The citizens of Koinonia gathered in the village center before the Eleutheros Commemorative Feast. A spattering of rain continued to fall, but it was dry beneath the great domed roof of the Alleluia House. Compared to most celebrations on the island the atmosphere was subdued.
Andre parked along Oikos Crescent and walked to the house of worship giving himself time to collect his thoughts before joining the crowd. Though he had not been the one to allow the Returned through the protective boundary, he felt responsible for the somber mood. Now that the fear had passed he needed to be the one to ease his countrymen’s minds and assure them that all was fine, at least for the moment.
He crossed the soggy garden outside the ring of fire pits alight with sputtering flame. It was far from dusk, but the overcast sky called for extra light and warmth. There was a rumble of conversation filtering from the worship house at low volume. Andre eased in from the side and quickly found his aunt and uncle standing near a thick column with the children. He nodded at Davi and put a familiar hand on his cousin Feronia’s head. Both Laken and Demi looked concerned.
“We have been waiting for you to begin the feast,” Demi told him. She nodded at Elder Mathis where he stood conversing with Komer Turay. “They want to hear from you.”
“You missed a rather dull assembly,” Laken said. “Possibly the fastest graduation ceremony we’ve ever had.”
“Davi did a fine job on his piece during the lower class recitation.” Demi beamed proudly. “You will need to watch the album recording when you have time.”
“Did they show the memorial video?” Andre asked.
“No. They decided to wait with that too. I believe they will show it after the meal is served.”
Andre took his leave of his family and wound his way through the crowd to the center of the house. Several people looked up at his passing and moved back to let him through with whispered words of encouragement and gratitude. Elder Mathis noticed his approach and quieted the assembly. Mothers and fathers hushed their children. By the time Andre reached the circle he had the attention of the entire crowd.
Mathis motioned to a raised platform built around the central fire pit where the Agabus could be seen above the reaching flames of fire. Andre took the position awkwardly, letting his hands hang listlessly at his sides and gazing at all the faces staring expectantly back at him.
“I know I left you all kind of nervous,” he began, forcing his voice to remain clear and steady. “Even though we know our island remains clean, it is hard to believe Costa could have fallen into a trap. You probably already know, but he has been taken to Kaluma for treatment. From what I can tell no harm was done outside of his own…pain.” He wasn’t sure how to describe it.
“What was done to him?”
The question rose from Andre’s left. He looked and met eyes with Jora’s brother, Kylan, who waited expectantly for an answer. Several heads turned with furrowed frowns of mixed disapproval and failed attempts to hide their own curiosity.
“That is not something to speak of here,” Elder Mathis spoke up. “Not with impressionable children present.”
“I can’t tell you what happened,” Andre confirmed. “Just that he’s weak. He was lured into Evil’s cave and I went down to try and bring him back. When I found out that the Returned had been allowed in without my inspection I thought for sure Abaddon had taken advantage of us. I don’t know yet if I was wrong, but there isn’t any evidence of a breach that we—that I can see.”
The people nodded with expressions of encouragement. They trusted his Sight and word completely and wanted so much for him to be right. They resembled children caught disobeying their father to find that their actions had actually led to no harm, though they could have. A weight seemed to lift beneath the massive, beamed roof. Even the children could sense it, giggling among themselves for reasons unknown.
“Don’t get complacent though,” Andre felt the need to warn them all. “With two outside entrances in a week we need to focus. Cover your family and neighbors in prayer and volunteer at the Sanctuary if you can. If there is more to Evil’s plan then help make sure that he doesn’t finish it.” Andre waited for a response and wasn’t disappointed. A chorus of cheers rose up and echoed against the rafters amid raised fists of agreement. Andre’s heart lifted at the encouraging sound. If Abaddon thought that these hardy people would desert their Lord so easily he would soon be proven wrong. A moment of weakness had filled them with fear, but in the end they had done exactly as they should. The country had come together in prayer and humility and fought off any chance of an unseen attack. Andre felt very proud of his people; more proud than he had ever been.
