The Guardian of Diana
In the morning, after the camp had been packed up, the group convened to hear what the decision about the course of their journey would be.
“Would anyone like to add to or change what they said last night?” Iskender asked.
No one spoke up.
“After seeking both your counsel and God’s, I believe we should…” he paused just to make the younger members of the group wait for the answer, “continue on.”
The mood of the group suddenly changed from anticipation to excitement, and Ibrahim, Hadassah and Atara started chattering.
“It’s not getting any earlier,” the Ephesian cut in, “we’d best be off.”
A collective “Yes, sir!” echoed from the group as they all double checked their water and food stores and lit out across the pre-dawn desert.
Iskender chuckled to himself as he watched two of his adoptive children and one grandchild pull ahead of him. He happily took up the rear of the procession, Simay at his side.
“Are you sure you’re still okay with doing this?” he asked his wife.
Simay nodded, “I’m sure.”
Hot days and cold nights passed, never dimming the group’s enthusiasm. They continued onward, following an ever-present sense of purpose.
They came across oases, small towns, and Bedouin camps. Night after night and day after day they followed the same routine.
To Simay, this repetition only served to remind her of how much her life had changed since she had first left Ephesus all those years ago. Nothing was the same about her now. She had left her home alone and afraid, following the directions of a malevolent spirit. Now, she had left another home, but she was following a husband who loved God and listened to Him. The stark contrast was almost mesmerizing.
As the family traveled onward, Atara and Hadassah became fast friends, passing the days talking with one another about their past lives and speculating about what they would discover next on their adventure.
Ibrahim spent most of his time with his mother and step-father, rediscovering things
that he had forgotten about his biological mother, and learning new things that he never had a chance to discover when he was a child.
This is not to say that Ibrahim never spent time with his sister and daughter. He did – frequently – and he discovered that he enjoyed being an older brother again as well as a father. The hardest times for him were not the lively days and evenings of travel, but the late nights when he would sit up late thinking about his wife Juliana and his other three children… As the days passed however, he learned to trust God for their safety. The one prayer that was forever in his heart now was that God would draw them to Himself in the days to come.
A few months passed this way, with the group periodically staying in one town or another, seeing the local sights – what little there were in this part of the country – and then moving on again.
However, the day arrived when the band came across a new sight. A train of camels and other desert-hearty beasts, laden with provisions and worldly goods wove its way through the blindly bright sand dunes. There were even a few animals carrying larger loads covered by blankets or large pieces of drapery. The identity of these larger items remained a mystery however.
As the family came closer to the caravan they noticed that not all of the members of the parade were of the same race. There were Ethiopians, Jews, Egyptians, Tarsians, Germanics, Arabs, and all other imaginable ethnicities thrown into one great jumble. For the most part the different races stuck together, but there were many more independent individuals who had spread themselves out through the caravan.
The most markedly separated group of the lot was the Hebrews. They did not seem to mind their proximity to the other races, but they kept a respectable distance from them. In the midst of the company of Jews, four camels carried one of the strange covered loads. One man rode each of the supporting camels. These four men wore unremarkable garments, but woven into the fabric of the blankets adorning their steeds was the symbol of a pitcher, water flowing out from it over a pair of hands. Curiously enough, twin blue pomegranates decorated each of the camels’ bridles, one hanging on either side of the animals’ muzzles. The mystery was deepened by the presence of swords secured to each of the guard’s belts. Obviously no one was supposed to tamper with whatever precious cargo they bore.
When Iskender’s group had come close enough for several of the other travelers to notice them they were hailed by someone who looked like he might have been in charge.
The man thundered towards them on a dish-faced horse, stopping artfully as he came up to them. “What brings you so far out this way?” he addressed Iskender.
“We are mere travelers, like yourselves.” The Ephesian replied. “We are not entirely sure what we seek.”
