Chapter 20: An Outside Hand
Samuel sat under a bushy olive tree high on the bluff and looked out towards the sea. A slight breeze played with his hair. His unseeing eyes no longer brought him the view, but he still favored the spot. The smell of the salt air and the breeze reminded him of happier times. Even in these dark days, some beauty remains, he thought as he heard the waves crash on the rocks far below.
Thunder rumbled overhead and the breeze picked up, Samuel raised his head, waiting for the telltale drops to fall. “Rain, now? Well, old friend, you’ve been long absent.”
Samuel pulled himself up by his staff and made his way down the well-worn path towards his cottage. His feet knew the way, every pebble and curve of the slope served as guideposts. As he opened the door to his hut, he immediately sensed a presence within.
“Who’s there? Who troubles an old man before he sleeps?”
“You’ve done well, Samuel, but I have need of you again. Your work is not yet complete. I’ve sent a final message, and it must be read.” A deep voice replied.
“Who are you?” Samuel reached out with his hands.
A sudden flash of light encompassed the room and Samuel fell to his knees. The darkness from his vision cleared and for the first time in a decade, Samuel saw his own weathered hands. He looked around desperately, but the room was empty.
“Who? Where are you? Who are you?” he cried out, but the presence was gone. Samuel slowly stood and went to his bed. There on the cot lay his scroll and woven into its end seamlessly, was the page of text Colin had brought with him.
Samuel traced his fingers across the lines of characters on the new page. And as the Logos became clear in his mind he steadied himself with his staff.
“Maker . . . ,” Samuel said as he studied the words with his own eyes, “what have I done?”
Balaam stood sleeping in his stall. His locked knees kept his body from swaying and the warm fire from the simple hearth near the back of the livery gave some comfort. His lips shuddered as he snored a little, and bits of hay fell from his teeth. His eyes opened wide as he realized he had dozed off.
The guards had manhandled him from the temple to a squire who pulled with more force as he led Balaam to the King’s stable. “Ah, you reek!” the pimple-scarred youth spat, he held his nose and gave a swift kick to Balaam’s flank, making the donkey jump forward with a start. The boy continued to slap Balaam’s rear with a stick, spurning him on.
As he was pushed into the castle courtyard, he wondered if the guards would spear him down if he kicked back at the brat.
“In you go! You’ve caused enough trouble for the night. I wouldn’t be surprised if they send you to the knackers in the morning.” The boy laughed as he whipped at Balaam’s haunches again, forcing the donkey into the stall. The sting of stick throbbed for some time, but Balaam resigned himself to rest as best he could. The mission was a failure, no doubt the princess and the boy would be swinging by the gallows before long, or, as the queen had promised, fed to the maw.
Balaam turned and saw the latch to his stall had been unlocked and the gate slowly opened of its own accord. He gingerly peered around the gate to the walkway between the stalls. A wizened man in brown robes and a cowl stood near the doorway to the courtyard. His face was almost completely obscured by the dark hood. The livery squire laid at his feet unconscious, breathing deeply.
“Hello, again,” the old man said.
Balaam’s eyes widened, “It’s you! I remember you! You’re the . . . .”
“Yes.” the robed figure smiled. “And now you must do something for me.”
“I should kick you and it’d be less than you deserved! This bloody curse has gone on for long enough!” Balaam glared at the stranger. “Of course, you’d probably turn me into a toad next.”
“Be at peace, Balaam. I mean you no harm.” the old man adjusted his hood haphazardly. “In fact, your presence is needed this night. Go down to the eastern gate and wait for Samuel. Do not tarry,” he said and vanished.
Balaam snorted and shook his head. “Saints preserve us, this day is strange.”
He stepped over the squire and paused. Quickly glancing this way and that, he gave a swift kick to the boy’s groin, instantly sending the squire into a fetal ball, moaning. Satisfied, Balaam moved from the doorway back out into the city.