SWORD OF PEACE

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Chapter 21

Harlingen, March 1532

Put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony…Col 3:14

Anna wended her way back to Susanna’s house in a trance. She barely noticed when Adriaen left a house she was passing and fell into step beside her. After glancing at her face, he stayed silent, maybe sensing the mantle of deep spirituality surrounding her.

The day was nearly spent, and a fog was rolling in from the water. In the dwindling daylight and the enveloping mist, the rest of the world shrank away into a white veil. No curious eyes could intrude on the pocket of togetherness of the man and woman meandering through it.

When Adriaen reached for her hand, Anna clasped it as naturally as breathing, a further extension of the light of love that had lit her heart. On a lane where the spring grasses whispered, and early crocuses nodded knowingly and secretly, they turned to face each other.

“Anna,” Adriaen said. “Your face tells me you have accepted the Truth. You seem more at peace.”

Anna nodded, and Adriaen’s tender smile reflected her own. Gray eyes met honey-kissed brown, and their gazes locked. He opened his arms, like a rose unfolding, and she floated into them like a dewdrop in a dream. As his lips came down on hers, she responded to his gentle kiss. It was a long time before they remembered where they were.

“Anna,” he whispered, the sweet moment obliterating every heartache and every fear she had ever had. Safe. She felt so safe. It must be because she first found her haven and her refuge in God, and Adriaen was the mortal embodiment of her great love and peace. It was all that and more.

Heavenly love and love for this man mingled until they became as one. She could not have one without the other. When his lips sought hers again, it sealed the great longings of a lifetime forever into the past. Anna floated on air the rest of the way home and there he led her to a seat beside the bed of tulips and sat down beside her. His arm went around her, and she revelled in the sensation of being protected and shielded by this man.

“Let’s start at the beginning,” Adriaen said. “I didn’t find Jan or any of the sailors who were captured, and I was getting worried about you. I was standing in front of a house when you suddenly came gliding out of the mist, and I could no longer resist you.”

“Really?” Anna blushed. “I found Jan at the miller’s house, recovering from his ordeal. He seems to enjoy the company of the miller’s daughter, which should help him heal fast.” She smiled.

Adriaen gave her shoulders an affectionate squeeze. “So, you’re not too jealous?”

“Jan will always be dear to my heart, as a brother. Nothing more.” Anna shuffled her feet in the dewy grass. “I had two brothers back in Germany, you see. And a sister.”

“Had?” Adriaen said sympathetically. “You must miss them.”

Tears welled in Anna’s eyes in spite of herself. “I do. My parents, my siblings and a few of the neighbors, seventeen people in all, were burned along with our house.”

Adraien pulled her close. “Oh, Anna! That’s dreadful!”

“I still have nightmares,” she admitted. “And there is something else, which I never could accept until tonight.” Adriaen waited patiently as she searched for the words to express what was in her swelling heart and clogging her throat. “They … were Anabaptists. I … I had a burning anger in my heart against their beliefs. If they had only gone to the state church, they might still be alive.” She ended on a little sob.

“I see. That’s certainly understandable.” Adriaen leaned towards her, his warm breath brushing her ear as he spoke. “What changed your mind? You did change your mind, didn’t you?”

“I was so anxious about them. It was intolerable to think of them being tormented in purgatory because of their misguided faith. They didn’t have last rites done by any priest, which I believed was so important. Heinrich had always been my companion, and I couldn’t bear the thought of him or the others suffering forever.” She paused, basking in the pleasure of Adriaen’s body so close. “I could not understand how the Anabaptists could go singing to their deaths. I always pictured my family desperately trying to escape the fiery flames as the house burned, but tonight I realized I must have been mistaken. As Anabaptists, they probably went joyfully to their deaths, eager to meet their Savior.”

“And you?” Adriaen asked. “Could you now die in peace with the happy hope of a home in Heaven?”

“I cannot believe I deserve so rich a reward after all my sins and mistakes, yet Jesus died for me so I could be free of sin.”

“Exactly. Anna, you cannot know what this means to me. I have missed you more every day and prayed that you would find peace for your soul.” For a time, they needed no conversation as they digested all they had discovered about each other.

Anna broke from her reverie when she heard a rustling in the bushes behind them. She stiffened. Adriaen didn’t seem alarmed, and she told herself there must be some wild animal, or perhaps a stray cat, hunting in the night.

“It’s getting late,” Adriaen said. “I should let you go inside now.”

Anna yawned. “I’m tired, yes, but a happy kind of tired.”

“I’m glad you’re happy. Could it make you even happier to become my wife?”

