned expression on his usually cheerful countenance. “How do we know that we are on the right trail? At this point, we still have no idea where the Dungeon of Condemnation even is. It seems that we’ve been wandering aimlessly in the Land of Unbelief. Isn’t there some way we can find out for sure where the dungeon is and head straight for it? Surely there’s someone we can ask.”

Josiah stopped and sent a petition to King Emmanuel, asking for guidance in finding the Dungeon of Condemnation in which Adam Everyman was imprisoned. As the parchment disappeared over the horizon, he and his companions resumed their journey.

The trail wound its way around and through a cluster of granite boulders that were as big as houses. At one point, two boulders restricted the trail to a passageway so narrow that it could only accommodate one person at a time. As Josiah squeezed through the narrow opening, he spotted a man sitting under a tree studying a map. “Excuse me, sire,” Josiah called, and the stranger looked up with a friendly smile. “Is that a map of the Land of Unbelief?”

“Indeed it is, my lord,” the man replied. “My name is Compassionate Witness, but you may call me ‘Compassion’. How may I be of help, my lord? Would you care to look at my map? Perhaps I can guide you to some particular location?”

“We are looking for the Dungeon of Condemnation,” the young prince replied. “A prisoner named Adam Everyman is being held there, and we have a pardon for him.”

“Then you three are on a mission for King Emmanuel,” Compassion said. He turned his map so that Josiah, Selwyn, and Gilda could see it easier. “At present you are right here,” he explained, placing a finger on the map, “and the Dungeon of Condemnation that you seek is over here.” He touched another location.

Josiah leaned closer. “This looks like a river,” he said, with some confusion. “Sire, are you saying that the Dungeon of Condemnation is in the middle of a river?”

“Aye, the River of Consequence,” Compassion explained. “All the rivers in the Land of Unbelief flow into it: the Rivers of Dishonesty, Greed, Selfishness, Immorality, and many, many others. The inhabitants of the Land of Unbelief often toss the garbage of their sinful lives into these rivers, thinking that the deeds are now but memories and the awful effects have been carried away downstream. But the truth of the matter is this—every man, woman, and child must one day cross the River of Consequence, and when he does, the results of his deeds are waiting for him.”

Compassion touched the map again. “This is the Island of Procrastination. As you can see, it is situated right in the middle of the river. On the north end of the island is an impenetrable castle known as the Castle of Resistance. It is one of the strongholds of Argamor himself. The Dungeon of Condemnation is in the bottom of this castle, and it is there that you will find the man you seek.”

“This won’t be easy,” Selwyn declared.

Compassion nodded his head. “Aye, my friend, you are correct. Your mission will not be easy. You will encounter serious opposition at the Castle of Resistance. Argamor’s forces will do everything in their power to prevent you from entering the castle.”

“What should we expect?” Selwyn asked. “How should we approach the castle?”

“Argamor’s men undoubtedly know that you are coming, but they don’t know exactly when. I would say that a surprise visit would be the best. The easiest way to gain entrance to the castle would be to catch them off guard.”

“How would we do that, sire?”

Compassion shrugged. “That I cannot tell you. Just keep in mind that a surprise visit would be the best—if you can find a way to slip up on the castle and catch the guards unaware, you will gain entrance that much easier. If you have to fight your way in, well…”

Josiah studied the map, trying desperately to memorize the details. Compassion noticed. “Here, my lord, keep the map,” he offered, handing the parchment to the young prince. “It will be of great assistance in your search for Everyman.”

The three young people were grateful. “Thank you, sire,” they said in unison.

“I am glad that we met you here, Compassion,” Gilda told him. “You have been a great help to us already.”

“King Emmanuel sent me, of course,” the man said with a gentle smile.

Selwyn frowned. “Then why did he not send you sooner?” he wondered aloud. “Truly, sire, we could have used your guidance earlier. We have been wandering around with no real sense of direction or knowledge of where we were going. We have sent petitions, but it seemed that His Majesty was not answering.”

“Oh, King Emmanuel’s timing is flawless, I assure you,” Compassion replied with a chuckle. “He wanted you to find Nathaniel Everyman on your own in order that you might develop a burden for those who are condemned and realize a sense of urgency in delivering pardons to those who will receive them.”

