“ Grandpa! Please, please tell us a story,” the young children exclaimed.
They were seated in the lap of a man who had seen many, many years. His gnarled, rough hands were like the branches of an oak tree, and his hair was thick and full, and white as snow. His face was a harvest apple in January—wrinkled and browned, but sweet to the taste. He was old as the hills and yet his eyes…full of light and joy, tears and grief, brokenness made whole… they made this old trooper seem like an eager child on Christmas Eve! He gazed down at his grandchildren, Young Frederick on his right knee, sweet Caroline on his left.
“So!” he boomed. “‘Tis a story you be wanting, is it my sprites? Well then! ‘Tis a story you’ll be getting, only then you’ll have to run off to your beds! For tomorrow we celebrate HIS birthday, and GLORY what a celebration we’ll have, eh? Frederick, throw some more wood on that fire whilst Sweet Caroline and I scoot closer to it.”
Frederick jumped down to obey. The old man rose with his granddaughter under one arm like a kitten, and with a casual flick of his wrist he tossed his huge oaken chair about three feet closer to the fire, like it was made of twigs. He sat down, and Sweet Caroline squirmed up his chest and wormed her arms around his corded neck. “Grandpa,” she said with a solemn face, “Tell us about your journey. Tell us about Him.”
“Yeah!” Frederick chimed in excitedly as he launched himself upon his grandpa. “Tell us about when you were The Light King, and when you went to see Him when He came, and about Gillae and Brownie and—“
“Whoa, slow down my bumpkins,” interrupted the old man. “You’ve heard that story so many times it must be nearly worn out from the telling! Surely you’d rather hear about how your papa, the King, killed the ugly dragon, Ba’alzamon,
or about how he rescued the beautiful Princess Katherine and made her his Queen and your mother?”
“NO GRANDPA!” they shouted in concert. “Tomorrow ‘s the Day–—His day and it’s your day too, said Frederick.
“Yes, Grandpa,” said Sweet Caroline. “It’s my favorite story, to hear how you met Him and everything. Please, Grandpa, oh please?”
The old man sat looking back and forth between them as if caught deep in indecision. He glared at them in mock irritation while delight danced in his eyes. The children sat in suspense, hardly daring to breathe, hearts straining with desire to hear the magical story. Sweet Caroling looked at Frederick, and had a giggling fit. Frederick shushed her with an agonized frown and the darkness of the night pressed in through the windows as they huddled close to the fire. The room was full of lamps, all of them unlit and dormant. The fire popped and crackled fiercely. The old man drew in a deep breath, held it, just to build the suspense and then exhaled in mock resignation and secret gladness.
“Oh very well you smooth talkers. The tale is yours for the telling.” Frederick let out a whoop and Sweet Caroline accompanied him with gleeful clapping. “I swear! You two could talk an elephant out of his trunk while making him feel he was the talk of the town for the bargain! Okay then—gather close and settle in, and you shall hear the telling of
THE HEALING OF THE LIGHT KING
He took a deep breath, and began…
“‘Twas on this very day, 77 years ago that I left this very castle, LIGHTSHINE HEARTHHOME and began the journey. I was sick, and full of torment. The fever upon me was getting worse. The times I felt whole and pain free were fewer and shorter, as aches and hurts grew like hungry dragons feasting on my days and devouring my nights.
“The Light King” they called me then, though the name was given first in mocking jest. But King I was…then. Before the pain there was not a man under my eye that didn’t pledge his all for mine. What needed doing we did! No hesitation or moment of indecision! Strength it took, and strength I had! But it left me, strength, deserted me just when I needed it the most to fight off afflictions that no sword and shield could slash or beat down.
I loved the light in those days—and now—more than all else! I remember how sunlight through clouds and moonlight through trees fascinated me. I wanted to touch that light! To hold it, to drink it, to breathe it! To live IN it…ah!
In those days men said there was a shine upon me not seen around others, a shine that matched my strength. But my strength began to fade, and the shine began to cease.
I was terrified. Oh, I put on a brave face, but secretly I cried in desperate agony and fear. I began to collect lamps and fill LIGHTSHINE HEARTHHOME with as much light as possible—lamps in the kitchen and lights in the hall, lamps in the library, wherever I could fit them. But the more lamps I brought inside the castle, the less light I had inside of me! It was like they were stealing their light from mine and burning my strength for fuel. The castle and all in it was brighter, but me—I was growing dimmer, fading you might say.
I heard whispers behind my back, and “LIGHT KING” became a mocking title because I had so many lamps and so little light.
Oh, to my face it was all peaches and cream, but behind the curtain I was mocked as a laughingstock—king in name and calling only. Always remember: position and riches do not royalty make. It takes qualities of spirit that cannot be bought, but only earned.
Then it got worse. The dreams began—awful dreams of agony and torment over what I saw in the dreams. I feared going to sleep, and with the coming night came dread as well, to lie like a great monstrous dog across the foot of my bed.