“This is Eleutheros.” He grew bolder in his speech to be heard over the crowd. “Our Fifty Year Eleutheros!”
“And your graduation, young man!” a bearded fisherman called out with a ruddy grin.
“That too.” Andre pointed at him in agreement. “And, since I haven’t eaten today, I’d really like to. Is the food ready?” he called to Aunt Demi to be sure.
“Absolutely!” she raised a hand to her face to focus her volume his way.
“Then let’s eat. Elder Mathis, would you bless the meal?”
“Not today,” he stopped him from leaving the platform. “Today you should, Agabus.” Mathis stood back with the rest of the people and bowed his head, waiting for Andre to thank Theos for what they were about to receive.
Glancing through the open wall of the worship house, Andre rested his gaze on the mountain side in the distance. He hoped Abaddon was paying attention to the act of reverence Andre was witnessing. It was as strong a message as any, and he hoped Evil got it loud and clear. “Theos, our protector and King,” he began the prayer of thanksgiving, bowing his head with the rest. He had never been very adept at praying out loud without sounding too simple or rehearsed, but he had plenty of words that day and felt they were honest. His gratitude was showing, and he didn’t mind at all.
After he gave the ‘amen’ and looked up, Elder Mathis thanked him and released the people to make their way across the village center to the community building where the feast would be held under drier conditions. Koinonians began to move and conversation bubbled with a renewed sense of celebration. “Do you still wish to meet with the Council of Elders this evening?” Mathis turned to the Agabus.
“As soon as everyone goes home,” Andre nodded.
“Certainly.” Mathis left to join his family, and Andre waited by the fire for his. With the great mass of people it took a long time for the floor of the worship house to clear. He sat along the edge of the platform with a heavy sigh of exhaustion. Gingerly touching the bruised portions of his chest, Andre swallowed painfully. Each time the prophet needed to speak the strength had been there to do so, but Evil had nearly crushed his vocal cords. It was almost impossible to force air through to his lungs without wincing.
“I spent hours building this stand.” Declan appeared and jumped up on the platform beside Andre, testing out the sturdiness of the wood under his feet.
“It’s fine craftsmanship.”
“Thank you. I considered building a portable one just like it. Do you think anyone would notice if I took to carrying it around for my own use?”
“Notice you using it or notice you carrying it around?” Andre wanted to know with a wheezy croak.
Declan thought about it while stamping his foot a few times. “I could carry it on my head. No one would notice me coming until I’d set it down and there you go, just like that, tall as anyone.”
“I think someone might notice a walking box.”
Declan considered this glitch in his plan, his face scrunched up in doubt. “A collapsible footstool maybe…”
“You need to stop this obsession with your height.” Andre rubbed his tired eyes and stifled a yawn. “Nobody wants you tall. Nobody would like you tall, least of all me.”
“You wouldn’t,” Declan accused him. “You enjoy having a mate you can easily carry in your pocket.” He slid onto the ledge beside Andre and watched the crowd. “I’m proud of my height, wouldn’t change a thing. I just worry about you.”
“Yes, you. Hang around me enough and you’ll think you’re bigger than everybody. Superiority complexes look rotten on an Agabus.”
“Well yours is large enough for the both of us, so no worries,” Andre responded mildly.
“Funny man, this,” Declan pointed to his comrade as Kylan Kirkeby walked up with a sister under each arm.
“Who, him?” Svana wrinkled her nose. “Telling jokes again, Agabus?”
“Yes,” Andre responded, his sarcasm lost in the short bout of coughing brought on from his injured windpipe. “It involves a Norwegian, a tiny Irishman, and a light bulb. Care to know the punch line?”
“Oh, he is funny.” Svana unwound herself from under her brother’s arm and stepped onto the platform. “Tell us one we haven’t heard.”
