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Teo set down his quill and picked up a parchment containing the words of life. Rising from his desk, he gazed out the window of the seaside convent at Lido di Ostia. A lone woman sat near the water, her head shaded from summer's rays by a wide-brimmed hat. She wore a simple cotton sundress and leather sandals. The wind blew her honey-blonde hair to one side, draping it across her suntanned shoulders. Teo smiled as he looked at the beautiful woman on the beach. Though he had loved Anastasia from the day he met her two years ago, he had only just admitted that fact last week.
And now he was about to leave her.
But not forever, he reminded himself.
Holding the parchment of new translations, Teo walked outside. The air was muggy, and the clouds along the horizon suggested an afternoon thunderstorm was brewing. He approached Ana from behind. "Need some company?"
She turned, smiling at him. "Always," she said with a wink.
Teo sat beside her on the warm, brown sand. He remained silent for a while, until at last he said, "I've been thinking about the mission the Papa asked of me." The Papa was the leader of the Christiani, so his requests could not be taken lightly.
"What about it?"
"Remember how we decided it was from Deu?"
Ana's face took on a look of concern. "You're not changing your mind, are you?"
"No, definitely not." The mission to the distant port of Marsay could be carried out by no one else. Teo knew he was uniquely qualified to journey great distances and speak the local languages. The Papa wanted Teo to be his emissary to the Knights of the Cross, collect any texts that spoke of the Creator God Deu, and explore whether other kingdoms in Marsay's vicinity might be open to the true faith. "I'm still planning on going," Teo insisted, "but I think the Papa misjudged the timing."
"I think I can get back here earlier than he thought. And that's important, because I believe Deu has something big in store for us."
Ana cocked her head and gazed at Teo with an amused expression. "A girl could interpret a mysterious statement like that in a lot of ways! Rather than get my hopes up, I think I'll just wait for you to explain."
"Sorry," Teo said, chuckling. "What I meant was, I think the Papa's mission won't take as much time as he supposes. He said it would take until winter, and then I'd be stuck at Marsay because the storms would close the seas. But I'm pretty sure I could return before then."
"You don't have to cut the mission short for me. I'll be fine here."
"I know. I wouldn't rush back just for you. I mean, I'll definitely miss you, but ... there's something else."
"Another mysterious statement!" Ana's face grew serious. "What's on your mind, Teo? Be clear with me so I can know what you're thinking."
He sighed, then handed Ana the parchment. "Read this bit of the New Testament and tell me what you think. I just finished the translation. It's a letter from the preacher named Paulus."
"Oh, Paulus! His story is amazing. I've been reading it in the book of Deeds."
"This is his letter to the Ephesi. The opening of the fifth chapter."
Ana scanned the page, which was written in her native tongue. Although she and Teo were living at a convent near Roma where everyone spoke a language called Talyano, Teo had been working on a translation of the New Testament from Talyano into the Chiveisian speech. Ana enjoyed reading Teo's scriptural translations as fast as he could produce them. The parchment he had just handed her described a contrast between the deeds of light and darkness. The passage closed with an admonition to discern the will of Deu.
"It's a beautiful text," Ana said. "It calls the sacrifice of the Pierced One a fragrant offering given to us in love."
"I liked that too. But the part that caught my attention is toward the end. Look here at what it says." Teo scooted closer to Ana on the sand and pointed to the passage. "It says to 'redeem the time because the days are evil.' I think that's a message for us. Our days are evil too. Time is short. We need to be wise and discern what the will of Deu is."
"How can we know his will?"
"I'm not sure. I'm just learning to figure that out. But I've been doing a lot of thinking about ... us."
"What do you mean?"
Ana remained silent as Teo stared across the sea, collecting his thoughts. At last he spoke, and when he did, he started at the beginning. He took Ana back to the day he had fallen beneath a ferocious bear attack and only her skill with a bow had saved him. Then he recalled the incredible twists and turns their lives had taken. After they found a copy of the Old Testament in a lost temple in the wilderness, they encountered severe persecution from the High Priestess of Chiveis. The only way to avoid martyrdom was to choose exile over the mountains. In foreign lands to the south Teo and Ana met other believers in Deu, including the Papa, who led the Universal Communion at Roma. Though he was a godly man, he and his followers did not possess the New Testament, for it had been lost during the Ancients' Great War of Destruction. Yet that did not stop Deu. After many battles and dangers, the one true God gave Teo and Ana the Sacred Writing. It revealed the stunning truth that Deu's executed son had triumphed over death.