“Oh, Grandpa,” gasped Caroline. “What were the dreams about?”
Ahh. They were about a new baby who became a noble man. This man was…well, it’s hard to say after all these years…he was light! I know that seems like an odd way to tell whom someone is, but there it is.
He’d be laying there, a new baby shining like a diamond, and right before my dreaming eyes he’d grow up into a man, who was LIGHT!
He was incredible to behold! Not exactly handsome, or attractive, even…but he was beautiful! And if I was “The Light King’, then he was King of Lights! I thought if he’d just reach out and touch me, then I’d be so full of such light as’d never fade nor flicker and the pain would be eaten up and I’d be strong again!
But then the awful part of the dream started. The darkness took on shape, like dragons and daemons, and it gathered against my King of Lights and tore him with claws of hatred. It beat him and broke him into a bloody horror.
Then he was nailed to the stake and blood was everywhere. Finally the darkness set its teeth into his torn body to drag him down into its maw…deeper and deeper down…I screamed in rage and terror and ran to him and grabbed him to keep him from being pulled down into the blackness.
But I wasn’t strong enough and I was dragged down with him into the pit and I wasn’t brave enough to hold on and face the terror at his side so I let go in despair and shame…and woke up screaming and weak, dim and dying. This nightmare happened all night every night, and it was killing me.
I was near death when the Star King and the Mountain King arrived. The Star King had seen great portents in the sky of a Mighty One who was to be born, and together with the Mountain King was making pilgrimage to do him homage. To survive this journey they needed the support that my treasury could offer them, and they desired me to accompany them! The fading Light King—nearing death, and I was supposed to help them? But I was intrigued by these tidings. A mighty one born in my lifetime. “Perhaps the Mighty One of All,” the Star King kept saying. It stirred…truly and deeply.
The kings stayed with us three days, and I was determined to accompany them despite being in no condition to make such an arduous journey. We had no idea where we were going, or how far it was. All we had was a new star that the Star King said sang to him to follow until it stopped where the Mighty One was. I would most likely die before I returned and yet…I knew in my heart of hearts that I was destined for such a quest.
And so we set out that fateful morning so long ago. The Star King had a big barrel of frankincense to give to the Mighty One. The Mountain King had a big chest of gold to give to Him. ‘What will you give Him?’ they asked me. I laughed in mirthless despair. What could such as I give to such as Him?
I would most likely be dead before we found Him, but I said, if I was not dead, then I would give Him myself. HA, HA—a joke on the Mighty One—a dead King as a gift. So, I loaded my pack animals with food, water, and a large trunk full of burial spice—myrrh. It would most likely be used on me before we arrived, but if not, then I would complete the joke and give it to the Mighty One in the face of death, as a down payment for his dead King. My subjects lined the roadway and cheered us—some in jest and some in sorrow. Deep inside it was like everyone knew I was not coming back alive.
We traveled for months, following that star, and I grew weaker and weaker, and my dreams more and more terrible. I saw each blow of the whip and heard each gasp from His mouth. I saw each drop of living blood fall, liquid ruby light. I saw each time He was hit. I saw every crystal tear drop, and I saw the hammer fall time and again as it drove the nails through Him and stuck Him to the stake. I saw Him dropped into the earth like a broken sword in the midst of an empty grave. I needed constant care but death like the tide just kept creeping closer and closer.
Finally one night, in the dreams, I held onto the King of Lights as He was drawn down. Deeper and deeper into the teeth of the darkness I was pulled, but still I held on, down into such hell itself. The pressure and sorrow and grief and the undead dark were overwhelming and again, in shame and despair I had to let go and seek the light of the world I knew. But I couldn’t find my way back. I was lost, and in the darkness, I wandered alone. The Star King and the Mountain King thought me dead and left me with all that I brought.
And I lay, I know not how long.
Sensations swirled behind the darkness that I wandered in, and in the tenuous patterns slowly formed. I listened eyes closed, and was comforted by noises that gave me hope all was not lost. Bells…voices …and then I noticed aromas of fields and wet wool…SHEEP! That was it! I was walking in a dark cloud surrounded by sheep!
A rough, wet, slobbery thing touched my cheek and my forehead. I was being LICKED! I pushed out with my hands and found the rich wooly coats of sheep gathered round me. I was not walking upright in the darkness at all, but was actually laying on my back in a dewy, cold field, and these sheep were gathered around me, licking me like I was Hiram the Shepherd’s salt lick!
“Gillae, come quick! An angel lays in our midst, fallen and ill!” I heard a high-pitched young voice scream. I turned my head and the world tilted violently as I did and I felt sick and began to groan and heave in dry wracking spasms.
“HIE! Back off there, Brownie! Not too close! After what we just went through I be not wanting ye to take any chances! Let us have a lookee!” The voice that spoke was like a waterfall’s roar, deep and loud, and not a little alarmed. With all my might I tried to turn to look, but before I could I felt a hard rap to my ribs and a persistent jabbing. The fool was poking me with a stick!
