Will was terrified and Peter brandished his staff as the intruder came closer.
“Don’t be alarmed,” the soldier said, entering the grove. “I am a friend.”
“A friend! You’re one of the king’s soldiers!” gasped Will.
“If you are a friend, sir, why do you come with sword drawn?” asked Peter, his own staff still raised.
The soldier lowered his sword. “Because I did not know who I would encounter.”
They all relaxed, just a little. But they still didn’t trust him.
“William Turdey,” the soldier came forward into the firelight. “You have led us on a merry chase. It—”
Will recognized him! “You’re the one we saw on the road! Oh no—and—”
“As I was saying,” the man continued calmly, “It would seem that I am the only one of the king’s soldiers in this town that you’ve missed with your mudslinging. Though you nearly got me with a rock once….Father Andrew…good evening. I see you’re here to help. As am I.”
Peter still held on to his staff. “Sir, why would one of the king’s soldiers be here to help us? And if you’re stationed here, why did we see you on the road from the city?”
“Because my old mother, who is a Separatist, lives in the city and has been very ill. I went to visit her. And I did hear quite a tale from a soldier there. It seems we have a thief in the city prison from this town—who has done quite a few other evil deeds as well. He will be there for some time to come.”
“Then, sir, you are a Separatist?”
“I am not. I have not left the Church. I do not at this time believe in separating from the state Church but I am a believer. As my mother taught me from the Scriptures, I understand that salvation is by grace alone through faith. I obey God first, not the government.”
“How then can you be a soldier in the king’s army and persecute people….” this from Angelina.
He turned to her with a polite nod. “I will fight for my country but I do not persecute or kill any innocent person. Thus far God has protected me from having to be involved in such a thing—however if the time comes when I have to make a choice, I will leave my service in the king’s army.”
“You may find yourself in a dungeon waiting for punishment if such a choice comes—you may not be allowed to leave,” said Father Andrew, ruefully.
“I know that, but right now that is not important. What is important is that you are in danger, William Turdey, as is your family.”
Father Andrew seemed to be trusting him more quickly than the others. “Yes, let us be on our way. I came to keep him from going into town.”
“I am here to tell you that orders have come to search the forest until you Separatists are found. It will start at dawn—you need to get them out—all of them—and away. Tonight. And now, I will take my leave of you.”
“I—but–” It was all happening too fast for Will.
The soldier seemed to know what he was thinking. “Why should you believe me? I suppose you cannot completely. Only that it was a miracle of God that I came upon you on the road—and that I bothered to look—and that I recognized you.”
“But the gold…do you know what happened to it?”
“I do not know. The constable doesn’t either, Now, I must go.”
“Thank you,” called Angelina.
And he was gone.
They didn’t leave as quickly as the soldier had thought they would. There was some discussion as to whether this was a trap or not.
Will had never seen Peter muddled before but Father Andrew sat down with them around the fire and said, “I believe he’s trustworthy. I’ve seen that soldier at mass.”
“Most of the king’s soldiers go to mass. That doesn’t mean they’re true believers. I’ve also seen them dragging people off to prison,” said Peter.
“But I’ve seen him perform acts of charity and kindness, as well—especially to children and widows.”
“Whatever you do, I think you need to leave this place quickly. I can lead you to the cave where the others are hiding and help you get them out,” said Father Andrew.
“All right” said Peter, “I’ll hitch up the horse.” Angelina was already packing the bag.
“If the search really does start at dawn, we don’t have much time,” Father Andrew said. “I don’t know where you’ll go but you need to get them away from here.”
“Wait!” Peter turned from the horse. “Father Andrew—how many are there?”
“Why the Smyths went to their relatives some distance away, they were to get to a ship last week and the Widow Maclaine and her boy—we got a horse for them and they went off to her brother’s. So it’s just Will’s father and Brigette and the pastor’s family.”
Peter whirled and stared at Will, “I have an idea.”
Will realized what Peter was thinking. “They’d do that for us? Francisco and his wife?”
“Of course,” said Peter quickly. “He said to let him know if there was anything he could do to help. Even if it’s just for a little while to get you settled somewhere.”
“All of us—the pastor and his family, too? Davy?”
“Of course,” Angelina put in excitedly. “They have plenty of room!”
“What….” asked Father Andrew in confusion. “What is it that you’re talking about?”
“Davy! And his family—they’re at the cave?”