“Hello, Jora.” Andre ignored one twin for the other with a pleasant but weary smile.
“How are you?” Her sympathy could be read in her deep eyes.
“Hungry,” he responded honestly and received her sweet laughter alongside her own stunning smile.
“You ought to be,” Kylan input while pulling Jora in with a tight one-armed hug. “Why don’t you join the line with us?” he offered. “Although, rightfully, you should have been given first serving. Where are our manners?”
Andre shook his head. “The seniors always go first,” he corrected him, “and the young families.”
“I’m just messing with you, Agabus,” Kylan grinned. “Come on, we’ll all go.”
Andre turned back to Jora. “Is your father around?”
She opened her mouth to speak, but Kylan cut in again. “He was called to set up more tables in the Center. But you have my permission to escort Jora inside.” He stepped back and offered his sister’s arm to Andre, who stood and accepted it. He was not overly fond of Kylan, but Jora’s brother at least knew how to care for his sisters.
Andre thanked him and began to lead Jora away from the fire toward the Community Center. Kylan put a hand on his shoulder and kept pace while Svana and Declan followed. “I was hoping we could talk sometime after the feast,” he told Andre. “Maybe at the Sanctuary?”
Andre looked at him curiously, unsure why Kylan would make such a request, not to mention for that specific location.
“There are some things…” Kylan glanced around warily. “Well, it has to do with my year abroad, and—”
“Alright,” Andre consented, knowing without further explanation why Kylan felt the need to be discreet. “But I can’t after the feast. I have a meeting with the elders.”
“Oh, right,” Kylan remembered, “some other time then.”
Andre slowed his steps and peered at Kylan steadily.
“It’s nothing,” Kylan brushed him off with a lighthearted tone. “It’s just some things I think the Agabus should know. I discussed them with the Acclimation staff already and they told me to mention them to you at some point. We’ll talk soon, maybe tomorrow?”
Andre nodded, and Jora squeezed his arm with a smile, steering him closer to the long line snaking its way out the open Center doors. “You could join us for dinner after Service?” She looked to her brother for confirmation. Kylan agreed that was an excellent idea, and Andre accepted the invitation.
“Declan’s free to join too,” he called back over his shoulder.
“Join what?” Declan asked. “A secret club?”
“A volunteer child care committee,” Kylan corrected him humorously.
“Ah, well then I’ll pass.”
“You do realize that it’s one of your Sunesis requirements?” Kylan informed him.
“Joining a club?”
“Serving at the Kentro Care Center,” the eldest Kirkeby laughed. “And yes they do make you change diapers.”
The memorial video was shown as promised once all the Koinonians had been served and refreshed with food and drink. On a large patch of open wall a projector displayed all the hard work Andre had put into his video project. Old clips and photos were laughed and even cried over as fifty years of communion flashed before their eyes. Put in time to music conducted by talented Agoge students, it invoked a great deal of emotion and pride. Andre had seen the footage many times, but it always gave him pause to see the strong, sure face of his grandfather speaking to a crowd of his people under the Alleluia roof, posing in a hardhat with mine workers deep in an underground tunnel, picking vegetables in a greenhouse, and doing his part to build an everlasting community while proving leadership with great poise. There also, flashing by in the rapid imagery, were appearances of his mother and father, unbroken and happy. Three of the most important people in Andre’s life and none of them were there to share such a trying and significant day.
“There are some who doubt us,” Doctor Alexander Dietrich spoke to the camera in his easy, confident manner. “It has never been done without Evil’s devious sabotage. But we attempt nothing that isn’t laid out in Theos’ command…”
Andre nearly had his grandfather’s words memorized by that time. They hit home more than ever after a day like the one he had just endured. It was easy to forget why they chose to live set apart, why the need to fight against Abaddon was so dire, but the doctor spoke the reason so plainly it could not be denied.