“WHAT BE YE!?” shouted the voice! “Speak up, now, and be quick about it! We are in no mood for further shocks and surprises, for the events of the night have greatly unsettled us!” Somehow I managed to get my head turned and my eyes open, and there I beheld a giant of a man.
He rose from the ground like the Yule Tree in the Castle Courtyard. At the top of his head was the bushiest, tangledest mop of hair that ever crowned a head! His beard was long and it moved in the wind with a life of its own. His hands were like shovels, and they held a staff the size of a small sapling! His eyes flashed brightly in the moonlight, and his teeth glistened like pearls as he spoke to me. He was one of the most commanding men I have ever met.
“Hie! I’m talking to you, there! Be ye man or be ye angel or be ye demon!?”
“I’m just a king” I managed to choke out.
“A king? You are a….KING?” The giant threw back his head and laughed like his sides were split. “You are no king, that is for certain! Brownie, bring us a light.”
A small, slight boy stepped from behind the man, bearing aloft a lamp. He was quick and well built, and had a pleasant, intelligent air about him. He gave the lamp to the giant shepherd, who scrutinized me closer.
“Hmm. Now that I can see things more clearly I am certain that you are no angel either. You do not seem to be much of anything!”
“He’s no king…is he Gillae?” said Brownie, seeking reassurance from the big man.
“Back away there Brownie,” Gillae said, and he took the lamp and drew it close to my face, and began to study me intently. His gaze was piercing, but strangely inspiring, and I felt life begin to flow again. I stirred myself to his challenge, and sat up to return his look. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed there were several other shepherds on the fringe of the lamp’s circle of light.
“By the Maker,” said I, “King I am…in a land far away. ‘Tis true that I do not look like a king, nor feel much better, but far I have journeyed to find the end of my travels. I seek the treasure of the ages. And why, by the heavens do you talk of such things as angels and demons?”
“Hmmm…perhaps I see royalty in yer veins, it may be as ye say”, Gillae said. “‘Tis evident that you have many miles of a journey upon ye, and ye are not well. But after this night’s drama it is no wonder that we knew not if you were human or inhuman. But ye speak of treasure…what is this treasure that a king would leave home and kingdom for?”
So I told him of the Mighty One that we sought, of the star that traveled and moved, and drew us on to the One. I told him of my illness and of my companions who had gone on without me, and Gillae grew evermore full of wonder and comprehension. Finally I was too weak to go on.
I raised my arm towards the sky, and gestured weakly at the night, at the star that still shone brightly and steadily overhead, silently shouting of great wonders.
“I must find Him!” I gasped. “I must….”
Gillae rubbed his chin, regal as any king I ever saw and sat silent and brooding as he considered all the things I had said. He was weighing my story, weighing me by some measure that I knew not but I cared very much to be found adequate and worthy of his good judgment.
A short and chubby shepherd stepped up to Gillae and began to speak to him in whispered tones that I couldn’t make out. Gillae nodded and answered something back, and then the little butterball stepped back to the small group of shepherds and began to urge them out to the flocks, and there they went to work gathering the sheep together as if to make a journey.
“Well, King. You are fortunate that we happened upon you. Our good man Dannaeo says that we should bring you with us on our journey, and I concur. It seems that your quest overlaps considerably with an errand that we have recently been…charged with. The boys are gathering the sheep, and when they are finished, we will fashion a means to take you with us.”
“Sir Shepherd,” I said, “you have mentioned dramatic and unsettling events. Pray tell, what happened to you and how did you stumble upon me?”
Gillae fixed his eyes upon me and stared sharply. He shifted his great bulk and rubbed his jaw reluctantly.
“Please, Sir, speak up,” I commanded in as regal a manner as I could summon. He cast his eyes down, and said “Very well Sir King. I will tell you enough to get us all to the fold in the same herd, but most pressing is our errand.
“Nigh on three hours past sunset the boys and me were on the move from yon ridgeline headed toward this very field to set the flock in for the night. It is well protected and the sheep love the sweet grass of this swale. Brownie had the flock well bunched and moving a good clip. Up at the head of the copse yonder we began to allow the flock to spread out, and we looked for firewood in amongst the trees. Dannaeo rustled up some grub and soon we were cozy in the shelter and settling in for a cold but not unpleasant evening.
“Several of the boys were nodding off and there was peace in the still night. But things began to change. I noticed that the sheep were restless and stirred myself to look for some slinker that wanted an easy meal. The air grew heavy, and shivery like, and then began to glow with golden glimmers that grew brighter each passing moment. Suddenly there was a brilliant burst, like when a big knot bursts in the midst of a roaring fire, and standing before us was a gigantic shining man! I must confess that I was undone, and I fell to my face before him like a dead man.”
