Mayhap I had stood in it too long, for the gentle grey rain that floated upon the wind almost like a fog did soak through my armor, as would a downpour. Still, I had not a care, for with the soaking came that release which comes of accepting what one cannot change. Long ago did I learn that with the end of all care for one’s comfort, comes freedom, a release unique and tranquil. This, with God’s own gift of care – which some do call faith – did help me to survive these many years and many battles.
Still, something seemed different this night as I did feel a certain warmth in the rain and did search for its source. Yet with each step I took, the warmth did recede. After a short while, I did perceive that it was not without, around me, in any space, but within me, within my body yet not of it. The warmth did seem as God’s breath flowing through me. This came as revelation, a thing that solitary guard duty mayhap at times draw forth.
My sword arm did itch but not in the spot that warns me, intuitively, of approaching danger. No, the source of the itch was an old scar, a reminder of my final lesson as student warrior. My teacher, known throughout the land as bravest of men and best of swordsman within all the kingdom, did deem that I shouldst learn my final lesson in such a manner as to impress it upon me forevermore. Thus, in order to engrave upon me the truth of the pain that the mighty weapon at my side was able to inflict, he did nearly sever my sword arm just above the elbow. With this lesson, in the peak of youth and vitality, I did also discover humility, patience, and focus. A hard lesson I must admit, but a good one. In the end, my arm did heal stronger than it had been – but that is another tale, in times and battles past. This night, I did puzzle if there were any portent in this persistent rain, the newfound warmth within me, and the infuriating itch in my arm.
As I did stand guard duty, alone this night, I did think to remove the hardened, dark brown leather armor that encompassed my arm so I might scratch that maddening itch. But, as it were, it was just at this time a hooded figure did slowly emerge from the misty rain to approach me. I did judge his stature at greater than 6 feet, and he carried himself well, as one with the unique bearing of an honorable and capable warrior; at once confident, fit, and sure. He presented a figure of one who is tall but not proud, strong but more of inner strength than muscle. Strangely, he appeared as one who is open despite the hooded cloak wrapped around to keep the damp out.
I did stand to attention and posed the customary watchman’s hail, “Who goes there?”
“A friend who asks admittance within,” he replied with a voice seemingly heavy with some long ago sad experience. Or perhaps I did only imagine this, for he could merely have been wearied from a long journey.
“Nay, friend, for protocol demands you advance no further and assure the watchman of your good intent in this domain,” I spoke, adding, “and I am the watchman,” in an effort to inject a bit of lightness into the heavy night air.
“I suppose there is little chance of telling you only that I have legitimate business within?” he asked, speaking more softly.
“You may tell me whatever you like. For what you say is one thing, but whether you may enter is another, and this other is mine to decide,” I did respond, putting no malice but a hint of challenge in my voice.
Said he, “Then, am I to infer you may not allow me entry though I should prove you cannot prevent me?”
“Perhaps…” I began. But before the next word was spoken, he did withdraw his hand from within his robe, produced a massive shimmering sword, and carved with it a bold slice through the gate’s lock. Rather, I should say melted, for this he did as though cutting warm butter, leaving softened metal and wood behind.
“Now, regardless of your appointment as watchman or guard, neither you nor I may gain entrance within,” said he with a voice that allowed no argument. “Are you prepared to journey with me?” he queried, sheathing the sword.
I wished to answer no, but realizing I was in the presence of one unlike any I had ever met and not discounting the fact my body did seem unwilling to move no matter my intent to draw my sword, I simply asked, “If I answer nay?”
At this he again drew out the strange white blade, gleaming as though it were carved of a full moon. In an instant, but as if slowly, the sword did arc up, then down, past my ear to rest pointing at my right foot. The sound of it as it burned through the air I shall never forget – ‘twas as the buzzing of many bees. He then drew the blade up along my right side, over my head, down past my left ear to my other foot. The sword hummed its tune all the while as it divided the air. Yet, it was not just the air – what it did cleave I might only describe as the reality around me – for when he had finished, we both did stand upon a small isle of land that floated upon air. Where once had been a grey drizzle of warm rain was now clear, cool summer air. Nothing was to be seen above or below us but bright stars against a sky black with night. The earth round that piece upon which we stood was gone – melted away, trimmed by a hot blade.
The stranger’s eyes at first twinkled with a curious blue light as he watched my surprise, but then his gaze did turn serious, hard as steel as he said, “Observe,” pointing the tip of that awesome blade behind me.
