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Chapter 22

Harlingen, March 1532

That each one know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor…1 Thess 4:

The next morning, they set out at daybreak to make inquiries.

“Do you know where to find one of the Brethren who can marry us?” Anna asked. They were strolling along a cobbled street still damp with dew. Susanna had been excited, though a little concerned when she heard about their plans to marry.

“I’m happy for you both and I will pray every day that God keeps you safe,” she had said.

Cornelia had beamed happily and wished them a long and fruitful life.

“God will be with us wherever we go.” Adriaen had reminded them.

Anna and Adriaen walked several blocks before they saw anyone else about. A couple of early farmers trundled along with their tired old mules, pulling awkward wooden carts laden with piles of onions, live chickens, whole butchered piglets, woven baskets of eggs and other farm goods. Bits of straw and dirt sprinkled the road behind them, and a whiff of animal waste hung in the still air after they had passed by.

The morning was bright, but rather cool, and the odors of the gutters and the rotting rubbish heaps were not too bothersome at the moment, though when the sun shone hot later, the stench would become overwhelming.

They passed the cobbler’s shop, where the cobbler was busily arranging his new pairs of leather shoes in an enticing way. The happy couple smiled and nodded at his long, mournful face, and he waved back languidly. Anna was still curious how he had known about Jan, and how he knew her. But these days it was better not to ask these things.

Down the street of the printers they strolled, where a jangle and clatter resounded from within the shops. Here were printed all manner of pamphlets, tracts and mandates, important papers that changed men’s opinions or strengthened them. Through the open doors, Anna spotted apprentices bent over their letters in deep concentration. A mistake could mean a severe tongue lashing — or worse.

With pleasure, Anna sniffed the sea in the breeze, while it teased the escaped strands of her hair, and caressed her cheeks. The couple passed the docks and continued down the street of the weavers where the looms were busily whirring, and slowly the threads of red, yellow, brown and blue were being woven into rich tapestries depicting scenes of pagan gods and goddesses or men and women of the Bible.

Anna thought she could walk forever this way, taking in all the scenes of the city with Adriaen for a companion. Yet in the back of her mind, there was the constant, niggling fear of being discovered by the wrong person. She looked away nervously whenever anyone gave them more than a passing look. Friend or foe? They all looked the same on the outside.

Adriaen pointed out to her all the old architecture of the city. The grand home of Count Enno featured a long stone walkway, leading up to the massive double oak doors, which was bordered by greenery and colorful flowers of every kind. There was a pond with a bench invitingly set out beside it beneath a spreading chestnut tree. Swans swam majestically, fluffing their pure white feathers and ducking occasionally beneath the surface of the water to catch their breakfast.

To Anna’s surprise, Adriaen led the way behind the stately mansion to the stables. He grinned, enjoying her astonishment.

“One of the grooms is the son of a preacher. Count Enno is sympathetic to the Brethren and turns a blind eye to their doings.” Anna followed Adriaen inside the stable, and a sturdy fair-haired boy sauntered towards them.

“What can I do for you today?” The lad’s blue eye twinkled with a hint of mischief. “You found yourself a woman?”

Anna blushed.

“This is my fiancée, Anna. Where’s the preacher?”

The groom’s eyes grew round as silver coins. He stared at Anna with new respect. Probably he thought Adriaen could have found himself a more beautiful wife. Anna didn’t care about that anymore. She only cared about Adriaen’s love, and if he was satisfied with her appearance, why would she complain? God had brought them together, and now they needed only the blessing of a preacher to make it real, if not legal according to the law.

“So, may we all come to the wedding?”

“You know we’re not allowed to have crowds. I would love to have everyone come, but I fear we must keep it down to twenty people and hope to attract no attention.”

The groom’s face fell. “I know. A wedding should be an occasion for all of us to gather, like it used to be.” He shrugged. “I wish you happiness, Preacher.”

“Is Melchior in town?”

“I believe he is.” He looked around, checking who else was within earshot before replying. “He got to bed late last night because he led a meeting, you see. He’s catching up on sleep at Widow Jennken’s house.”

Adriaen thanked him and they headed down the street once more.

The delicious smell of freshly baked bread wafted from the bakery shop and Adriaen searched the leather purse at his waist for a loose coin or two. Coming up with a few farthings, they entered the shop and Anna looked around hungrily.

Adriaen handed her a crusty loaf of dark brown bread, still warm from the oven. She carried it outside, where they found a seat under a willow tree to eat it, washed it down with ale from Adriaen’s pack. Though simple, it was the best meal she had ever eaten. Afterwards, they relaxed, sitting side by side, their heads resting against the tree trunk. Anna could have been content this way all day, but they had other things to see to.

They found the preacher, Melchior Hoffman, in a stuffy attic room sitting at an old paper-strewn desk reading his Bible. Widow Jennken had pointed them up the steep stairway and went back to her kitchen.