“…we try to be a model for other civilizations to draw hope. We must be willing to try, be willing to rely…be willing to serve.”
The video froze on the serene face of Dr. Dietrich with his commission echoing around the room as the screen faded to black and the music swelled to a finish. There was a moment of contemplative silence before applause and cheering broke out like a crashing wave. Declan slapped Andre heartily on the back and whistled shrilly through his fingers. Jora beamed, and Andre caught Demi brushing tears from her eyes. Seeing her sister on the screen, healthy and smiling had been too much for her also.
Andre sent up an internal prayer of thanks. It was a perfect reminder to end the day with. And to think he had almost left that last clip out.
As usual at the end of a feast, the musicians moved in and took their places with their wide range of instruments. Tables were pushed back and cleared. Most of the chairs were stacked against the stone walls, and a large space opened up in the center of the room. Koinonians loved to dance almost as much as they loved to eat, and a holiday gave them perfect opportunity to do so. Waltzes and two-steps, do-si-do, and promenade, they circled the floor in every form of group and partner dance they knew of. Here the mix of cultures stirred and they embraced the opportunity to display their heritage in a few easy (or, in some cases, difficult) steps.
The colors on the floor were brilliant. On Eleutheros the standard dress wear for the women were costumes of their own design. Each were influenced by old traditions of mother countries, embroidered by hand with the Koinonian crest depicting the flaming sword and prominent K in deep red and gold thread. Bright shades of yellow, green, and crimson twirled in flouncy skirts reminiscent of Andre’s grandfather’s homeland. Irishmen wore their kilts proudly, and beautiful olive-skinned daughters danced in saris made of Koinonian silk. Andre himself had even cleaned up a little, dressing in a slim vest and tie over a baby blue button down with sleeves rolled at the elbows to combat the heat in the crowded Community Center.
He accepted a paper cup of iced punch from Declan and admired Jora’s handmade Norwegian ceremonial dress which fit her modestly and perfectly. Her cheeks were flushed from moving quickly within a ring of energetic dancers, and her blue eyes sparkled under the lights.
“You haven’t asked her out on the floor yet,” Declan pointed out astutely.
“I’m working up to it.”
“Are you afraid she’ll turn you down?”
Andre frowned at his best mate’s lousy humor. “I haven’t seen you dance with anyone.”
Declan barked out a sardonic laugh. “I haven’t my stilts with me, I’m afraid.”
“There are plenty of children dancing. They won’t mind if you join their circle.”
Declan slugged him hard below the ribs, forgetting his Agabus was already wounded. Andre doubled up with a hand held out to protect himself from anymore blows before grabbing Declan around the neck and holding him tight under his arm. Declan struggled with feigned exclamations of pain while Andre fought between laughing and catching his constricted breath.
“Rough housers!” Mr. Kirkeby appeared and threw up his arms in good cheer. His cheeks glowed as bright as his daughter’s, and his emerald eyes danced with merriment. “Young Agabus!”
“Yes, sir?” Andre looked up from his merciless chokehold on Declan.
“Go and dance with my daughter before she succumbs to tears and believes you don’t pine for her anymore.”
“Yes, sir,” he repeated with a slight blush under the collar.
“Hand this troublemaker off to me.” Mr. Kirkeby took over the chokehold and received a round of cheer from bystanders when he wrestled Declan to the floor. Declan’s father was among them, and he laughed the loudest, egging Captain Kirkeby on while simultaneously encouraging his son with helpful pointers.
Andre found a place to set his drink and re-located Jora across the dance floor. Kylan noticed his intent and raised his own glass with an approving grin as Andre walked by. Jora stood along the side of the dance circle, chatting with her female classmates. She watched Andre approach and suddenly became shy while excusing herself from the group and giving him her full attention.
“Perfect timing,” she smiled as the music changed to a slower number.