“We thank you for your assistance, sire, but we really must be moving along,” Josiah said, rolling up the map and stowing it inside his doublet next to the book. “Time is passing rapidly, and we must find Everyman and deliver the King’s pardon before it is too late.”

Compassion nodded. “Indeed. The King’s business requires haste. Farewell, my young friends. I wish you a safe and prosperous mission for our King.”

 

 

It took another day and a half of difficult travel to reach the River of Consequence. Following the map, Josiah and his two companions walked for miles and miles across a vast, arid wasteland of skepticism and unbelief. The winds of adversity howled and shrieked, throwing dust and sand in their faces and doing their best to discourage them and turn them out of the way, but the three young people pushed resolutely onward. After a time they came to a region full of dangerous bogs and treacherous quicksands, but they refused to be sidetracked. Walking carefully so as not to become mired in the many pitfalls of the area, they crossed the region safely. On the morning of the second day they even faced highwaymen who tried to rob them of their courage, compassion, and dedication, but they fought the robbers off with their invincible swords and emerged from the skirmish unscathed and victorious. Finally, late in the afternoon of the second day, they reached their destination.

“So this is the River of Consequence,” Selwyn said, gazing out across the broad, swift-flowing watercourse before them. “It looks vile and disgusting.”

“Aye, it smells that way, too,” Gilda remarked, holding her nose.

“Compassion told us that all the rivers of the Land of Unbelief dump their filth into this one,” Josiah replied.

The River of Consequence flowed with a powerful current, surging and pounding its way along, throwing spray high into the air over the huge boulders that obstructed its path. A foul smell permeated the air, and an unsightly brownish-yellow froth hugged the bank of the river, giving evidence of the poisons that polluted the water.

“Behold!” Selwyn said, pointing. “Is that the Island of Procrastination?”

Nearly a mile downstream, a dark projection of land rose above the surface of the water. Even from such a distance Josiah could see that the island was rocky and bare. Here and there, dark, twisted forms towered high into the air, and Josiah surmised that they were giant trees. In the center of the north end, a rocky knoll rose high above the rest of the island. Situated on the knoll in such a way that its inhabitants had a clear view of the entire island, there stood a dark, forbidding castle.

“The Castle of Resistance,” Josiah whispered.

“It looks frightening,” Gilda said, also whispering.

“I’m sure it is,” Josiah replied, “but that’s where we’ll find Everyman, so that’s where we’ll go.”

“The island must be at least three or four furlongs from the shore,” Selwyn said. “How will we ever get out there?”

“I don’t know yet,” Josiah replied. “Let’s get closer.”

They hiked downstream. As they came abreast of the Island of Procrastination, they stopped and stared in fascination at the sinister castle. Josiah felt his heart pound with anticipation. Within hours their mission could climax in triumph or disaster. He let out his breath slowly.

“Compassion suggested a surprise visit,” Selwyn said, studying the ominous castle, “but that’s going to be almost impossible. Look at that place! Did you ever see a fortress so heavily guarded?” Numerous guard towers rose above the castle curtains. Countless sentries walked the battlements, carefully patrolling every section of the walls.

“Behold the front gate,” Gilda suggested. “An entire army could never batter their way through that.”

“So a surprise attack on the castle is impossible and a direct assault is just as bad,” Josiah said with a wry grin. “What do you suggest?”

His companions were silent.

All three studied the situation in silence for several long minutes.

Finally, Selwyn spoke. “I don’t see how we can even get across the river. Look at that current! We could never hope to swim across. But even if we could, the currents would bash us against the rocky shore of the island.”

“Aye, it does appear to be impossible,” Gilda declared.

“Nay, it is not impossible,” Josiah reasoned, “or King Emmanuel would never have sent us on this mission in the first place.”

“Well, I don’t see how we’re going to get across,” Selwyn stated, “or how we’re going to gain entrance to the castle if we do make it across.”

“Trust in King Emmanuel,” Josiah replied.

Just then Gilda spotted a small craft bobbing against the rocky shore thirty or forty paces downstream. “Behold, a little fishing boat.” She dashed down to it. “The oars are in it,” she called. “We can take it across to the island.”