As Teo reminisced about the events of the past two years he could sense Ana growing distressed. He knew why: she wanted to return to Chiveis. Ana missed her home desperately and longed for her people to hear the message of salvation. Teo considered what he should say to her. Redeem the time, the holy Paulus had written. Understand the will of Deu. The days are evil!
He glanced at Ana, who was tracing her finger in the sand. "I intend to finish the Papa's mission before the storms arrive," he announced. "I'm going to return here before winter. And then early next spring, as soon as it's safe to travel again, we'll head north."
Ana's head shot up. "North? You mean ... Likuria?"
He nodded again.
"And then, over the mountains?"
"Yes, Ana. It's time to go home to Chiveis. It'll be dangerous, but our people need to hear about Deu. We have to redeem the time allotted to us."
Ana leaped to her feet and yanked Teo up as well. "I agree!" she exclaimed. "Let's go home!" Brimming with joy, she hugged him around the neck.
An ocean wave rolled up, its reach longer than most. As Ana stepped back she kicked her foot to splash Teo. He bent down and tossed seawater at her with a cupped hand, eliciting a girlish squeal.
"It's so hot today!" Ana pitched her wide hat onto the sand, then flicked off her sandals. A mischievous look was on her face as she tugged Teo's arm. "Come on! Let's go for a swim!"
Teo caught her lighthearted mood. The idea of a swim in the cool water appealed to him too. He peeled off his shirt and rolled the precious parchment inside, then followed Ana into the sea. She had already waded out, soaking the hem of her knee-length dress. Her eyes shone as she waited for him to join her.
"You've made me so happy," she said, hugging him again.
Teo's only reply was to drag her with him into the choppy waves. Ana went willingly, laughing as she fell. She surfaced quickly, beaming. Her hair was slicked back from her forehead, and droplets glistened on her cheeks. Teo brushed them away with his thumb.
"I love you, Anastasia of Edgeton."
She returned his smile with a radiant one of her own. "I love you back, my Captain."
On the distant horizon a thunderclap rumbled, but the two swimmers paid it no mind.
* * *
Dawn had not yet come to Chiveis, but the sky had lost some of its deep blackness. Far above the mountains, the morning star shone brightly, glittering like a diamond. The High Priestess stared at it for a moment, then uttered an oath and stepped through a door into the bitter predawn cold.
The giant man called the Iron Shield accompanied her, along with a gaggle of eunuch priests wearing backpacks. The party had ridden in wagons for several hours up a long, dark tunnel. At last they reached the terminus. The tunnel's exit opened onto an icy landscape at the top of the world.
Though it was late summer, the lofty elevation made heavy garments necessary. The High Priestess was swathed in a ceremonial ermine cloak, and she wore black woolen leggings instead of a long gown. She needed freedom of movement for the climb ahead.
"We are truly in the halls of the gods," the Iron Shield observed, looking around at the jagged peaks. His command of the Chiveisian speech was rough, but the High Priestess was impressed he knew it at all. As a lore-keeper of the Pact, the dark stranger had made it his business to learn the rudiments of the language for such an occasion as this. He had recently arrived in Chiveis after a month of travel from his base in Roma. Though the presence of an outsider from the Beyond drew immediate concern from the Chiveisian army and stirred up no small frenzy among the common folk, the High Priestess had readily admitted the foreigner into her inner circle. She recognized at once the dark forces that empowered him. The Iron Shield would service her in many ways.
"Indeed we stand in an exalted place," she said to the fur-clad warrior, "and yet Astrebril the Great shines down on us from above." The High Priestess motioned toward a snow slope behind her. "Come. Let us ascend."
The priestess and her followers trudged up the incline with the aid of a guide rope, then climbed hand over hand up a rocky knob. By the time they reached the silver-domed building on the summit, a pale glow had begun to edge the eastern peaks. In every direction, mountains thrust their snowy heads into the sky. A sinuous glacier wound its way through them like a white serpent with black stripes on its back.
Breathing hard in the thin air, the High Priestess entered the building and ascended to the dome. The eunuchs scurried around making their equipment ready. Long ago a telescope mirror had been discovered here and was now safely hidden in her temple. Today the dome was used for a much different purpose than studying the stars.
"Soon you shall see the awesome power of the Beautiful One," the priestess said to the Iron Shield. "This is the power that makes my subjects fear me and obey."