It was well that Adriaen was holding on to her, or Anna would have fallen off the bench. A proposal? From Adriaen? She had gathered that he might be thinking along those lines eventually, but so soon?

“Are you serious? I mean, are you sure?” Anna felt hot all over as her tongue tangled, and she hoped he wouldn’t withdraw the proposal because of her nonsensical questions.

“I am sure, and I am serious.” Falling to his knees, he proclaimed his love for her. “Anna, mijn liefde. Will you do me the honor of accepting the love of a poor homeless man and share his life? I have nothing to offer you except my heart, which is brimming with love for you that will last from now to eternity.” He spoke as tenderly as an angel’s whisper.

Anna lived on a dream cloud, floating above the realm of mere mortals. Her eyes searched the mist, catching sight of the dew-covered tulips at her feet. “Adriaen, I accept with all my heart,” she finally said, “Nothing could bring me more joy than living the rest of my days with you, as well as in eternity.” She sighed in bliss as Adriaen rose and seated himself beside her, a protecting arm encircling her waist as he leaned in for another sweet kiss.

The village clock announced the midnight hour with its measured tone when at last the two of them were able to part. Adriaen opened the door for her, and the soft glow of a lighted candle greeted her. With another long, sweet look Adriaen went back outside to sleep a peaceful slumber in a pile of straw in the stable.

At cock’s crow the next morning, the city was already stirring to life as the farmers got up from their straw filled mattresses, climbing into their tattered and mended hose, getting ready to tackle another day. Their raggedy children still snored softly in their shared beds, piled up like puppies with arms and legs entangled.

The craftsmen slept a little longer until they too rolled out of their rope beds, expecting their servants to have built up the fire and their apprentices to be alert and ready for the day’s tasks. They all ate their humble but adequate meal after saying their prayers, then arranged their wares enticingly to lure the shopper to his stall.

The bailiffs rested in their four poster beds until their breakfast arrived on trays to their room, then inspecting it for any deficiencies, they condescended to start eating it. Their lackeys suppressed yawns as they laid out fresh linen underclothing, doublets and hose.

By the time the nobles climbed from their featherbeds, the sun had risen halfway up the horizon. Their well-brushed mounts waited in the stables for their saddles as the grooms listened for orders. The stalls had been well mucked out and freshly strewn with straw at break of day, and now idle grooms lounged about prepared at any moment to spring to life whenever one of their superiors appeared.

And in hidden hideaways in narrow alleys the lowlifes of the city had just laid down to snatch a few hours of sleep on a pile of straw and rubbish, their work done for the night, and their consciences keeping them awake no more than a minute.

One of them could be seen to smile in his sleep. Perhaps he dreamed of a better bed in a better place by nightfall. His doublet hung loosely over his bony shoulders and was roughly stitched together in places where it had ripped. The stained hose sagged on his thin legs and were riddled with holes. His leather shoes had fallen on tough times along with the owner, and were tied on with strips of filthy cloth. He snored with his mouth wide open, the yellowed teeth broken or missing. His long, tangled beard was as dirty as the sparse black hair on his head. Two fingers had been chopped off on his right hand, the proof of a convicted thief.

Once, long ago, he had been a husband and father, but after the plague robbed him of all those he loved, despair overtook him and he turned to drink and crime. Now, the secret he had discovered should provide him with enough money to live comfortably once more, for a little while at least. And new clothes. He sighed in his sleep as he dreamt of the pleasure of wearing unworn, untorn clothing. And food. His cracked lips opened and closed in his sleep as he dreamed of eating meat once more.

When the sun reached into the crevice in the wall where he had been sleeping, he knew that now it was time. He couldn’t read but that didn’t matter. He had previously reaped the benefits of selling secrets, and there was no easier way to make money if one’s eyes and ears stayed open. The rewards that were offered were generous and should have kept him in decent style for some time, if he hadn’t gambled it away. No danger attended this assignment, and it raised his self-esteem considerably to have Governor Joris smile at him in that brotherly way.

“Good job, Joost. Here’s your reward. Now go find me some more. Then you won’t have to hang for that murder.”

Never mind that he had never murdered anyone. Someone wanted him to hang so they wouldn’t have to. Somehow, ten guilders did not last long in the gambling houses. Every time, he meant to use only half of his reward to gamble, and every time it would all disappear. No matter, he was a sly man and soon he would earn more. Yes, it was surprising what one could learn by listening at cracks in the doorways or crouching under windows.