“May I?” Andre held out his hand for her to take. Their eyes met, and he pulled her out to the open floor to lose themselves among the congregating couples. Placing a hand on her waist, Andre took the lead with Jora willing to follow his every step. “I think your father is starting to approve of me.” Andre spun them in a slow circle, watching the light catch in her golden hair.
“Well, I hope so,” she responded softly.
“Which makes my decision to court you all the easier,” he concluded.
“Was there ever any decision to make?” she teased in turn.
“I guess you’ve never given me much choice.”
Though he jested, Jora’s gaze intensified with honesty. “I’m not about to let anyone else have you.” Her blatant possessive proclamation wasn’t what he expected and, to Jora’s pleasure, she caused him to blush. Biting her lip, she suppressed a grin as her gaze drifted from his to the bruises and scaring left behind by Evil’s sadistic pleasures. Instinctively, Jora moved a caring finger to a heat-grazed contusion below his jaw. Immediately she pulled away, apologetically aware of her forwardness. Andre gave her a reassuring smile to assure her he didn’t mind.
“I wish it wasn’t you,” she said absently.
“I wish sometimes you weren’t the Agabus. I hate—” Jora ducked her head as if ashamed for having spoken her mind so plainly. “I wish it was someone else. Even me, maybe.”
“Maybe?” Andre couldn’t help but be amused. It was Jora’s turn to be flustered before she grew resolute, meeting his eye and sticking to her declaration now that it was out there.
“Yes. If it meant you wouldn’t get hurt so much. Not that I would win.”
Andre managed to refrain from laughing, pulling her back in close and resuming their slow dance. “Thank you, but I’m not sure you realize what you’re offering.”
“And you don’t realize what you put me through.”
“I’m not sure I’m strong enough to handle all this the way you do. Some wife of the Agabus I’ll make.”
“That’s kind of the secret of all this,” he told her. “Knowing our weaknesses and Who to rely on.” Those were not his words, but Costa’s. It was a lesson the komer reminded Andre of frequently. “It’s how I face it.”
“It must work,” Jora sounded encouraged. “You’ve never been defeated.”
“Theos has never been defeated,” he corrected her.
“There, you prove my point,” she responded. “I would never think of that.”
The music changed and swarms of dancers moved in and jostled into organized lines. Andre and Jora didn’t move, standing in the middle of the confusion as if they were alone. “I think you will,” he convinced her. “If you have to fight Evil, you’ll know what to do.”
“I was talking about being your wife,” she said, “not dealing with Abaddon.”
“Same thing,” Andre replied plainly.
“Dietrich!” Mr. Kirkeby called through the noise of the party. “Time to give her back now, my boy!” His playful humor resonated with those nearby, and Andre stepped back and released Jora’s waist. He held her hand a lingering moment, squeezing it gently and brushing a light kiss across the top. “Thank you for the dance.”
Jora’s eyes lit up with a new glow, and Andre left her as her friends moved in and smothered her in excited chatter and pleas to join in the dance. Leaving the floor, he searched for Declan and slipped into the crowd.
At a quarter past one in the morning, Andre sat at a single table in the middle of the empty Community Center hall. A row of overhead lights remained lit while all others had been doused. The doors at the front of the building were still propped wide allowing in a cool breeze which smelled of rain. Interested insects fluttered beneath the light fixtures, emitting popping noises when their wings hit the plastic coverings. The polished wood floor had been swept of litter left by the festivities, two bulging trash bags sat propped against one of the open doors.
Around the table, the Council of Elders sat in rickety folding chairs. A few cradled cups of steaming coffee to stave off their exhaustion for the duration of the meeting.
“I don’t want to keep you long,” Andre began. “I know it’s late.”
“We’re listening,” Mathis encouraged him to continue.
“What happened today made me realize something.” Andre considered his words carefully, hoping his explanation came out clear. He wouldn’t generally admit it, but Kylan Kirkeby had been right. “I’m not going to be here next year. We’ve never had an Agabus leave the island for that long before.”