“Why yes. They were planning to head south, They have family in a village some distance past the city.”
“That’s the direction we’d be going. And the pigeons! He knows about pigeons!”
Father Andrew looked startled. “why yes, Davy has pigeons.”
“Then he can send a message to Francisco.”
“I don’t understand,” said Father Andrew. “Who is this Francisco?”
“We’ll tell you on the way” exclaimed Will, brandishing his cage with the pigeons. “But what about you?”
“I really was planning on escaping too—but I’ve waited because I’m the only one not in hiding right now. I’ve been bringing them supplies. But no one at the Cathedral really trusts me and the soldiers have their suspicions that I’m helping my old friends.”
“Then you must come with us,” Peter told him.
“I don’t know where you’re going but I think I’ll take your offer. I won’t even go back to my cottage. Let us get moving. You’ll have to leave that hay wagon on the road. and
we’ll need to carry out William’s father. He can’t walk at all.”
By this time the horse was hitched up and Angelina had mounted the wagon with the bag and instruments.
Will knew the lane through the woods but he and Father Andrew weren’t sure if the wagon would get through. Soon they were on their way—rumbling through the darkness. Father Andrew walked ahead, holding a lantern, the candle flickering.
“Branches came down in that last windstorm not too far from here—we’ll have to move them. And try to get as close as we can. I’d hate to have to carry your father a long ways. Everything hurts him these days.”
“Is he worse since I left?” asked Will.
“Not really. Well, maybe a little because of the dampness in the cave—and we did have to get him on the old horse to get him there.”
“I’m sorry….” Will couldn’t believe he’d done all this—started this chain of events.
The man put a hand on his shoulder. “We all understand your despair and anger….”
“But not the stealing….Turdey’s don’t steal but I didn’t care right then.”
“We all do wrong, boy,” said Peter from high above on the wagon seat. “God forgives.”
“And, according to our soldier friend, there might have been more raids coming anyway. Perhaps it’s good we’re getting out now. God brought you just at this time with friends to help and a place to stay.”
“What’s the soldier’s name? You say he’s a good man?” asked Peter.
“Yes, he’s been kind to the widows and children, hiding food in the forest for them. And he smuggles food to the prisoners in the dungeon and blankets, too. So far he has not been caught at it. His name is Bernard.”
They all came to a stop then, and Peter got down to help move some branches and then they moved on.. But a while later Peter said, ” this trail is getting more and more muddy. I think we should get back to the road.”
They didn’t like leaving the wagon unattended on the side of the road but there was a little out-of-the way grove where it might not be noticed if anyone passed in the darkness.
“We should hurry.” said Father Andrew.
Will knew more or less where the cave was but coming from this direction in the dark was tricky. He was glad for Father Andrew. Peter and Angelina followed. Finally—there it was.
But suddenly, a shadowy figure emerged from the forest. They all jumped, startled, and Peter grabbed his staff. Was it soldiers after all?
“Father Andrew!” It was a girl’s voice. He held up his lantern and she came into view.
“Anabelle? Whatever are you doing here?.”
“News, Father Andrew! From—a friend.”
“Yes. You mustn’t leave here. You must wait another day!”
“What? Why? How did you hear this.”
“He brings us food. He came to our cottage.”
“You’re sure it wasn’t a trap?” exclaimed Will.
“Will? You’re here!” she turned her attention back to Brother Andrew. “We don’t believe it’s a trick. He’s a nice man. We trust him. He says there’s a contingent of soldiers coming through soon. They’re heading for the city with some staying here to fill in their ranks. But you’d be caught. They’re coming from the north and going all the way down.”
“All right. Let’s get in and get hidden and then talk. Thank you, Annabelle.”
The girl ran off through the forest and they ducked into the cave, Peter barely fitting through the opening.
“Who’s there!” came a voice.
Bridget appeared, brandishing a broom.
“It’s me, Father Andrew—and….”
The broom clattered to the ground. “Will!” this in astonishment. Then, “Oh, Will, you’re all right.”
He never would have imagined he’d get such a hug from his big sister, especially under the circumstances.
She let go, “Father! It’s Will!”
They moved in and there was a lantern on the floor. And Father, rising up on his pallet, happily. “Will!”