I did turn to see what appeared as a vast many-colored carpet spread before my feet. Yet, as our little island drew near, I did see that the threads were in motion – as long grass will wave under a wind. Nearer still and did my mind reel, for before me now lay an endless mass of writhing humanity. Yet even nearer, I did see, to my horror, a great battle played out before me. Here a golden-haired Norseman swung his huge axe, chopping off another’s head. Near him, another lost his arm and half his chest as an enormous broadsword crashed into and through his leather armor. There, both legs of a Roman centurion were crushed beneath a chariot wheel. Blood and violence erupted everywhere, covering the carpet in its entirety. I took notice of people of all times and places; heathens, pagans, christians, black, red, yellow, and white, with rocks, sticks, arrows, swords, various machines and other things I could not fathom or even well describe – as, by way of example, large mushrooms of smoke and fire which did grow from the carpet, consuming all those for a great distance round about. All this was set before me in an endless tapestry which did indeed seem without bounds for, from my vantage point in the air high above, its ends were beyond my vision.
My sword arm did of a sudden ache to be of use, that cetain spot issuing its warning of impending danger, as I did watch a great red bird or perchance even a dragon, mount slowly upon the wind and wheel round towards me. Upon it sat a knight dressed all in scarlet. I did draw my sword in tune to the unsheathing of the knight’s as the dragon bore down upon me. Forgetting that I did but stand upon a small isle of earth floating in air, I did brace for the impact. The beast’s hot breath seared my face as up it swerved to miss me by mere inches. I thrust upward with my sword which did catch upon the beast’s wing tearing through its flesh, causing the vile creature to veer further from me. With his return flight, the scarlet rider swung his red blade upon me and I but managed to only just parry it, and to come close to being knocked off my perch. Quickly recovering my balance, I did turn and did lash out again to just catch him from behind and beneath the ribs. ‘Twas enough to drive him from off the wretched beast and, with a cry of pained surprise, down through the air to his timely death.
Ah! Victory in battle! Such a sweet taste!
Of a sudden, the scene did dissolve and again did I stand in the calm starlit night with the stranger’s gaze upon me.
“Think man!” he thundered, “Are you fulfilled in taking another’s life, however vile? Think you that you’ve won? And what is it you’ve won? A great and good taste of blood? Is it indeed sweet? Is your spirit lifted upward now this one lies dead at your feet?”
Flushed with excitement and the smell of blood, I did wish to reply in the affirmative, but by this strange man’s question did something stir deep within my soul. ‘Twas not regret. Mayhap it was guilt, or even shame. I knew not and dared not speak.
Again he pointed behind me with that formidable blade and again he directed, “Observe.”
Again I perceived a carpet of humanity, but this was of lesser color and its motion was not as great. As we drew nigh, I did see many people lying about. Some with empty bowls at their hands, as if begging without reward and others with round expanded bellies of a type that signal deathly starvation. Thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children lay motionless below me, already dead – slowing the undulating rhythm of this weave which, like the first, had no bounds that I could discern.
I turned round and stared in silent horror at my guide who meeting my gaze, stood evenly.
“You recognize this scene do you not? This second, of hunger, starvation, and death that comes from the first; of war. And still, this is but a small part of man’s journey upon this land.”
Yet again that ominous, shimmering blade set its tip to point behind me and yet again I heard that, by now, frightsome word, “Observe!”
Yet again I did turn, though this time reluctant, to look upon an appallingly vast multitude of humanity, all exhibiting their basest selves. I did see all manner of slavery, thievery, drunkenness, lewdness, unfathomable selfishness and greed, and unspeakable cruelty – as in one inharmonious, writhing mass that drowned itself with the sound of much arguing and hateful speech. This, to the end of my vision upon all sides. Behind the scene, I did then behold from afar, a great castle that did grow to become a monstrous throbbing fortress. From one of its gates did extend a great hose that did suck in all the land round about – as if it were but a silk cloth bunched up and pulled within. Large grey towers did rise from within the fortress center, exhaling clouds of black, grey, and white smoke that did cover the entire sky. From an opposite gate, another great hose did spew forth a mountain of goods. Some items, large and small, were but ordinary things as tables and settings, cooking pots, shoes, clothing, couches, beds, and such. Other items came forth that I could not fathom. I did see covered chariots with four wheels that moved without horses, tubes that did glow green or yellow or blue of their own accord, and boxes burning with a red heat as do our ovens. I did also see paintings that did move as if alive, bottles that when smashed together did not break, filled with liquids of many colors both thick and thin, and a myriad of other strange things – beyond count, pouring forth without stop. As I did watch, the fortress grew ever greater and the land round about did shrink visibly as the one great hose did inhale it, and the pile of goods disgorged by the other grew in size beyond what I can relate – even beyond the size of all our mountains together.