“What do you propose we do?” A councilman with a bushy goatee leaned forward over the table for a better view of the prophet.
“That’s why I called this meeting,” Andre admitted. “I don’t know what to do. Until now I hadn’t even thought about it. Can we even go without an Agabus?”
“No,” Mathis was certain about that. “Your grandfather was adamant about that. We must have an honest prophet with the Sight or our system of protection will fail. It would be too easy for dark spirits to infiltrate the island if we have no way to check them at the door.”
“Then we don’t open it,” Elder Irons suggested. “For a whole year, while Andre is gone…we just won’t allow anyone in or out.”
“Everyone?” a skeptic spoke up. “What about the fishermen? You mean to cut off our greatest export and largest means of income for our people because of one missing Agabus?”
“Then Andre stays,” someone else input. “He just won’t go for Therapon. He can serve here.”
Andre looked up and searched for who spoke, looking wildly around the table for the reaction of the Council. A few looked as if they agreed while others frowned, unsure if that were even an option. Andre hoped that it wasn’t. He couldn’t stay behind, he wouldn’t.
“No,” Mathis made the decision as head of the elders. “The Doctor would not have wanted that either. Therapon is vital to the growth and education of our youth, and that includes Andre. It may be even more important in his case. We must devise a plan to function as a pure nation without him while he is away. We will,” he said the last to Andre as a promise.
Andre was relieved to hear it, but still worried about what effect his absence would have on the people. “But you can’t cut the island off,” he said. “We need the fishing industry. The Kaluma staff needs supplies. There’s no way you can go a whole year without allowing people through.”
“I agree.” Mathis nodded. “So the answer is simple. We wait. You are not leaving tomorrow on the ferry with this year’s missionaries. For now at least we have you as Agabus, thank Theos. When the time for you to leave comes, we will have an answer. I am sure of it. Meanwhile, we pray that we know what that answer is. On the very day that your grandfather died, how did the village hear of it?” he asked of Andre.
“My father,” the boy recalled. Aleixo had been given a dream that Grandpapa was on the mountain, at the altar. He saw Alexander’s soul lift into the air. When he woke, he found the Panoplia waiting to escort the new prophet to the altar.
“Yes,” Mathis gave a nod which was mirrored by many of the others. “And when your father’s time was over—”
“I met Malachi…I met a Panoplia in the hall at school.”
“That’s right. And when you must go, I have full confidence that there be another to take your place.”
“Davi?” Irons brought up the possibility, and Andre shuddered at the thought.
“I hope not,” he said almost to himself.
Mathis smiled wanly. “We will see. Anything else you would like to address?”
“Yes,” Andre switched gears. “Komer Costa obviously won’t be able to perform his duties for a while. I want to give Komer Turay temporary authority as Head Komer while he’s gone.”
“You all heard the request from the Agabus?” Mathis looked around at his councilmen.
“Aye,” was the resounding reply.
“Komer Turay, do you accept this responsibility?”
Turay nodded from his seat near the end of the table. “I do. Thank you for the opportunity to serve.”
“Thank you for your service,” Mathis responded. “All agreed?”
“Aye,” the Council agreed and it was done.
“Thank you,” Andre told them all. “That’s it other than a reminder that we need to be on our guard. With the new missionaries leaving tomorrow, Costa gone, and after the week we’ve had, we need to be careful.”
“We couldn’t agree more,” Mathis voiced the feelings of the Council. “And if I may, let me end this meeting in prayer so that we can do just that.”
The shepherds of Koinonia joined hands with the spiritual leaders and the prayer moved around the tight circle until the last man had given his plea. Tired and at peace, they stood from the table with gentle words of departing, picking up their chairs and adding them to the stack along the wall. Two men broke down the portable table and left the floor clear while two others grabbed the bags of garbage at the door. Andre bid them all goodnight and walked through Metoche’s empty streets under the illumination of the Panoplias’ watch.