“YOU DID NOT, GILLAE!” shouted an outraged high-pitched voice. I looked over and saw that young Brownie had been lingering on the edge of our conversation listening in. He rushed into our midst and began to shout, “Gillae is always changing things around to cover up his bravery! He is the biggest and bravest shepherd of all, and he stood up to that guy and made him tell us wh—“
“Hush yourself Brownie!” Gillae said sternly. “Since when did I ever teach you that it was polite to eavesdrop on the conversation of others, let alone listen in to a royal report to a King?”
Brownie dropped his eyes and hung his head. “Umm, never sir” he mumbled.
“What was that, young whelp? I can’t hear you,” Gillae chastised, all the while managing to conceal the indulgent look in his eye. It was evident to me that Gillae loved Brownie very much, and was secretly pleased with the spunk and spirit of the young shepherd.
“Brownie, it is important that ye learn to listen twice as much as you talk. This will please the Maker to see you use EACH of your ears so when you return to Him you will be full of wisdom and not emptied of sense.”
“Aww, yes Sir” Brownie mumbled, but then his fire rose up and he just couldn’t help himself, bursting out with ”but Gillae, if this is a king he should KNOW of what you are!”
“That will be QUITE enough, Jubal Dripsten…do you HEAR me!” This time the note of command and chastening was unmistakable and evident. “Back to the flock with ye, and make things ready. Have Mikkens and Towser fashion a litter upon which we can bear our companion. Sir King, I apologize for this whelp. He is young and impetuous.” Gillae followed Brownie’s departure with his gaze.
“No apologies needed, Sir Shepherd” I retorted. “I too have been his age. But pray tell me more, and do feel free to give me the FULL story.” I sensed that there was more to the tale than Gillae was telling…indeed there was more to this man than he was revealing.
“Oh, well. Let’s see…where was I?” he muttered.
“I believe you were laying on the ground like a dead man?” I remarked dryly.
Gillae shot a hot look at me that bordered on anger, but then he got a hold of himself.
“Yes…laying on the ground. Well it turns out this was the angel of the Lord, and he gave us word that the Redeemer of All Things had just been born. We were supposed to find Him in Bethlehem and declare His birth to all that we meet. Then the angel disappeared, and all was still. So we roused ourselves, and set off towards Bethlehem. Just minutes later we stumbled across you, and now you know the rest of the story.”
I looked Gillae squarely in the eye but he quickly cast his eyes down, and I was certain that he was not telling me everything. I just nodded, and said “Well, Sir Gillae, what now? Off to this Bethlehem, to see the King?”
“Aye, that is the path for us all.” Gillae answered.
He stood quickly and began to call to the others. Mikkens and Towser came over to me carrying a rickety looking litter and my baggage. They gently picked me up and placed me on the litter and then lifted me up onto their shoulders.
“I am sorry, good men to be a burden unto you. Thank you for your sacrifice and good hearts.”
“Sir King, I tell you that you are light, not heavier than a yearling lamb” said Mikkens.
“Aye”, echoed Towser. It is our privilege to carry you. It is not every shepherd that gets to carry a King to meet a King.”
And off we went, Gillae leading the way, the flock following close at heel, the group of shepherds scattered round them, and then Mikkens, Towser and I bringing up the rear. We travelled an hour or so in this manner, following the star, men speaking to one another in hushed expectant tones.
As we travelled, I marveled at the endurance of my 2 bearers, and I could not help but reflect on the difference between these 2 and my previous 2 companions. One thing was becoming evident the more time I spent with these shepherds: Royalty is not a title or station in life, but rather a way of being that is oriented towards joyful sacrifice. Perhaps my bearers were kings more than the ones who had left me to die.
After a while, I started to doze off, rocked by the soft motion of our travel.
I was startled by a voice and woke to find myself staring into Brownie’s intense gaze.
“Gillae wasn’t telling you the whole story, and I think you should know it, being a king and all. I don’t know much about kings, you being the only one I ever met” (and with this he eyed me dubiously), “but I can tell you that Gillae is braver than any man I ever met, and he is stronger and more giving than any person alive. Many times we have all been too tired to take our watches and we fall asleep, only to wake and see him on guard, over us and the sheep both. And in truth, tonight’s events have only added to his exploits!”
“Brownie” said I, “You have all seemed on edge and wary, and of course all of your hints and outbursts tell me there is more going on here than meets the eye. What exactly befell you on this evening of wonders?”
Brownie looked forward at Gillae to make sure he wasn’t listening…and no fear of that for Gillae was leading, and walking at ready as if expecting an attack of robbers, or worse. Then in a low voice, Brownie began to speak.
“Well, it all happened like Gillae said, but when the gigantic man appeared to us, we fell to the ground like dead men, but not Gillae! He stepped forward and raised his staff, and challenged the newcomer to identify himself as friend or foe, and if foe to prepare to meet his doom. The giant shining guy began to speak to us as we all clung to the ground like babes to their nursemaids.