The effeminate priests removed a tarp from an opening in the dome. They dropped a round ball into a metal tube and aimed it through the aperture. After lighting a fuse they shrank back, though the High Priestess did not move. The string sizzled and sparked.
A flash of light and a piercing whistle indicated the missile was away. For a moment everything was utterly silent.
And then ...
A deafening boom shattered the morning stillness, its reverberations echoing off every peak. Blood-red sparks exploded outward, trickling down the morning sky.
The High Priestess spread her arms toward the heavens. "Astrebril's fire strikes terror in the hearts of men. It wreaks destruction upon whomever it touches."
"It is truly beautiful," the dark warrior agreed.
Five more explosions ripped the sky before the High Priestess signaled for her eunuchs to stop. "Enough," she commanded. "Leave us now." The men gathered their backpacks and exited.
The High Priestess slipped her fingernail behind a strand of her dark hair and brushed it from her forehead. Only the Iron Shield was with her in the small room. She liked how he looked as he faced her: tall, wide-shouldered, proud, erect. His complexion was swarthy, and his yellow glass eye gave him a feral appearance. He was a warrior like none she had ever met — except perhaps the army captain who served the damnable god Deu. How did Captain Teofil survive his exile? And what trouble is he up to now, along with his impudent woman, Anastasia? Someday the High Priestess would find out. Astrebril had decreed they would meet again.
The Iron Shield spoke aloud the things that were on both of their minds. "The wider world is changing, my queen. Power is shifting. Ideas that should not be uttered are spreading here and there."
Hot fury blazed in the priestess's soul. She knew the report was true. Yet she also believed the Iron Shield could help put things right. "The Enemy has empowered a certain warrior," she said. "You know the man of whom I speak."
"Yes. I have met him in combat. And we must not forget the woman at his side. She has power too, though of a different sort."
"I want them both dead! They are spreading heresy across the land. And they have discovered the secret of Astrebril's fire. That is an art only I should know! Teofil and Anastasia must be silenced. Can you do this?"
"Yes, we can," replied the Iron Shield in a voice that resounded from deep within his chest.
The High Priestess's heartbeat quickened. Excellent! The man is filled with a legion! He will be very potent. She approached her new ally. "Listen to me, warrior. I must have more brimstone. And salt-stone. And iron would be useful too. But especially brimstone. I cannot get enough in Chiveis. My needs have grown. I have my eye on a new prize — a foreign one."
"And what is that, my queen?"
"The same prize obtained by the glorious Jonluc Beaumont many years ago. The Kingdom of Jineve."
"Ah! I passed through that land coming here. It is wealthy but weak. The kingdom has ..." The Iron Shield sought the right word, then made a chopping motion as if with a pickax. "Digging, for iron?"
"Yes. They have mines with much iron. And they have salt-stone."
"I suspected it. What of brimstone?"
"Not in Jineve. However ..." The Iron Shield paused, staring at the priestess. His right eye was a lump of pale yellow glass, slit with a black pupil like a cat's. "I know of a source."
The High Priestess arched her eyebrows.
"Across the sea, very far to the south, lies an island called Sessalay with a fire mountain upon it. Brimstone is found in abundance there."
"I want it. Bring it to me."
"It is a useless yellow rock."
"So it would seem. But when the dark arts are applied to it, the rock can yield the deadly fire you have just witnessed — and worse."
The Iron Shield shook his head. "I cannot imagine a more fearsome power than those thunderous blasts."
"Imagine a vapor that tortures and kills whomever it touches."
"Brimstone can do that?"
"Indeed. You must bring it to me from Sessalay in great quantities."
"The island is run by a criminal gang called the Clan. The boss may not allow it."
"The Clansmen signed the Pact, did they not?"
"They know better than to trifle with the power of Astrebril. But in case they have forgotten, show them this." The High Priestess reached into her garment and produced the glass vial she carried as an amulet. Seeing her action, the Iron Shield produced a vial of his own. A reddish-brown substance clung to each bottle's interior — the blood of an unholy alliance forged centuries ago.
"I will bring you the brimstone," the Iron Shield vowed. "And I will destroy the heretics from this earth."
"If you accomplish this task I shall grant whatever you desire."
The Iron Shield offered a sly grin. "You should be aware, my queen: my desire is not small."
"That is exactly as I wish."
The two servants of darkness smiled as they approached one another. Reaching out, they clasped hands. Then, to seal their purposes as one, they raised their bloody vials to the light of Astrebril's dawn.