Selwyn and Josiah hurried to her. “Let’s take the boat across to the island,” the girl suggested again.

“It looks awfully old,” Josiah observed. “This boat is ready to fall apart.”

“But it’s not that far to the island and back,” Gilda argued. “Let’s do it.”

Josiah hesitated.

“Now who’s the timid one?” Gilda teased.

Selwyn spoke up. “It doesn’t look safe to me either.”

“But we didn’t come all this way for nothing,” the girl persisted. “I don’t see any way across to the island unless we take this boat. Come on—let’s do it.”

“The boat doesn’t belong to us,” her brother replied. “We can’t borrow it without asking.”

“The painter isn’t tied,” Josiah pointed out. “It’s just snagged between those two rocks. I think this boat drifted down from someplace else and got stuck here. If that’s true, then it doesn’t belong to anybody around here, and it wouldn’t be wrong for us to use it.”

“Perhaps King Emmanuel provided it for us to use,” Gilda remarked. “I think we ought to try it.”

“Gilda, you sit in front,” Josiah decided. “Selwyn and I will row. It will take both of us to make headway against that current.”

In no time at all the little boat was slowly making its way out toward the Island of Procrastination. Just as Josiah had feared, the treacherous currents worked against them, swinging the bow of the boat first one way and then another as if determined to prevent them from reaching the island. The boys rowed fiercely, throwing their full strength into the oars and doing their best to steer a straight course toward the forbidding island.

“Uh oh, we have a problem,” Gilda called a moment later.

“What is it?” her brother asked impatiently.

“There’s a lot of water down under my feet,” the girl answered. “I think we sprang a leak!”

Josiah glanced over his shoulder. “She’s right,” he told Selwyn. “Row faster!” Both princes rowed with all their might.

“It’s coming in faster!” Gilda wailed. “I think it’s getting worse. Josiah! Selwyn! Turn the boat around! We’re not going to make it! We’re sinking!”

Just then Josiah felt a cold wetness around his shins and looked down. Dirty river water sloshed around in the bottom of the boat, so deep that it had flowed over the tops of his boots. “Selwyn!” he cried, “let’s turn the boat around! Gilda’s right—we’re sinking!”

The boys swiftly turned the boat around and rowed frantically for shore. “Hurry, hurry!” Gilda encouraged. “We can make it! We—”

Just then, the hull of the little craft seemed to split wide open and water gushed in like a flood. The bow dropped straight down. The stern lifted above the water, raising Selwyn and Josiah up in the air. The craft hesitated for just an instant, and then dropped like a rock. Within seconds, the little boat had disappeared beneath the surging currents and King Emmanuel’s three emissaries found themselves struggling in the foul water.

Chapter Twelve

 

The boat had sunk quickly. Like a waterfowl diving in search of edible roots, the little craft had simply dropped her nose and plunged beneath the surface of the swift flowing river. In an instant, her three passengers found themselves floundering in the water.

“Help!” Princess Gilda cried. “Save me!”

I can’t swim with my armor on, Prince Josiah thought at the moment the water closed over his head. I’ll sink like a rock!

Josiah lunged upward, filling his lungs with precious air. The weight of his armor pulled him down again. His boots struck the muddy bottom and he found to his amazement that he could stand. The water came barely to his shoulders. The filthy water swirled and surged around him, but the weight of his armor kept him firmly planted in one spot, enabling him to stand against the current. He reached out to Gilda, who struggled just a yard away. “Gilda! Grab my hand!”

The terrified girl seized his outstretched fingers.

Step by step, Josiah slowly slogged toward the riverbank, pulling Gilda with him. Each time he took a step, the muck and mire in the riverbed tugged at his boots as if determined to stop him, but he fought against it. When he had pulled Gilda to the relative safety of waist deep water he looked around. “Where’s Selwyn?”

“I’m right here,” Selwyn called, and Josiah looked over to see his friend just paces away. “Thanks for helping Gilda.”

“Look at you two,” Josiah teased, as he and his companions stepped from the River of Consequence. “You look like a pair of drowned rats!”

“Well, Josiah, we tried Gilda’s idea,” Selwyn said, throwing a broad grin in his sister’s direction. “Do you have any better ideas as to how to reach the island?”