I will never forget his words:
‘FEAR NOT, oh sons of Adam’
‘I bear to you good tidings from the throne of the Most High God Himself, tidings of great joy, to all men in all places here and for all time until the Breaking is made Unbroken on that Day. Unto you is born this day, in David’s city, a Savior! Christ the Lord!’
“His voice hung in the air like a living thing, and was frightening but beautiful. He said he was the angel of the Lord come from the throne of the Maker.
‘You are to go to the Savior with all haste. Look for Him wrapped in swaddling clothes’
said the angel.
‘But what are we supposed to do, break into people’s houses?’ Gillae said. The angel gave a thunderous blast with his voice, that must have been angelic laughter, and it both chilled and invigorated my soul.
‘Look in the stables, Shepherd, for this King will be with the sheep, lying in a manger.’
“’A manger'” Gillae replied. ‘What kind of king is it that is born a Savior yet is lying in a feeding trough?’
When he said this, the guy just threw back his head and again thundered a laugh. But bold Gillae demanded proof that he was the angel of the Lord, and not some seducing deceiver from the Breaker’s dungeons. He actually stepped forward and thrust his staff into the face of the angel!
When he did this, the angel rose straight up about 50 feet, and clapped his hands three times…and the night split open and rolled back like a scroll and in its place was light like you cannot imagine!
It was like a hole had opened in the night, and the shadows were torn away, and Heaven’s own glory was invading the dark earth, and if you think we were scared before, we were simply undone now!
For as the light rushed through the tear in the night it filled up the air around us. This light was SOUND! Crazy I know, but the light was music, and the music I heard was the light! But the worst was yet to come, for suddenly, out of the very midst of this heavenly light angels began to pour forth.
Hundreds upon hundreds, and thousands upon thousands! Like grains through the glass they came, each one singing loudly at the top of its lungs!
‘GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST, AND ON EARTH PEACE, AND GOODWILL TOWARD MEN!’
Over and over they sang this, and the song took wings and flew forth from around us out into the world. It is flying still, of this I am sure, to the darkest and loneliest places in the world. It is a song that will never be stopped. It will live with heaven’s life and all that hear its triumphant ring will thrill in their hearts with hope and comfort and joy.
“As this all happened even Gillae was knocked down, but while we all buried our heads in our arms and sought to hide in the dirt, I snuck a peak at Gillae. He lay on his back, face unveiled and eyes alight. As the gigantic angel of the Lord sang, he flew round and round over Gillae’s head and Bold Gillae just laughed in great bellows almost as loud as the angels.
And then, things started to go backwards-like, and trickled in reverse, and began to flow upwards, back to heaven, until only the angel of the Lord was left.
‘Rise, oh chosen of the Most High’
Gillae stood immediately, and the angel’s booming laugh echoed in my head, and he said
‘I am talking about all of you! The King of Glory has a special fondness for shepherds. He has chosen you as His heralds. Go quickly to Bethlehem, proclaiming to all you meet that He is born the Divine Christchild, Light of the world. Tell the world the Maker is not mad, and He says Peace, Peace, for there IS Peace! But beware, for the forces of the deceiver gather even now to steal away the light of the world. You must be on your guard! They will stop at nothing.’
“’Bring them on!’ shouted Gillae. ‘The evil doers will regret the day they opposed the Maker, and shall be sent back to the chaos that spawned them,’ and Gillae brandished his staff towards the angel of the Lord in skillful and dangerous flourishes!
The angel rose up on high with a loud shout, and then with a clap like thunder disappeared in a lightning bolt! All was still, except for the gentle wind and the sound of our hearts hammering in our heads and the echo of Heaven’s Choirs ringing in our ears.
We lay there like dead men, but Gillae roused us up and said ‘Come lads! Heard ye not the angel of the Lord? We have a KING to find.’
“We slowly lifted our heads, still quaking from Heaven breaking into the night, but as the seconds passed, we got excited, for Gillae was jabbering and encouraging us constantly, prodding us with his voice like we were sheep on the business end of his staff.”
Brownie was silent after this, and I waited for him to resume. He glanced around uneasily, and then looked at me as if I might still just be a phantom.
“Speak on, Brownie” said I.
“Well, Sir King, off we went as the angel had said, but suddenly we heard something that chills the bones of shepherds everywhere…the lonesome sinister howl of a hungry wolf!
“’Hie! To the flock men!’ shouted Gillae. ‘Remember the angel’s warning! We have a king to find! Let nothing quench your heart! Defend the flock!’
And then they were on us in a flash, 6 big, black wolves with red eyes and yellow teeth. They were taller than my head, and the likes I have never seen and hope never to see again. We tried to stand, but the howling, slashing mouths were terrifying! I was frozen in fear, and one of them actually had me by my cloak, and was dragging me off to eat me, but Gillae came flying out of nowhere in a leaping shouting whirling wind of vengeance.