He chuckled. The heretics never found out who betrayed them; the secret would go with him to the grave. It was a good thing, this reward business, using only his ears to earn his keep. Still, he lay in a gutter, unable to rise above the mire of his life. Today it would all change; today he would not go near the gambling house or the tavern. He would order a new suit of clothes, then head to the inn and order every sort of meat in the place. Pheasant, beef, veal, pork, duck, new lamb, goose, all of it.

No more would he exist on the bottom crust of the bread which the gentry threw outside onto the ground for the beggar or the stray dog to scrabble for in the dirt, they hardly cared which. Encouraged by his thoughts he rose stiffly; he was becoming an old man. He shook his shaggy head to clear the fuzz from his brain, then smiling crookedly, he headed for the government office.

Anna had trouble believing that the previous night had really happened. She walked about in a daze, a silly smile on her face, unmistakably in love. Was this how everyone felt after they had been proposed to, or was she just a foolish spinster who didn’t know how to act? She suspected the latter. She had never felt so alive, so eager to carry on with her day.

The mist still lingered, bathing the morning sunshine in translucent light. Anna nearly skipped through the green grass, wet with dew, on her way to the garden to gather some of the beautiful red and yellow tulips to brighten the table. Birds chattered and trilled their morning songs, fluttering out of the branches of blossom-laden boughs when Anna appeared.

Absently she picked a handful of the brilliant blooms and tucked them into her apron, holding the blue cotton material in a bunch with one hand. Wet branches of a willow tree brushed her shoulders and dampened the cap confining her curly hair. The clear, fragrant air of a country morning filled Anna’s heart with new hope for her life. She stood still, listening to the sounds of the early dawn. A cow mooed nearby, probably coaxing her baby calf closer to her side. The plaintive voice of a milkmaid calling from the hills echoed from afar.

When she heard approaching footsteps, she smiled.

“Good morning,” Adriaen emerged from the mist with a radiant smile. “Is this where I have to go to find the love of my life?” It still felt strange to be called the love of someone’s life. It seemed too good to be true, in fact. All the accumulated pining for love over the years at last materialized into something real. It was like finding the long lost missing half of a pair of gloves, only much more thrilling. Anna’s eyes glowed with pleasure and it turned her plain face into a beautiful one.

With a sudden pang, she wondered what Maeyken would say if she knew. Would she be pleased? Did Adriaen expect Anna to be as loving and docile as Maeyken used to be? Anna didn’t think she could manage that. “Adriaen…”

“What’s troubling you now, my friend?” He reached for Anna’s hand as they walked around the garden.

“I just thought of Maeyken. I’m … I’m not nearly as perfect as she was, and what if you get tired of me?”

“Tire of you? Never. Maeyken was a wonderful, loving, faithful wife to me, and a part of me will always miss her and love her. But that does not take away one bit of the love I now have for you. Ever since you moved to Amsterdam, I admired you from afar, never thinking you could one day be my wife. Who would have thought of such a possibility then?”

“What will people think if you marry again so soon?”

“If you are uncomfortable with it, I will not insist,” Adriaen said. “But I’ll tell you what is in my heart, and I know the Brethren would agree. There was a time when such a thing would have been unthinkable. But everything is different now. There is no sense in mourning for a whole year when our lives are so unstable. Life could prove to be very short, and circumstances could place us hundreds of miles apart. As my wife, I have the right to protect you as far as I am able. Besides,” he gave her hand a squeeze, “I love you too much to wait six more months to marry you.”

The last argument convinced Anna. She didn’t need to wait either.

“Nobody could ask for a better friend than you were to Maeyken and me, and I know you have a loyal heart. If you can love me and accept me, though I have nothing to offer except my love and protection, as far as I am able, I will be very much honored.”

“Of course, that I can do gladly. There is one more thing,” Anna said. “You say I have a loyal heart, when you know I abandoned your children, leading to their deaths. How can you trust me? And your brother, whom I betrayed. I wasn’t loyal then, either.”

“Anna, stop blaming yourself. Of course, losing them was heartbreaking, and I did struggle, while I tried to accept that God knows best. Yet He was there beside me all the time to comfort me. You had little choice with what you did, and I would trust you with my life.” He pressed her hand reassuringly, and smiled. “Now, would you be up to discussing our wedding?” Adriaen asked, his eyes sparkling like a gold coin in the sunlight.

Anna blushed. Yes, the wedding. She would be more than happy to discuss it.

“Come, let us sit in the garden again.” He took her free hand and led her to the seat they’d sat on the night before. The tulips swayed gently, their red and yellow buds beckoning them.