Gilda opened her mouth to defend herself, hesitated, and then burst into laughter. Selwyn joined in and then Josiah. All three howled with laughter. “If only Sir Wisdom could see us now!” Josiah exclaimed.

“You should have seen your face when the boat went down,” Gilda told her brother. “You had just turned and looked over your shoulder to see what was happening, and the boat fell apart right at that moment. The look on your face—” She bent over with laughter, unable to continue.

“So what do we do now?” Selwyn asked, when the moment of hilarity had passed. “We all look like drowned rats, and we still don’t know how to get across to the island.”

“Is the parchment with Everyman’s pardon all right?” Gilda interrupted.

Josiah reached inside the wet fabric of his doublet and withdrew his book. Opening the volume, he pulled out the precious document. To his relief, the pardon was undamaged. “It’s all right,” he said, with a sigh of relief. “My clothes are soaked, but my book and the pardon are both all right.”

“Something’s moving in the reeds downstream,” Selwyn said suddenly. “Look!”

Josiah spun around. Less than a furlong downstream, something large was indeed moving in the reeds along the riverbank. As the trio watched, a flat-bottomed boat slid slowly out from the bank and headed toward the island. Standing high in the stern was an old man poling the craft against the current with all his might. “It’s a ferry!” Josiah cried. “He could take us out to the island.”

Josiah dashed downstream toward the ferry, which was still just yards from shore. “Wait,” he called. “Wait, sir! We need your help!”

The old man heard his cries, turned around and gazed at him for a moment, and then reversed direction and brought the craft back to the shore. “Is there a problem, my lord?”

“We need to get to the island,” Josiah told him breathlessly. “Can you take us?”

“Certainly, my lord. I’d be happy to help.”

The young prince hesitated. “What is the charge, sir?”

The old man shook his head. “No charge.” He looked the three young people over. “But I can hardly take you in the condition you are now, you understand. You’re all wet. You’d drip this foul river water all over my boat! Why don’t you get cleaned up a bit and then come back tomorrow?”

“But we need to go now,” Josiah reasoned.

The man looked at the sky. “It’s going to be dark in little more than an hour anyway, my lord. Tomorrow would be far better.”

 

 

Hours later the three young people sat motionless around a campfire, quietly watching the glowing figures that seemed to leap and dance and frolic within the flames. They had made camp in a small clearing deep within the woods, far from the watchful eyes of any sentries who might be walking the battlements atop the Castle of Resistance. It just would not do for the enemy to spot their campfire.

Josiah stirred the embers with a stick. Thousands of glowing sparks shot skyward like energetic fireflies. “The Castle of Resistance looked so… so solid and so strong, didn’t it?” Selwyn remarked. “The way it sat upon that steep hill overlooking the island… the towers seemed so tall, and the gates so strong, and… I just don’t know how we’re ever going to get in.”

“Aye, and we also have to get back out,” Josiah added.

“It makes me feel nervous and fearful just looking at it,” Selwyn continued. “I know that King Emmanuel sent us; and I know that this assignment is from him and that we should trust him, but—well, this afternoon I just felt so helpless and afraid every time I looked at the castle.”

“I feel the same way just thinking about it now,” Gilda confessed.

Josiah stirred the embers once more, and again the sparks leaped upward.

“The ferryman will take us across to the island tomorrow, now that our clothes are dry and cleaned up a bit,” Selwyn continued, “but how are we going to get inside the castle? You saw the sentries. There must be scores of them.”

“Compassion advised us to try a surprise attack,” Josiah said thoughtfully, “but I don’t see how we possibly could, since the castle is so well guarded. I wonder—”

Selwyn studied him. “You have that look on your face again.”

“What look?”

“That look you always get when you’re hatching some crazy idea. Do you have a plan?”

Josiah shook his head. “Not really. Nothing that would work, anyway.” He yawned and rubbed his eyes. “Let’s get some sleep, shall we? Tomorrow’s going to be quite a day.”

After saying good night to each other, Gilda, Josiah, and Selwyn crawled into the three little lean-tos that they had fashioned from branches, twigs and sticks. Within moments, all three were sound asleep.