The mounted caravan leader had been casting suspicious looks their way until he heard Iskender’s last words. “More summoned ones.” He muttered – more to himself than to anyone on the ground – then let an evaluating eye roam the group. “You are a diverse group.” He observed as he spied Iskender, Hadassah and Simay’s Turkish features, Ibrahim’s half Hebrew face and Atara’s lighter skin and hair peaking out of the scarf she wore for protection from the sun.
The leader let a contemplative look cross his face for a moment before finally deciding. “You may join us. There are those who will lend you animals so that you need not walk the entire way into the heart of this wretched place.”
“We didn’t really intend –” Ibrahim was shushed by a warning hand from Iskender.
“We thank you for your generosity.” The Ephesian said with a bow of his head.
The caravan leader nodded his acknowledgment and sent his horse tromping back through the sand to the main group.
“Where are they even going?” Ibrahim whispered harshly to Iskender.
“I don’t know.” He replied before letting his eyes stray to meet Simay’s. The look on her face was a combination of excitement and anxiety all at once.
Iskender covertly took one of her hands and squeezed it reassuringly before looking back at his step-son and continuing, “God has brought us to them for a reason. Let’s not abandon this now.”
“But how do we know God is the one who wanted us to come here?” the younger man protested, still speaking in a lower voice.
Iskender looked back at Simay again and she understood what her husband was asking of her.
“Ibrahim,” she said, “I was instructed by a demon named Diana to come here when I was fifteen years old.”
“Great…” her son said a bit angrily. “We’re following the instructions of devils now?”
“No…” Simay replied gently. “We are not here to follow its orders.”
Ibrahim looked quizzically at his mother.
“We are here to upset its plans.” She finished quietly.
Understanding dawned in Ibrahim’s face.
“The Eternal God is not daunted by the plans of Satan, neither is He bound by human limitations. We are short-sighted; He sees the beginning, the ending, and every portion between.” Iskender said. “I have recently been able to acquire a copy of a letter that the Apostle Paul himself wrote to the Roman Christians. In it he declares, ‘For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, for angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’*”
The whole group quieted at those words as the Holy Spirit spoke peace to every one of their souls.
“We won’t wait forever!” the caravan leader’s booming voice shattered the silent moment.
Iskender waved his acknowledgment and the group hurried to meet the caravan, eager to ride instead of walk for a while.
The family did not attempt to join a preexisting group. Due to their racial diversity,
they never really found one that quite fit them, though every group they conversed with was quite generous to them, offering them spare supplies or water. On a whole, these were pleasant people – with the occasional odd individual here and there.
“What have these people been promised?” The question began to rise in Iskender’s mind.
There was only one person in the entire caravan who bristled at the family’s presence. And no wonder; the middle-aged woman was a spiritist from some distant country that Iskender and his band had never heard of.
When any of the family asked other members of the caravan about her they always received the same answer, “It’s only Nyot. She’s a bit odd, but she’s no danger to anyone. Just let her be and she’ll give you no trouble.”
But it was almost impossible to “let her be” as the others had said. Nyot seemed to always appear at disarming moments, seemingly from nowhere.
One night, while Atara was cleaning her borrowed mount’s saddle by the light of the fire and the last few rays of the sun, Nyot sat down across from the girl, startling her.
“Oh!” Atara exclaimed, almost dropping the brush she was using. “Hello.”
“Hello, Atara.” The woman said in a strange, low voice.
“You know my name?” the girl asked.
“I know the names of everyone in this caravan, whether they’ve told me or not.” Nyot said with a wild look in her eye.
“Did someone tell you my name?” the teenager tested.
“A friend.” Came the obtuse reply. “Do you have any friends?”
The odd question did not throw the girl off, “I have many friends; my father, my grandparents, my aunt, and One Friend Who never leaves me.”
Nyot froze. “You puzzle me, child. You keep strange company; you have a foreign spirit about you. How did you get here?” The woman whispered. “This journey is only for the called ones.”
“I am called.” Atara countered and turned the accusation back on the spiritist. “Who called you to take this trip?”