* * *
Laughter and wine flowed freely as the two young couples relaxed over an elegant Roman meal. Ana felt pretty, having put on makeup, a nice gown, and the amethyst earrings Teo liked so much. He wore a high-collared doublet in the latest aristocratic style. Ana's closest friend, Vanita Labella, sat across the table from Marco, a handsome businessman with a black goatee. Businessman was what Vanita insisted on calling Marco now. It wouldn't do to call him a pirate or a scoundrel or a rogue, though he was those things too — and Ana knew Vanita secretly liked it.
"More wine?" Marco refilled Vanita's glass before she could answer.
"I hope you're not trying to take advantage of me," she joked. "I'm not like that anymore."
Marco grinned. "So what are you saying? Christiani girls can't enjoy the fruit of the vine?"
Ana noted the conversation's interesting turn. She studied her friend's face, waiting for the answer.
"What makes you think I'm Christiani?" Vanita asked. "I've never said that."
"I just assumed it. You are, aren't you?"
Vanita had once mocked Iesus, the Pierced One, as foolish and repugnant. Even so, Ana had continued to bear witness to her faith, until Vanita betrayed her into the hands of murderers. That awful memory clouded Ana's mind for a moment, but she quickly reminded herself how Deu had displayed his forgiving grace. Vanita had repented deeply of her traitorous deed, even shaving her head as a sign of contrition. Now she wore her blonde hair in a long bob, so unlike the thick tresses she used to toss about her shoulders to catch men's eyes. As far as Vanita was concerned, her life as the spoiled daughter of an Ulmbartian duke was over. She claimed to be a new person, and Ana accepted that for what it was. Yet now Vanita seemed ready to go further.
"You know what?" she said after a long pause. "It's true. I am Christiani. I believe in Deu, or Deus as they call him around here. How could you deny him after what we just experienced?"
"I didn't say I deny him."
Teo leaned forward, elbows on the table. "Do you believe in him, Marco?"
"I believe in what the Christiani are trying to do in the world. I support them. I support all of you — truly! But religion just isn't for me."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Kingdom"
Copyright © 2012 Bryan M. Litfin.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PART ONE DEPENDENCY,
PART TWO MINISTRY,
PART THREE CATHOLICITY,
APPENDIX: CHIVEIS TRILOGY LOCATIONS,
What People are Saying About This
“Bryan Litfin combines his vivid imagination with his knowledge of theology, history, literature, geography, ancient languages, and even apothecary (!) to give us a marvelous book about ‘a mysterious book.’ The Kingdom is more than a fascinating, enjoyable, quick read; it is also a great story about The Great Story—‘Iesus, the Pierced One’ and his past, present, and future church. Three cheers for this final volume in the trilogy!”
—Douglas Sean O'Donnell, Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies and Practical Theology, Queensland Theological College; author, The Beginning and End of Wisdom
“In the darkness of Chiveis, where hope is a rare commodity, some dare to believe the promises of the sacred text. The adventure that follows not only grips your imagination, it also enriches your faith.”
—Chris Castaldo, Director, Ministry of Gospel Renewal, Wheaton College; author, Talking with Catholics about the Gospel
“The Chiveis Trilogy concludes with yet another page-turner, full of action, adventure, suspense, intrigue, and inspiration. Litfin’s deep love for Scripture, reflected in his characters’ passionate pursuit of the Sacred Writings, can’t help but challenge and inspire readers to treasure their own Bibles and read them more often!”
—Christin Ditchfield, conference speaker; syndicated radio host, Take It To Heart®; author, A Family Guide to Narnia
“Bryan Litfin’s writing is colorful, witty, and engaging. The story of Chiveis is compelling and rich. The beautiful gospel themes constantly remind me of the wonder of the True God and the power of his Word. This last installment of the Chiveis Trilogy concludes the adventures of Teo and Ana with heart racing and mind stirring pace and resolution. This is indeed the work of an artist and theologian.”
—Jay S. Thomas, Lead Pastor, Chapel Hill Bible Church, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
“The climatic conclusion of Bryan Litfin’s Chiveis Trilogy does not disappoint. With his mastery of language, Litfin brings to life the struggles of Teo and Ana as they reintroduce God to a post-apocalyptic world that has forgotten Him. The cunning and captivating plot is layered with deep currents of real everyday Christian struggles. It is a thrilling novel that captured my imagination and challenged my soul.”
—Jason Hubbard, MD, FAANS, FACS, Neurosurgeon