 

 

The next morning found them hurrying through a simple breakfast taken from their packs of provisions. They carefully doused and covered their fire, used additional branches to camouflage their lean-tos, and then headed for the river. “The ferryman said that he would take us across today,” Selwyn told the others, “but I still don’t know how we will get inside the castle walls.”

“We challenged the guards at the Dungeon of Condemnation where the miller was imprisoned,” Gilda piped up, “and they let us in. Wouldn’t that work at the castle?”

“We could try that,” her brother replied, “but I don’t think it would work here.”

“Why not?”

“Did you see how heavily fortified this castle was? The gate was closed, the portcullis was down, and the walls were swarming with sentries. Unless I’m mistaken, I even saw pots of boiling water on top of the battlements! They were ready and waiting for an attack. There’s a reason it’s called ‘The Castle of Resistance.’ No, I don’t think we can just walk up and challenge the guards like we did at the other dungeon.”

“So what are our plans?” the girl asked.

“The first step is getting across to the island,” Josiah told her. “After that we’ll figure out how to get inside the castle.”

They reached the River of Consequence at that point to find the old ferryman sitting on the riverbank beside his boat. He had a cane pole in his hand, and he was fishing. As they approached, he looked up and saw them and then pulled in his line.

“We’re ready, sir,” Josiah told him. “Can you take us across to the island?”

“This isn’t the best day to go, my lord,” the ferryman replied.

“Why not, sir? Time is of the essence. We are on an important mission for His Majesty, King Emmanuel. We must go today.”

“I figured that you were on an errand for the King,” the old man said, putting a fresh worm on his hook. He flipped the line out into the water. “I also figured that you would be in a bit of a hurry today. But the timing just isn’t right, my lord. Tomorrow would be much better.”

Josiah was frustrated at the delay. “But why? We must go today!”

The old man shook his head. “I wouldn’t do it today, my lord.”

“Why not, sir?”

“Look at the Castle of Resistance—see all the sentries upon the walls? They doubled the guard today, which they do from time to time. The castle is on ‘high alert’, and the guards will be all fidgety and nervous. Nay, my lord, tomorrow would be much better.”

Josiah sighed. “But will you take us today?”

The ferryman shook his head again. “Not today, my lord. Let’s make the crossing tomorrow.”

Selwyn spoke up. “Prince Josiah is right, sir. We must make the crossing today. We’re on a mission of life and death, and time is running out. We really must go today.”

“Then swim the river,” the old man told him with a sneer, “if you’re in that much of a hurry! But I’m not going anywhere near the Castle of Resistance today or any day that the castle is on high alert. If you’re going to make the trip today, my lords, you’ll do it without me.”

“Then lend us your boat,” Josiah suggested. “We’ll make the crossing by ourselves.”

The old ferryman laughed at him. “The currents out there would capsize this boat in an instant if you don’t know what you’re doing. Nay, you’ll have to wait for me, my lord. We’ll go tomorrow.”

Gilda, Selwyn and Josiah were frustrated as they walked back to their hideaway camp. “So we have to wait another whole day,” Josiah said in exasperation. “What if the Castle of Resistance is on high alert tomorrow? We’ll have to wait yet another day.”

“He talked as if the high alert thing would be over tomorrow,” Gilda said thoughtfully. “Be patient. We’ll go tomorrow. This will give us some time to come up with a plan for getting inside the castle.”

 

 

“I can’t take you today either, my lords and my lady,” the old man said the next day, slowly shaking his head. “I’m sorry.”

“But you promised!” Josiah exclaimed. “This is the third day. We have to go today!”

“I’m sorry, my lord, but I just can’t do it.”

“Why not?” Selwyn demanded.

“The wind is mighty rough today, my lord. Look at the river. See all the whitecaps? I’d never attempt a crossing on a day like this. We’d capsize before we’d gone a hundred paces.”

Josiah stared across the water. “It doesn’t look all that rough to me.”

“I’ve been a river man all my life, my lord. Trust me; the river is extremely treacherous today. Seldom do I ever see it this rough. Be patient just one more day, and I’ll take you across tomorrow. I promise.”

Prince Josiah was in a bad mood as he and his companions walked back to camp. “We’re losing valuable time,” he fumed. “It’s one excuse after another.”

“He promised that he would take us tomorrow,” Princess Gilda said quietly.