“You look radiant this morning, Anna. Being in love suits you, and the peace you have found has made you more beautiful than ever.”

Anna waved away his compliments, but she did feel like a new and happier person, as if everything had fallen into place, and a great mystery solved. She still had many questions, but it was wonderful to think that her spinster days were over. Love filled her soul, and it was a relief that she’d never have to confess on her knees to Father Hendricks again, then do whatever penance he decided on. Holding God’s hand, she would follow wherever He led, whether in joy and peace, or in suffering.

“I do feel the peace in my soul,” she replied. “There’s still much I do not understand, but I do desire to live by the Scriptures.”

“That is well.” He paused, rubbing his chin with his hand. “Do you desire baptism?”

Anna took a deep breath. “I do, though I feel unworthy.”

“Would you care to come with me to a meeting tonight, and be baptized if the Lord so leads you?”

Of course. As a preacher he would desire a wife who was also of the faith, and he must have been waiting for her to find her peace before he was able to propose.

“If the Lord so leads me, I am willing.”

“I know you have been around us long enough that you realize the danger we are in constantly from the government and those who would betray us.”

Anna knew it very well, and it was beyond her to know how anyone’s heart could be cruel enough to betray someone, knowing what suffering they would have to endure. Especially when they knew the person to be honest, having committed no crime except wishing to worship God in their own way. She was not treading lightly into this future.

“I am ready to place my life in God’s hands, come what may. It will help knowing you are there to be my protector.”

“But that is just the thing, Anna! I will do my utmost to protect you, but I may not always be able to be at your side. In fact, I feel selfish in asking you to marry me. It may be a very unsettled, dangerous life and I would not force you into it.”

“Oh, Adriaen, do not speak so! It is my heart’s desire, believe me. I know what your life is like, but I will try to appreciate, and thank God, for whatever time we have.”

“Bless you. The other thing is, who will marry us? We will have to find out where one of the bishops is, and go to him. Only a few of them are willing to take it upon themselves to hold a wedding service. There can be no fancy wedding, only a simple ceremony as we are pronounced man and wife. In our eyes and in God’s eyes it will be a true marriage. The magistrates do not recognize it as such and will deny it. If we have children, they cannot inherit.” He smiled ruefully. “Not that there is anything to inherit at this time.”

Anna stared at him, her eyes round in shock. “Not a true marriage?” She felt like a gasping fish, her mouth open and round and sucking air. “Do the Anabaptists keep marrying, knowing this?”

“Yes, Anna, all the time. In God’s eyes, it is a true marriage, even though the government doesn’t think so.”

Anna stared at the tulips that she still held in her apron. She did not fancy the idea of not being legally married. It seemed there was always something new to learn with this group. Wouldn’t it be a sin? She wanted to be properly married or not at all.

Adriaen reached over and selected a red tulip from her bunched-up apron and held it up. “Look at this tulip. We all know it is a tulip, isn’t that so?” Anna nodded. “Will it stop being a tulip if someone calls it a rose? No. In the same way, we know that calling our marriages illegal does not make them so in God’s eyes.”

“I understand what you mean. But they sure make it difficult in every way they can.” It did not change her love for Adriaen, but it was a foreshadowing of what it would mean to join the Anabaptists. With that cup of water poured on her head, every freedom and every right would be snatched away. As an unbaptized woman who had up until recently attended the Catholic church, she was not in half the danger she would be as a baptized woman who attended Anabaptist meetings and was married to an Anabaptist preacher. They would not join her name with Adriaen’s in the big black record book in the cathedral and write their children’s names underneath. To them she would be living in sin and her children illegitimate. It was a difficult thing to swallow.

Adriaen studied her face; he was not going to brush over the reality of what their life would be like after they married. I know it will be hard, and I release you if you decide this life is not for you.”

“There is much to consider, that is true.” Finally, her dream of becoming Adriaen’s wife was becoming real. It was just not like she’d pictured it. Nothing was the same anymore since the upheaval began in Europe. It was not possible to settle down anywhere and live in peace with an Anabaptist preacher for a husband. Anna reminded herself of all the difficulties, but her heart refused to listen.

“Whatever happens, I will do my best to accept as God’s will. If you or I or both of us must sacrifice this life, we will meet again in Heaven, is that not so?”

Adriaen’s eyes shone with tender feeling, and softly he replied, “Thank God, you do understand. I love you, and it would break my heart to part from you, but it’s only fair that we discuss these things.” He took her hand and caressed it gently. Shivers of pleasure tingled her spine when his lips descended on hers, and moments fled by, unnoticed by either of them.

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