Chapter 29: The Second Gift
The mob roused themselves as if from a dream as Samuel walked up next to Colin. Their mutters and threats grew once more as the rain sluiced down and soaked his shoulders. He watched the burgeoning mob in the courtyard clamor to cover themselves as they yelled for the trial to continue. Only Samuel seemed unfazed by the tempest.
Colin searched the soothsayer’s eyes. He can see, my God, the old man is looking at me. Did he see the vision as well? Could he really calm the crowd? What spell could get them to listen? What words would be heard through their cries? Colin’s gaze swept across the screaming mob. How could these people so easily forget what had happened? How could they fall so far? But he knew instantly it wasn’t forgetting, it was not wanting to face it. They would rather smash their mirrors than look at themselves – and Samuel looked as fragile as glass as he faced them.
His voice could barely be heard over the crowd’s chants and screams. Before them, finally, was a face to put to the misery of the last few years-- someone to be held accountable. The guards on the outskirts of the mob scoffed as they watched the old man trying to face the same rabble they could barely repress night after night.
Colin watched Mariselle laugh as the scene played out before her.
“People of Gilead!” Samuel called. “I’m not your enemy. I’ve been given words, words you need to hear from the Maker himself. You’ve broken his laws and you suffer because of it,” his voice echoed above the mob calls.
“We don’t care what you have to say scum!” A man called back from the crowd. “Don’t waste your breath on us with that Maker rubbish! We don’t give a rat’s ass for your opinion, much less a set of contrived commandments!”
“Yet you scream out for my blood?” Samuel asked. “You demand justice, a right to cancel out all the wrongs done to you?”
“You’re damn right!” the man screamed back.
“The same commandments that you mock are the foundation of the laws you demand to be enforced! Even if you tossed aside the laws, wouldn’t you still know the difference between what’s right and wrong? Wouldn’t you still want retribution if your neighbor stole from you?”
“Don’t try to spin our words! You three are responsible for all of this!” the man yelled back. “You’re on trial, not us!”
Colin gazed at the agitator for a second. In the flash of an eye, he saw him pickpocketing people in the mob during the commotion. Samuel glanced at Colin knowingly, then addressed his accuser, “Your name is Fergus. You’re desperate for gold to pay off those lenders, desperate to do it without your wife’s knowledge. So desperate you stole from the pockets of those around you just moments ago.”
Colin’s mouth dropped. Was Samuel reading his mind? Or perhaps he was reading Samuel’s. How could they both share this knowledge?
Fergus’s eyes widened and he began to back up, “What sorcerer are you? How do you know my name?!” The people around him felt for their missing coin purses and grabbed him.
Samuel raised his hands, “Peace, please. The only power I have comes from the Maker. Enough blood has been spilled tonight.”
The mob pushed Fergus to the perimeter and left him while Samuel grasped Colin’s arm to steady himself. Colin saw many in the mob had quieted and were now listening. The old soothsayer’s hands shook slightly as he leaned back on his staff, ready to address them again. Mariselle pushed past him.
“I think we all know what is real. Real joy has come from the freedoms given to us by the Amorite teachings, not simple parlor tricks. Our inner truth gives us joy and meaning, no matter the name it’s given in, no matter the god you worship, it makes no difference. We’re no longer enslaved by the old faith.”
Some in the crowd cheered, others were quiet, less sure.
Samuel snorted. “So, you seek your own inner happiness without the Maker? With every prize you’ve attained, every base action you’ve committed on yourselves and on each other, have you felt fulfilled? Have you felt contentment? Or like a thirsty man drinking from the sea, do you constantly crave more?”
The audience listened intently as Samuel continued. “The truth is that nothing in this world can satisfy you completely. You were not made for this world! You were made by the Maker as vessels of life. Without him, you are an urn of ashes.” He turned to face Mariselle, “Outwardly beautiful, but on the inside full of decay.”
Mariselle backed away.
“How dare you!” A woman yelled out. “Who are you to speak? If I love man or woman, what is it to you? My needs are my own! I was born the way I am, I shan’t be ashamed of it! If there is a Maker, he made me this way!”
The sight of the woman flashed another vision in Colin’s mind; she laid with man after man, and woman after woman, drunk and delirious each night, alone and despondent each morning. The name “Aiela” flashed in his mind.
“Your name is Aiela,” Samuel replied. “You’ve had six lovers in the last two years, and you’ve left all of them. They promise you their hearts, but they trample on yours. You pour your life into each of them, and they take it, until now you’ve nothing left to give. They’ve left you as an empty chalice, chipped and broken.”
The woman’s eyes welled with tears and she turned away. Samuel rested his gaze on the rest of the mob. “You claim to be victims, but the truth is you’ve all made choices in your lives, choices that have changed you little by little. One mistake led to another, and the truth that you hold dear today was not the same truth as the day before. You’ve lost sight of the only beacon that can guide you in the storm. You’ve lost sight of the Logos. With each choice, you slowly spin the wheel of your life towards restoration or ruin, but make no mistake, you are always at the helm.”