The woman was befuddled, “I was called by the same spirit that called every one of these men, women and children to come to the heart of the desert. Her spirit came to me in a dream, in the form of a great bear. She told me, ‘The one who holds my key is coming. My Guardian will guide you.’”
“So you seek the guardian of this bear spirit?” Atara asked.
“No. She seeks me.”
“She? How do you know it’s a ‘she’?”
Nyot’s eyes were lit with fire. “I know many things, child. If you are truly one of the called ones, you will not question me too much.”
With that, the woman walked away.
Once Atara was sure the spiritist was gone, she hauled the half-washed saddle up and walked quickly back to the tent she shared with Hadassah.
Her aunt was already asleep – not too unusual, but it made it necessary for Atara to shake her awake again.
“Yes?” Hadassah said groggily, rubbing her eyes. “Atara? What is it?”
“Where’s Grandmother?” the girl asked insistently.
“I saw her sitting around the back of her tent an hour ago, but she might be somewhere else by now.”
“Alright, thanks.” Atara said, leaving the saddle on her bedroll to keep her aunt company as she dropped back off to sleep.
Atara hurried around to the back of her grandparents’ tent. No one was there. She quickly circled the tent, still seeing no one. She peeked her head inside the half-open tent-flap. Her grandfather’s muted snoring met her ears, but her grandmother was not with him.
“Where are you?” she thought to herself as she traipsed about the camp, looking for Simay but finding no sign of her.
In desperation she headed to the oasis that the caravan had parked near for the night. The small haven was such a lovely sight: the palm trees towering above the still water, a few plants growing here and there around the life-giving pool. No one drew water at this time of day. Everyone was back at camp sleeping, talking or finishing a late meal.
Atara looked around the area and started to head back when she heard something coming from one of the far palms.
She sneaked up to the tree carefully, not wanting to let whatever was there know that she was coming.
“You brought us here. You saw to it that we were taken in. You opened a door for us to step through…” the voice floated to Atara on a desert breeze. “Thou art my fortress, my shield, my hiding place. Thou art my light when I find myself in the dark. Thou art my salvation from every evil that would seek to entrap me. Thou art mine atonement for the sin I can never pay for. Thou art my song in this dark night.”
The voice said no more, so Atara rounded the trunk of the tree to see who was speaking and came almost face-to-face with her grandmother.
“Hello, Atara.” Simay smiled, “What brings you out here?”
“I was looking for you.” The teenager replied. “There’s something I need to tell you about. It’s about Nyot and the caravan.”
“Sit down.” Simay patted the sand beside her.
Atara obliged her grandmother and sat, then she related everything that the spiritist had told her, down to the last detail.
“You were right to come to me.” Simay said, looking almost overwhelmed. “I need to speak with your grandfather about this tonight.”
“It’s that serious?” the girl asked.
“Very.” Simay replied. “Come; let’s get back to the caravan.”
The pair returned to the main group as quickly as they could manage through the shifting desert. Simay sent Atara to her shared tent instructing her granddaughter not to wake either her aunt or her father who was sleeping behind the tent.
“When your grandfather and I have talked, we will wake you all and tell you what we’ve decided.”
Several painful hours passed as the girl waited for her grandparents to hash out what was going on and what they should do about it.
Finally, the wait was over and her grandparents appeared at the tent flap, her father in tow as they all squeezed into Atara and Hadassah’s tent, each one taking a seat on the ground before Ibrahim reached out and tapped his sister on the back.
Atara’s aunt started awake. “What?” she whispered, “what’s going on now?”
“We’ve gotten some new information that we need to discuss. Quietly.” Iskender said.
Hadassah got up carefully and took a seat in the empty space that had been left for her in the tight circle.
“Now,” Iskender began, “as I’ve said, we’ve learned something new tonight. Atara was approached by the woman Nyot.”
No one spoke.