Josiah snorted. “Tomorrow he’ll just have another excuse. He won’t be feeling well, or his boat will need repairing, or…” He stopped suddenly and clapped his hand to his mouth as a startling thought occurred to him.

Selwyn noticed. “What’s the matter?”

“You know something?” Josiah replied slowly. “I don’t think he ever intends to take us. It’s one excuse after another. You know what I think? I think he’s purposely trying to delay us. He’s keeping us from reaching Everyman with the pardon!”

Selwyn frowned. “Why would he want to do that?”

Josiah shrugged. “Perhaps he’s an agent for Argamor.”

Selwyn shook his head. “I don’t think so, Josiah. He seems willing enough. He’s not even going to charge us.”

“But he hasn’t actually taken us across, has he? Mark my words—he won’t take us tomorrow, either. He’ll have another excuse why we have to wait another day.” Josiah looked earnestly at his friend. “Selwyn, in another few days Everyman will be out of time. We have to cross that river tomorrow! Even if we have to swim.”

“Nay, we could never swim across, Josiah.”

“Well, we have to do something. Time is running out.”

 

 

“There’s not even a hint of a breeze today and there are fewer guards than usual atop the castle walls,” Josiah told Selwyn and Gilda as they hurried down to the River of Consequence on the morning of the fourth day. He glanced up at the sky. The day was bright and sunny with a few fluffy clouds that hung low over the island. “What kind of an excuse do you think he will come up with today—it’s too cloudy?”

“Maybe today he’ll take us,” Gilda offered hopefully.

Josiah shook his head. “I don’t think so. Just wait—he’ll have some excuse.”

The ferryman looked up as they approached. “Good morning, my lords and my lady.”

“Are you going to take us across today, sir?” Selwyn asked.

An apologetic look appeared on the man’s face. “I’m sorry, my lords and my lady, I really am, but I just can’t do it today. My joints are aching something fierce today, and I can scarcely move. I feel all weak and trembly. If we were to get out in the middle of that current, I couldn’t even steer the vessel. Please accept my humble apologies.”

“But you told us that you would take us today,” Gilda reminded him. “You promised!”

“I know I did, my lady, and I’m very sorry about the whole thing.”

Josiah stepped forward. “By what name are you called, sir?”

The ferryman looked startled. “My name, my lord? What does my name matter?”

“Tell me your name,” Josiah insisted.

“I’m just a humble ferryman trying to be of service, my lord. My name is not important.”

“Sir, I must learn your name,” Josiah demanded.

The ferryman mumbled something that Josiah couldn’t hear.

“Louder, sir. I must know your name.”

The old man looked defiant. “My name is of no consequence, my lord, but if you must know, my name is Delay.”

“Just as I thought!” Josiah replied angrily. Without another word, he turned and strode quickly up the riverbank. Gilda and Selwyn hurried to catch up with him.

“What was that all about?” Selwyn asked moments later as they entered the clearing where their camp was located.

“Don’t you see?” Josiah replied, clenching his fists in frustration. “Delay is an agent of Argamor! He never intended to ferry us across the River of Consequence; his purpose was to delay us. He gave us one excuse after another why we should wait one more day to take King Emmanuel’s pardon to Everyman. He was hoping to delay us until finally Everyman would be out of time and be executed.”

“We lost three entire days because of him,” Selwyn observed.

Josiah nodded. “I just hope we’re not too late already.”

Just then the trio heard a loud crashing coming from the underbrush. Gilda grabbed Josiah’s arm. “Something’s coming, Josiah. Something big!”

Chapter Thirteen

 

Prince Josiah and his two companions stood nervously watching the dense foliage. The crashing sound came closer. They could see branches moving, but still could not see the cause of the disturbance. “W-what is it?” Gilda asked, fearfully clutching Josiah’s arm in a painful grip.

“I don’t know, but whatever it is, it must be huge,” Josiah replied. He pried Gilda’s fingers loose from his arm. The branches parted at that moment to reveal the hideous black face of an avral.

“It’s Leidra!” Gilda said, with a shriek of joy. “Josiah, it’s Leidra!” She ran forward to greet the huge caterpillar.

Selwyn looked quizzically at Josiah. “Is that Leidra?”