He whacked those skulkers with his staff, and their bones cracked like kindling! They crumpled with yelps of pain and death, but still Gillae pressed on for though 3 were slain, the rest had him surrounded. He circled as they darted in and slashed, and parried each attack. The rest of us were milling about chasing the sheep so we were no help to him as he fought for his life and ours.
“But then the air grew cold, like the grave, and a dank foul smell arose from some evil place. Life was draining out of me and I wanted to run away. I glanced at Gillae and saw that something blacker than night was floating toward him. It was
like a tear in the night that let in death and despair and it was painful to look at.
Gillae slashed at the wolves and cracked the head of one like a ripe melon as he backed off from the dark thing. He drew himself up to his full stature and shouted ‘HALT FOUL HELL SPAWN!’ Leave us for we are on a mission for the Maker!’
“Everything was still, and then from the midst of the black, 2 red eyes opened and an awful black hole gaped like a mouth. From the midst of the dark came a scream so evil it must have been from hell.
At this, my knees DID buckle, but still I looked on at Gillae. I thought that if I could just keep my eyes on him I would be safe.
When Gillae heard that death cry, he actually threw his head back and laughed!
‘Be OFF with your foul self!’ he commanded.
And the thing actually stopped. But then IT spoke, and the sound was terrible, like the squeaking of a cemetery gate. It dug savagely into my mind.
‘You have no authority to make such command’ it hissed. ‘For your insolence I shall stop your heart and feed it to my wolves!’ the thing continued. ‘You have no part of this. But, in my great mercy I may let you live and even give you wealth and fame and comfort! But you must walk away and leave the night to us.’
“Gillae jumped forward with a war whoop and swung his staff with all his might right at the center of this thing, and screamed ‘In the name of the Baby King and Heaven’s Song I come against you to the death and I rebuke you!’
And with that his staff found its mark. The demon gave a scream of pain, fear, and rage mingled with defeat, and then with a bang the monster was gone!
Gillae looked at me as I sat speechless and frozen in fear. The great man winked and nodded, and gently said ‘Eh, Brownie, pick up your jaw and rise up! We have a flock to lead and a king to find!’
And then he was off to slay the remaining wolves.
“I hurried off across the field in search of the sheep, and that is when I stumbled over you! All this time you had been out of it, lying in the field while angels and demons made war round about you. I looked over for Gillae just as he slew the last 2 beasts, and hollered for him, and, well, you pretty much know the rest. Can you see why we were uncertain regarding yourself? After what we had been through you could have been nearly anything! It is funny when you think about it…we found our king all right, but one who was old and dying, rather than a newborn babe who is called Wonderful Counselor!”
Brownie walked in silence and I pondered what he’d said.
Finally I said “Thank you for the tale Brownie. I understand why you are such a fierce defender of Gillae. He is brave AND modest, a rare and pleasing combination. Your testimony is true and loyal.”
“Aye, and it is also too much talking and not enough working!” that booming familiar voice thundered. There stood Gillae, big as a horse! He had slipped back to us unnoticed as we talked, and overheard everything Brownie said. Brownie hung his head and hurried off to help the other men with the flock.
“Forgive the boy, Sir King” Gillae requested. “He is forward and given to bragging. It is to my detriment that I have not succeeded in instilling within him some restraint.”
“On the contrary, Sir Shepherd,” I answered. “He is a bright boy, and I sense his story is true, yes? A more complete picture worthy of reporting to a king?”
Gillae reddened and inhaled sharply. “I am reluctant to speak about such things” Gillae answered quietly. And then Gillae would speak no more on the subject.
After a while, Dannaeo fell back to walk with Gillae and Mikkens and Towser and I. “We draw near, Sir King,” he said.
Gillae looked intently at me and said “Know that all is not as it seems. High is come down and low is lifted up. Light is cloaked and darkness becomes light. Even as He comes, so too must you come.” I was at a loss when he spoke, but my heart stirred at the promise of light. Gillae gazed at me unblinking, eyes glowing.
I looked back in exhausted confusion. “What do you mean, Gillae?”
“I will say no more, lest I put you in danger of pride. Only realize that to rise you must descend, to be found you must be lost. Take heart and be bold. Believe your heart, and remember your dreams!”
“Remember them!” I repeated in pain. “I spend all my waking hours trying to forget them!”
“Nevertheless, again I bid you—REMEMBER THEM! For the Master wastes nothing.”
We finally came to the outskirts of a small town and the Star stopped, and fell lower and lower until it was drawn impossibly near to earth and hovered there, motionless in stellar proclamation of heavenly portents.
The town was bursting at the seams with impossible crowds of people all trying at once to find food and lodging. We came to the inn, and I was sure that Gillae and the boys would get a room for me to rest and prepare to meet the Mighty One. But they walked straight on by with nary a glance! Down a narrow lane into an even narrower alley, flock and all, only to enter into the gloomy darkness of a smelly, dirty old stable!