Acid dread rose up into my throat as I heard that terrible word yet once more, “Observe!”
The scene now before me, the fourth, was of utter destruction. Whole cities burned with smoke so thick and heavy as to sting my eyes and hamper my breath even at this distance. Here again I did see those awful, giant and growing mushrooms of flame – but many more than before. I did gag upon the smell and turned away from this last weave, wishing to see no more.
With clenched fists, working to restrain my anger and abhorrence, I did challenge the stranger, “You, sir, have indeed shown me that you are capable of great harm. But by this have you only succeeded in strengthening my resolve to prevent your entering into the domain which I do guard. Were I able, I would draw my sword and…”
“Hold!” he cried, dismissing my challenge with such authority that I did feel as like being thrown against a shield. “You err in your observation and assumption good watchman. Because I but show you these things, think you that I am the cause? Nay, it is you, son of man, and those whom you would guard that are the cause. Worst of all is your liege, the ruler of this domain. Think you to stop me? And what would you do? What would you stop?”
“I would to stop this insanity,” I answered, “if you but release me from this bewitchment of yours and meet me as a man.”
He breathed out a long, slow, tired sigh. Then he gathered himself up, did straighten his back further, gave his head a turn as to remove a crick, and said, “Very well.”
With those words, gone was the night. I did stand upon a sunny meadow with a cool breeze that did blow beneath my helmet. I had not taken note to what degree my journey thus far did affect me until I did feel the sweat running down my face and neck turn sticky and cool as it did dry.
Waiting across from me was the stranger. His hooded cloak was no more. In its place he wore a breastplate of satin grey, metal armor. Beneath that, his tanned leather was well oiled and of a light reddish-tan color. By his stance, I discerned that this would be no easy foe. He drew his pale blade and at the sight of its glowing brilliance, even in the bright sun, I did almost quake, but refused the impulse. Rather, I did steel myself and drew my own blade.
Holding the sword in his right hand but pointing it downward, he gave me a little wave with his left hand as if to say, “Come hither, ‘tis your move,” but only spoke a word, “Sir?”
Thinking to end this quickly, I did swing my blade with both hands and all my strength, as if to cleave him in two in a single blow. With lightening speed and with only the one right arm, he brought his blade up to touch mine. I say touch because when the two blades met, absent was the familiar clang of hardened steel upon steel as was absent too the attendant jarring of arm muscle and bone. Instead, cold, pale blue sparks did shower down onto my arms and my blade was turned away as gently as a mother turns her babe in its crib.
At this strange development, I did sense that to swing my sword again would be of no benefit and a waste. For how could I face a foe with power such as this? Worse, I began to wonder as to why he did not defeat me outright. Thus, I put my blade’s steel tip to the ground, looked my adversary in the eye, and queried of him, “What is your intent? You know that surrender I can not and will not?”
He replied, “I intend for you to know by whom the atrocities you have witnessed are committed. For, as I have said, these are not by me, nor my kind, but by your liege and his kind. I ask that you accept the truth of what you’ve been shown by me, a Guardian – one of many. Share this vision you have seen. Bring to an end your sharing in its cause. One at a time, you and your kind must cease to consent to the violence being done. One by one, I ask that you withdraw your support, for by so doing you aid us in the great battle to end this evil. I, my kind, do come before you in warning. For what is being done today is not good and all who partake in these wrongs shall die. Finally, I ask that you forewarn your kind that the time of reckoning is come upon them.”
He paused for a moment, gave a little shrug, and continued, “That is all. Will you accept?”
After but little thought I did accept, willingly.
With that he lifted his sword saying, “One last time shall I direct you.” This time my eyes did follow the sword as it did swing up to point at the sky. “Observe. The gates of heaven.”
I did then see two great, heavy gates of thick, dark, polished wood, decorated with much gold. The fourteen brass hinges, seven upon each gate, did seem as long as is my body and at least as thick. The gates, taller than the walls of our castles, did swing open and from out of the realm within, rode one as a man but radiant as the white noonday sun – blindingly bright. He was seated upon a white steed and there did follow him many more riders, each armed with a sword like the sword of the Guardian. All were clothed in white and all did ride white steeds. These were beyond counting as, for what seemed as many hours, did I watch them ride forth from within.
“Do you recognize this scene?”
“As all those who fear God would, I do.”
“And do you know the destination of these?”
“Then I have but one thing more. Attend: if, in heaven one day is as a thousand years upon earth, does it not follow that one hour is equal to just more than forty years?”
“Yes?” I did answer questioningly as I had not sufficient time to calculate such numbers.
“Then I do but leave you with this final thought to ponder: What is heaven’s distance from earth and at what speed do the horsemen ride?”