“Come on up and have a seat,” Melchior greeted Anna and Adriaen. “I was just hankering for some company, and here you are.” He pointed to a couple of wooden chairs. “What can I do for you?” He shifted a pile of papers to one side of his desk, then clasped his freckled hands on the desk in front of him. His large, dark eyes were intent, and the rest of his face was partly hidden by his forked beard.

Adriaen shifted on the hard chair and cleared his throat, a little nervous now that he had to announce his errand. Anna gazed demurely at the rough wooden floor, feeling flushed.

“We have come to ask you to marry us.”

Melchior cleared his throat, and straightened the stiffly-starched, white ruff around his neck. “That’s what I thought.” He grew serious and peered intently into Anna’s face, as if trying to gauge whether she was prepared for this step. “You do realize that it will be impossible for you to settle down in one place? That you will be constantly on the move, following your husband wherever the Lord leads him, without in any way trying to prevent him from entering places where he will be in danger as he spreads the word of the Gospel?”

“I do.” Anna said. The seriousness of the situation registered in her mind--still, she knew she wanted Adriaen as a husband. But she couldn’t deny that she dreaded the life they would have to lead, never knowing from one day to the next whether it would be their last on this earth.

“Also, there may be times when you will need to stay somewhere without him, for lengthy periods of time. While I have no doubt that he loves you dearly, yet his first obedience is to God. Do you understand?”

Anna took a deep breath. “Yes. I am aware of the risks, but I am willing to go where he goes or stay by myself if the need arises. I know our time could be short, but if it is only one hour, I shall feel myself blessed.”

It was the truth. She did not want to let him go now that the Lord had brought them this far. She believed that God meant for them to be together, and she didn’t appreciate everyone’s efforts to show her the dangers of being married to Adriaen. She had mulled it over enough on her own.

“Have you been baptized?”

So many questions! “No, not yet, but it is my desire to do so at the next meeting of the Brethren, as the Lord leads me.”

Gut, gut. I would not like to yoke Adriaen, or any of the Brethren, to an unbeliever.”

“I do believe, but there are many things I do not know or comprehend.”

“That is understandable.” He turned to Adriaen. “You will take the time to instruct her before your marriage, so that if she is ever questioned, she is able to give a good witness?”

“Absolutely.” Adriaen turned to gaze deeply into her eyes, as if trying to see into her very soul and the condition it was in. She felt as if she was lacking something vital which she hoped would be fulfilled by the baptism. Or marriage to Adriaen.

“When did you want to have the wedding? I am thinking of staying here in the city for another week, Lord willing, if you want it before then. After that I will be travelling again, and it’s unpredictable where I will be.” He looked at Adriaen, then at Anna.

One week! In one week, she might be a married woman. Unbelievable.

And a baptized one. She sobered. She prayed that she and Adriaen would have enough time together for him to instruct her in the Scriptures. The last thing she wanted to do was betray anyone ever again, yet she feared what the authorities might do to her to drag names out of her unwilling lips. She sighed. Here she was trying to do things on her own again. When would she learn to trust God?

The days when she could go to Father Hendricks to have her petty sins forgiven seemed very far away and in the past. It had been an easy way out, but now she knew that there could be no middleman between her and God. She needed to go directly to God for forgiveness and believe that Christ died for her sins on the cross.

It seemed like a lifetime ago when she had watched Maeyken die, then gave away her baby. Where were they now; Elizabeth, Claes, their baby boy, and Little Anneken? And the other children?

Would peace ever come to the world? The kings and lords of the land were constantly in conflict, causing huge loss of life to their subjects, and grief and sorrow to the families of the slain. Couldn’t there be a better way to make peace? Like discussions, agreements and just planning to get along? She supposed this was only the view of a weak and silly woman. The men of the world knew better how things should be run.

If it were up to women, Anna thought, very little blood would flow. Or if it were up to men like Adriaen and Melchior, there would be no bloodshed either. In fact, the men of the Brethren would rather die than use weapons on any human being, even in self-defense, and many had already paid with their lives for sticking to this view.

The kings and emperors could not tolerate this belief. They could not have the whole country’s men turning to pacifism to escape their duties to their rulers by refusing to go to war. For them, war was a part of life, and men had to fight. It was their duty as subjects.

Adriaen beamed at her, his eyes filled with love. “Are you ready to be married within a week?”

“I am ready to be married whenever you are,” she replied simply, her gray eyes shining back in adoration.

Melchior nodded. “We can plan on having the wedding on Thursday, six days from now, if that suits you.”

Anna couldn’t believe her dreams were coming true at last, that finally she was on the way to becoming a married woman, Adriaen’s wife. Before she went to sleep that night, she sent a heartfelt prayer of gratitude to God, without once thinking of, or asking the intercession of the saints.

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