“Gillae, why do we come to THIS place,” I asked him in confusion.
“Listen in your heart, and you will know, Sir King,” he answered, “but if you are deaf, then lift up your head and you will see the star over your head like a bonfire of comfort and joy.”
And I looked up and there it was in its beauty to take away your breath. I looked around us and saw animals, some people (shepherds mostly), and even Kings! Yes—the Star King and the Mountain King had found this decrepit place, too.
But no one was looking at us. They were all looking at a manger, or rather, the small baby who lay in the manger. He was newly born and at peace.
The Star King wore a look of disbelief. The Mountain King seemed disappointed, like someone at the end of a long, unfruitful quest.
I cleared my throat, and said weakly, “Hail and well met fellow kings. Why be you in this god-forsaken place?”
The Star King glanced, then did a double take. “Hail and well met fellow King,” he replied in astonishment. “We thought you dead this night. Even now you look more dead than living. But alas for us all. We came looking for the Mighty One of whom the Star sings, but found only yon babe and vanity!”
Gillae spoke up, eyes blazing: “Good King, yon babe IS the Mighty One! Do not err! Take heed my counsel: to rise up you must bend down. The eye of pride cannot see the light of humility.”
I glanced at the Star King to gauge his response, but he merely stared at Gillae like he were some dirty peasant beneath his notice and station. I looked back at the baby, and noticed a man and a woman seated near the manger looking overwhelmed by all the attention and commotion.
All at once, the babe opened his eyes, and gazed straight into mine. I felt lost in their depths.
Then I heard a Voice… “Come to Me, Light-King,” it said.
I looked all around but I couldn’t see who was speaking. Suddenly Gillae was thrusting his staff against my back, pushing me towards the babe.
“Go on, quickly!” he hissed. “The Master calls you.” I laughed out loud.
“The Master? Him? That helpless babe? Surely you jest. He is no more master than you are, Sir Shepherd!”
Brownie ran up to stand at Gillae’s side. “Go on,” he urged. “Remember what Gillae told you! ‘…As He comes, so to must you come…’ He sent for you: now you must answer Him!” I looked back and forth between the baby and my friends.
“Remember your dreams!” called Gillae.
“Yes,” said the Voice. “Remember your dreams.”
Suddenly I realized that the baby before my eyes was the same one I had dreamt of for all those years! He was the King of Lights who was savaged by darkness. I gasped in awe and terror. If the dream baby was real, were the dreams real as well?
“Yes, they are,” he said. It was the baby who had spoken, though His lips had not moved. The Voice I was hearing was His!
“Draw near to me, my Light King and learn the meaning of these things.” He called me “Light King”, but in his mouth it was not a curse but instead was a caress.
I knelt at the side of the manger. Memories swept over me and in pain I wept. Tears ran down my face and crowned the baby’s brow. His tiny hand reached out and grabbed me with a grip stronger than life, stronger than death. I tried to pull away. But he held me stronger than chains and looked into me.
“My precious Light King. I called you. You answered. I prepared you. I send you. But first I will heal you.”
The stable fell away and we were in my dreams, only this time he held onto me. Darkness came rushing at us with hungry teeth and sharp screams. I was terrified. Claws of dark tore at Him and His light bled out and the darkness took us down, down deeper into Hell.
I screamed and tried with all my might to get free but He held me there with him. The awful stake came and pinned Him there with nails of death, but still He held onto me, and still we went down. His light was pouring out, but we went down deeper than I’d ever been in any of my dreams.
He took me down all the way. It was there, at the bottom that I saw what I’d never been able to see before…the ending of all His light at the bottom of the end of down.
I screamed in despair, certain that all was lost.
But then came His blood in a rush!
His light had made a way into Dark’s evil heart and the flood of His blood raced on the heels of the Light! Dark thought it devoured His light, but Dark was deceived! Like an arrow straight and true Darkness was pinned and blood consumed it.
And by His blood the Breaking was broken,
and by His blood death undone.
By His blood all light resumed flowing,
by His blood all healing begun.
From the lowest, most impossible place of all, we began to rise, He and I and still His marvelous hand gripped me. We were rising on a tide of living light; lifted by the flow of His blood and He sang with victory and triumph!
“Behold, the King of Lights is come,
Bruised and poured out from on high,
The Blood King’s battle now is done
And Death’s devoured by victory!
King of Lights, Eternal Fount
The Blood King conquers every foe
Rising with triumphant shout
Peace, Goodwill to those laid low!
As He sang the light grew brighter and blood redly ran deep and wide and we were high and lifted up, and still He held me. He held me! And I understood.
The stable came back. I was still kneeling beside the manger; my tears were still His crown. The others had all gathered close and were waiting in a hush.