The young prince shook his head. “I can’t tell. Avrals all look alike to me.”

The avral raised the front portion of her body in the air and began to rub her rubbery face against Gilda’s shoulder. Both boys laughed. “It’s Leidra.” Josiah and Selwyn hurried forward and all three young people vigorously stroked and petted the huge creature’s soft, silky body. Leidra wriggled with delight. Her face contorted and twisted rapidly.

“Leidra, we need your help,” Gilda told the creature, gently stroking the fine silver hair that covered most of the pale green body. “We must get across to the Island of Procrastination to deliver the King’s pardon to Everyman. He’s in the dungeon beneath the Castle of Resistance. But we have no way to cross the river! Can you help us?”

Selwyn laughed at her. “Gilda, she’s a caterpillar! What can she do?”

Gilda was hurt by his ridicule. “Sir Wisdom said that avrals can understand nearly everything we say, Selwyn.”

“She might understand you, but what can she do? She’s a caterpillar.”

Leidra lowered her head to the ground and crawled away rapidly. Gilda turned on her brother. “Now look what you have done!” she said accusingly. “You have hurt her feelings.”

The avral stopped on the far side of the clearing and raised her upper body into the air. A piercing whistle blasted through the morning air, incredibly loud and shrill. The sound echoed across the hillside. A second whistle immediately sounded, and then a third. Gilda looked at her brother in astonishment. “Is Leidra doing that?”

Selwyn shrugged. “I think so.”

The three young ambassadors stood curiously watching the avral. Moments later the sound of the whistle sounded three more times— long shrill blasts that echoed across the hillside. “It is Leidra! But why is she doing that?”

“I don’t know, Gilda. Wait and see what happens.”

From somewhere far in the distance came a sound unlike anything the three young people had ever heard. The noise was like sharp, quick claps of thunder in rapid succession. As Josiah, Gilda and Selwyn waited anxiously, the sound grew louder and louder until it had become a deafening roar. Gilda put her hands over her ears.

Selwyn pointed skyward. “Look! That’s—that’s incredible!”

Josiah looked up. Huge, golden creatures resembling butterflies with enormous, colorful wings dropped from the clouds to hover above the hillside. The three young people stared upward in fascination.

“Butterflies as big as houses,” Selwyn exclaimed in awe.

“I’ve never seen anything like it!” Josiah said softly.

“They’re lepidotera,” Gilda said. “Leidra called them here.”

There were fifteen or twenty of the breath-taking creatures. Their shimmering, transparent wings beat in unison as they hovered, flashing dazzling rainbows of color and light. As they dropped slowly toward the earth, the downdraft from their gigantic wings made the branches of the trees around the clearing dance and shake as if they were being pounded by a violent windstorm.

“Thirty-foot wingspans,” Selwyn said quietly, “just like Sir Wisdom said.”

“Their wings look like enormous stained glass windows,” Gilda observed, “only much, much prettier.”

“Sir Wisdom called them ‘the most magnificent creatures in all Terrestria.’ ”

As the young people watched, three of the lepidopteras dropped down and alighted on the grass while the others continued to hover nearly a hundred feet in the air. The three magnificent creatures on the ground slowly opened and closed their huge, iridescent wings repeatedly.

“What are they doing?” Gilda asked in a whisper, awed by the spectacle of the giant butterflies.

“Sh-h! Just watch,” Selwyn whispered back.

The three lepidopteras continued to slowly open and close their magnificent wings. The rest of the brilliant creatures remained in the air, hovering about a hundred feet above the ground. “Why are they just staying there?” Gilda asked, alternately watching the three on the ground and then the group in the air. “It looks like they’re waiting for something!”

Josiah was startled by a sudden pressure against his back. He turned around. “Leidra! What are you doing?”

The giant caterpillar had raised her head up to a level just above Josiah’s waist and was pushing firmly against the back of his doublet. Josiah was uncomfortable with the situation and he pushed back, hoping that the friendly creature would leave him alone. But Leidra continued to press against his back, pushing so hard that he was finally compelled to step forward. As soon as he did, she moved forward with him and pushed again. He took another step. “Leidra! Leave me alone!”

“She likes you,” Gilda told him.