Iskender continued. “Nyot told Atara who sent all of these people here to the desert. She said that a ‘bear spirit’,” Iskender looked to Atara for confirmation; the girl nodded, “told her ‘The one who holds my key is coming. My Guardian will guide you.’”
Hadassah and Ibrahim looked at Iskender in confusion.
Simay continued the announcement, “My children… you do not know much about my past. There was a day, before I took Jesus as my Lord that I followed another power. “ she looked at her son, “Ibrahim, when you were little, do you ever remember a silver statue of a bear?”
“No… I – Yes! I vaguely remember, now that you mention it, but the memory is so foggy that I don’t really remember too much about it.”
“You were quite young at the time,” Simay nodded before turning her gaze to her daughter, “Hadassah, you never knew what it was like to grow up with an idolatrous mother. For that I am thankful.”
“Idolatrous?” Hadassah asked.
“Your mother was a follower of a spirit that calls itself ‘Diana’ – the one she mentioned just before we joined this caravan.” Iskender explained. “But the spirit betrayed her in the end and, through its host, tried to kill her.” he paused. “The demon failed because your father – your real father, Malcus – got in its way.”
“That’s why you never wanted to talk about it…” Hadassah whispered. “He died saving you from the one you claimed to follow.”
Simay nodded as tears began to fall from her eyes. “He gave himself for me; he is the one who God used to finally show me the reality of my sin and the payment Jesus made in my place… But I could never tell you about him without revealing my dark past… I didn’t know what you would think of me.”
“You’re my mother, and I love you.” Hadassah stated. “It doesn’t matter to me what you’ve done in the past.”
“You don’t know how much that means to me.” Simay replied, reaching over to hug her daughter.
“The same goes for me, Mother.” Ibrahim said equally quietly as he lent his own hug.
Iskender smiled broadly, waiting for the exchange to end before bringing the conversation back to the reality at hand. “Nyot is waiting for the Guardian of Diana. Your mother – and grandmother” he nodded to Atara, “was the second such Guardian before she changed her allegiance.”
“So… who’s the third?” Hadassah asked.
“The Guardian would have to be a female descendant of the previous Guardian.” Simay said, eyes still red from her earlier tears. “I have three children: you Hadassah, Ibrahim, and Seda, your other sibling.”
“I knew I remembered a different sister.” Ibrahim interjected. “So who is she? Where is she?”
“I don’t know.” Simay said, downcast.
“You don’t know?” Ibrahim probed.
“She was stolen from me by my friend, Seda’s namesake… the same one who Diana used to try to kill me.”
“Nice friend.” Hadassah mumbled.
“In light of what Nyot said, we can hope that your other sister will find her way here to the caravan, or to the heart of the desert, our final destination.” Iskender said. “But, in the mean time, we must all be wary. Do not reveal to anyone that we are Christians. It could be dangerous for now.”
The rest of the group acknowledged their agreement.
“Let’s all get back our tents – or bedrolls – before anyone thinks too much about this meeting.”
The group dispersed quickly and silently.
Three days later, the caravan stopped inexplicably, trailing down a huge sand dune.
Iskender’s group made their way to the front of the train to see what was happening and find out how long it might be before they could expect to move again.
Upon nearing the top of the dune, they saw the leader of the train staring down at something, silently grasping his horse’s reins. The look on the man’s face seemed to be somewhere between horror and disbelief
Iskender, not knowing what was going on, went the last few yards to the top of the sandy mountain. He gazed out over the top of the dune and down into a valley. The sight nearly knocked him over.
“Simay!” he called, “Come see this!”
His wife came quickly to his side and looked down from the perch. Her mind and heart began to reel as she looked down on the valley.
Pilgrims from every tongue and nation were spread out across the sands, numbering in the thousands. There were men, women, children, livestock, and tents everywhere. The small multitude seemed to go on for a solid mile, sprawling across the sands.
“I think we found it.” Iskender whispered, pointing beyond the human flood towards an entrance in a towering spiral of rock, swirling up from the desert floor.
The entrance glowed with an unearthly green light.