Colin gazed across the crowd. Something in the old man’s words had touched them, their fists lowered, their eyes searched inward.
Samuel continued, “I’m not a great man. I’m old, powerless, poor, by all accounts, a lost cause, but still, I see what you cannot. Twenty leagues from here is the ashen tree, where your ancestors murdered the man the Maker had sent. In that carnage, the Maker allowed your people to see how far they’d fallen from his laws, and at once left you a message that was never relayed, until now.”
Samuel paused. Only the echo of the rain spoke out.
“Venia,” Colin said.
Samuel nodded at him and called out, “You are pardoned.”
Mariselle grabbed Colin by the back of his neck and shoved him off the dais, sending him toppling to the ground twelve feet below.
“Enough! Is this a circus that we let the fools admonish us?! You wanted justice for tonight, I give you your criminals!”
Some of the crowd began chanting again, but their voices were few and far between.
Colin picked himself up, his side had taken the impact, and yet he felt as if he had landed on feathers. He looked up at Samuel.
The prophet smiled at him. Mariselle motioned to her guards. The brutes grabbed Samuel’s arms, but the old man’s focus stayed on Colin.
“You’re here for a reason, lad,” Samuel said. “I was wrong about you.”
“Your words. I saw them in my mind before you spoke, I saw something,” Colin replied. “What did you do to me?”
“Nothing boy. The Maker’s power is sufficient, made perfect through suffering, so the Logos says.”
“Shut it!” a guard yelled and slapped Samuel across the face. Blood ran from his nose, but he held Colin’s gaze. Two more guards pushed their way through the crowd toward Colin.
“No!” He shook his head at their approach, “Samuel, we can fight. Use your words to protect yourself. You’re the only guide these people have!”
“Not anymore. I pass that title to you. You are the last soothsayer.”
The guards pushed past the last of the crowd surrounding Colin and grabbed him from behind.
“The gods have indeed blessed us!” Mariselle laughed as she called to the masses, “Standing before you is the master orchestrator of your turmoil! A wretch whose dogged belief in a dead god has crippled the king and the kingdom! His words are empty, his lies to be pitied. Truly a wasted life.”
Samuel faced her, his eyes steel. “The words of the Maker are flawless like silver purified in a crucible. They protect the needy that call out. They are a shield from the viper’s tongue.”
Mariselle glared and yelled over his voice to the crowd, “Even now do you dither? You have been wronged! Take your justice! Claim them! Kill them both!”
Half the crowd pushed towards Samuel and Colin, swayed by Mariselle’s words, screaming for death. Others held them back and pushed them away. To Colin’s eyes, it was as if two great waves had crashed against each other, struggling to turn the tide. Those in support of Colin and Samuel grabbed at the guards, while others grasped for Colin’s neck.
“Back off the lot of you!” Colin’s captors screamed at those lunging for him. Wherever their loyalties lie, he could tell the guards were striving to maintain some kind of order. The guards formed a tight circle around him, their eyes wide as they were pushed into a corner.
Mariselle spat at Samuel. “Where is your Maker? Call him this night, so my master may slay him! We will leave his body on the heap with your own! Let him behold the might of--”
Samuel raised his voice even louder, “His might breaks their teeth and rips out their fangs! Silentium!”
Lightning boomed overhead and Mariselle’s jaw shattered.
Blood poured from her mouth as her teeth fell to the ground at her feet. Her advisors screamed and ran from the dais as she fell to her knees, moaning. Her tongue went limp as bits of bone splayed across her hands. Her guards pulled her to her feet. Ananias grabbed a spear from a nearby soldier.
“Samuel!” Colin screamed as the advisor ran behind the old soothsayer and pierced it into his back.
Colin screamed as Samuel fell off the dais and onto the ground at Colin’s feet.
“Samuel!” Colin cried again as he held the old man’s head and pushed down on the wound as blood gushed from it, “Samuel? Please…”
Samuel’s blank stare told him enough. The crowd around him was speechless.
At the far edge of the courtyard, Egan burst through the mob, in time to see the crowd move away from Samuel’s body and Colin’s kneeling figure. He glared at Mariselle.
“What evil is this! What have you done?” His voice echoed across the courtyard.
Mariselle motioned towards the Chief Warrant Officer.
Two armed men rushed Egan. He unsheathed his sword. With a flash of steel, he ripped through their torsos and moved forward. “People of Gilead, there is a traitor among us and she stands before you!” Egan called to the crowd, “She has sold us to an army that now murders our men and women at the western gate! The Amorites now siege our walls! To arms! To arms!”
Mariselle held the remnants of her jaw, her gown stained by her own blood. She stumbled as pain wracked her body. Her eyes widened, she shrieked and pointed to Colin.
The mob was still for a moment. Then in unison, turned to attack Mariselle’s men at the bottom of the dais. The soldiers nearest Colin cut down any who came within striking distance and pushed Colin back to the castle’s entranceway.
Colin turned to run but two of the queen’s men tackled him to the ground and slammed their pauldroned fists into his face until he knew no more.