The baby let go of my hand. He turned His tiny head and looked at the side of the manger. The point of a careless nail protruded starkly through the wood. Slowly, deliberately, He reached His tiny hand toward it. The woman perceived His intent, and started forward to stop Him, but the man stopped her.
The baby covered that nail point with His hand, and then, deliberate and slow, He pushed His palm against the nail. He never hesitated; he never even winced. He drew back his hand, and there in His palm lay a red pearl of great price—a drop of His innocent blood.
He reached His wounded palm out to me and then He pressed it against my forehead like a kiss… and my pain was gone. My grief and sorrow vanished, and I was healed, and filled with light—HIS very light!
I rose and ran to my packs and drew out the chest of myrrh. I took it to the baby and laid it at his feet.
“Oh my Blood King, my death is your death, and your life is my life,” I said. I was still weeping, but now with tears of joy and gratitude.
“I am King of Lights who has become Blood King. Your death has become Mine, and My Life and My Light are become yours. You are My Light King! Here is My charge to you: go in My Light. Spread it wherever you go. Care for the children. Give them gifts. Wherever you speak, there Light shall be. Wherever you give, Life shall grow. Remain faithful until you see Me return on high! For I will go, and I will return!”
The Star King and the Mountain King were transformed by these events came and they bowed low, laying their gifts at His feet. They had found the Song of the Star!
Gillae, Brownie, Dannaeo, Mikkens and Towser also stepped forward. The Baby giggled and petted each one. They received His touch like knights receiving the dubbing of their King’s sword.
Gillae turned to me and said, “I see now, Light King, the hidden ways of the Master. I honor Him and acknowledge you, His messenger and Giftbearer.”
The old man’s voice faltered and grew and silent. He seemed lost in memory. Sweet Caroline and Frederick waited, and waited for him to continue, but finally Frederick could wait no longer.
“Finish the story Grandpa! PUH—LEEZE!”
“Yes, oh yes”, chimed in Sweet Caroline. “What happened next?”
“Huh?” asked the old man. “Oh. Sorry my bumpkins, I was just remembering. Well I told the Star King and the Mountain King all that had happened to me and introduced them to my shepherd friends. Then an angel told us to go home a different way. Seems the Breaker had gotten hold of an evil king’s heart. But that’s the stuff of other tales.
“I finally arrived back at LIGHTSHINE HEARTHHOME exactly two years to the day I had departed. Everyone was shocked to see me. They thought I had died. And –in a way—I had. They had let all the lights go out.
“Except for your dad! Maker’s hands, he had kept his burning for me, and he stepped out of the crowd that day, marched straight up to me, and proclaimed, ‘BEHOLD THE LIGHT KING!’ And nobody laughed, for it was finally, impossibly true.”
“And all the dead lamps, Grandpa”, asked Sweet Caroline. “Did you light them?”
“Yes Grandpa,” echoed Frederick. “Did you bring light back home?”
The old man was quiet, and then said simply, “Yes. I did.”
“Oh, show us, Grandpa. Please show us,” the children begged in unison.
“Now, now,” protested the old man. “It’s time for bed, you fuzzyheads! Come into my arms and I’ll carry you to your room.
“Oh, Grand-pa!” they wailed, but they obeyed.
He hoisted them like they were babes and turned to leave the fire’s light. He hesitated, and then he strode over to a dark, lifeless lamp, and stood still a moment. The Children, one under each arm, looked at each other excitedly and held their breath.
And then…the old man breathed on the lamp…WHOOSH…and laughed as light
leapt up in the lamp in answer to the call of his breath.
The old man laughed and danced around the room, swinging the children high and breathing upon lamp after lamp until the whole room had blossomed, ablaze in light, and then he whisked the children out of the room and whirled down the hall to their room.
Some time later, he emerged.
“Hello Father”, came a deep, strong voice.
The speaker was a tall, noble man with grey streaks of wisdom in his beard and a golden crown upon his head.
The old man looked up and grinned. “Hello son, err, Your Highness,” he bowed with only a hint of teasing.
“Kids settled in, Father?” asked the King. “I was just coming to tuck them in.”
“Oh yes. I expect you’ll find them ready and waiting. Ready and waiting”.
The king looked at his father…all dressed beautiful red—like blood—and hair white as snow and shinning bright.
“You’re putting’ on a little weight, there Father. Your belly looks like jelly!’
“Aye, that it does, son, that it does. Too much ale and good cooking’ I guess.”
“But you look healthy, dad. By the Star—you look like you will live forever!”
The old man threw back his snowy head, pulled his crimson cloak around him, and roared in delight.
“That I may, son, that I may”.
Then he walked down the dark hall to his chambers and as he passed, every dark dormant lamp blazed on in glorious heavenly echo of the light of his passing.
The King stood and watched him until he disappeared round the corner, and the echoes of his laughter faded in the distance.
“Behold, the Light King”, he said softly. “Behold.
He turned and went in to his children.