And there was Davy and his mother and father, the pastor of their little Separatist congregation. He appeared to be hurt. His arm was up in a makeshift sling, someone’s shawl, it seemed. There was a bruise on his forehead…
He grinned at Will. “I’m all right. I met up with a couple of soldiers—but then—another one appeared and stopped them. I was very blessed.” He held out his other hand to welcome Will.
Didn’t they know what he’d done? It didn’t seem so the way they were acting but he knew they must have heard about the stolen gold.. He embraced his father. Then Peter and Angelina were introduced and they all sat down. Before they did, the two, who had not wanted to leave their belongings in the wagon, divested themselves of their packs and instruments.
“A lute! I haven’t heard a lute in so long!” exclaimed Will’s father. “My wife had one but the soldiers—broke it….”
“You are musicians?” asked the pastor.
“They’re wonderful—they make up songs to God—and lively ones, too.” Will almost looked defensive-wondering what they all would think of that.
His father motioned them to sit down and take some of the steaming drink Davy’s mother was preparing on the little fire burning in the corner.
“I would love to hear a bit of lively music and some beautiful hymns, too. And you are the ones who have brought our Will back to us.”
“He chose to come on his own,” Peter said, heartily gripping Father’s hand. “And just in time, I would say. The good Father Andrew will explain.”
They sat for a long time talking, praying, listening to beautiful music.
“God is a good God, who created music and gave us the ability to laugh and sing. There were many instruments in the Old Testament,” said the pastor, finally. “Of course we’re not welcome at the cathedral any more but sometimes I’ve just hidden in the shadows to hear the organ music. No one in our group has instruments so this is such a blessing.”
“But we’re all tired,” said Father Andrew. “Davy and I will go and we’ll let off the pigeons. We may need help on the way so we will send a pigeon to some friends of ours and we’ll tell your friends that you will be there within a week, hopefully.”
Brigette and Angelina and the pastor and his wife laid down on makeshift pallets and soon went off to sleep. Peter and Father continued talking and laughing quietly, best of friends already. Will sat nearby, leaning against the wall. He wasn’t tired. He mind was too full of all kinds of things to even think about sleeping.
He felt like—what was that story in the gospels—the prodigal son….He wasn’t exactly like the boy in the parable, but close enough.
“Thank you for forgiving me, Father,” he said quietly.
Their chatter stopped.
“I’m sorry for all the trouble I caused.”
His father’s hand went out to him. “I know you are, son. We’ll be all right.”
“Yes. We trust God. We will escape if it is His will. And He’s even given us a place to stay.”
Will knew it was nearly dawn. Davy was preparing the notes and sending the homing pigeons on their way.
He sat back again, thinking. The men had gone back to talking quietly, telling their “testimonies” as they called it—how God had worked in their lives, of their salvation experience, then on to the wonderful men who were changing the world with great new ideas from the Scriptures about God’s grace and salvation. And those who were working hard on translating the Bible into the languages of the common people.
“All for the glory of God,” whispered Father.
He thought about that. He’d come a long way. God was real and doing great things for them—if that soldier was really on their side! But it seemed like he was. He looked around—Separatists and a Catholic priest and a man who had been a monk and a minstrel and now a vagabond and Francisco and his wife , rich and talented, ready to take them all in. And a soldier who had been taught the truth as a child!
Almighty God, would you forgive me, too? Can I be Yours too?
His thoughts startled him. He’d neglected God for so long.
He got up and went out to the mouth of the cave as the men settled down on their own pallets and extinguished the light.
The air was cool and it was just before the dawn. He hoped that Bernard was all that Father Andrew thought. He hoped this was not a big trap.
But he mustn’t be distracted. He knew that the Bible said that today was the day of salvation. Father had told him often that it meant do it now–immediately, before it was too late.
And he knew what to do. As the dawn approached, Will knelt on the ground and bowed his head.
Almighty God, everybody knows I’m a sinner but now I admit it. And I want my sins forgiven. I’m sorry for them and I believe that Jesus is the only one that can take them away because He died for them. And I want to be Yours –forever-whatever that might mean.
He was scared for a second. Father had often told them they must count the cost. In these days and times, it was dangerous to be a believer.
But at that moment, he knew it was right. Getting right with God was more important than anything.
He sat up and watched the sky lighten. The dawn had come. Father and Bridgette and Peter and Angelina and the pastor and Davy and all would be so happy—but not as happy as he was right now!
To be continued….
By Carol Bennett