24. Into the Fold

“For our newcomers: while Tony & I are on the road, please enjoy his book, ‘Leaving the Trail’ as a weekly series in condensed form. Be sure to go back to the beginning to understand the story! If you can’t stand the suspense, simply order a copy from Amazon or write toinfo@martonpublishing.com.”

The campfire had almost burned itself out, and as the darkness closed in the stars were more brilliant than ever. Friend considered putting another log on to burn, but decided against it. He stood and began to stretch when a voice called out from the darkness, “Someone’s coming!” One of the defense team guards posted around the camp had heard something. Almost immediately, several people had gathered close to Friend, weapon in hand, straining into the darkness to see what the sentinel had heard.

“Who’s there?” called Friend. “Announce yourself!”

At first there was no response, which prompted several of the men to draw their swords. Then at last they heard a voice. “We’re friends of Fisher. Are you the people called Rendezvous?”

“You’ve found us,” called Friend back into the darkness. “Come to the fire.”

The men who staggered into the light seemed more like refugees than pilgrims, thought Friend. They had no back packs, but instead were carrying what looked like farm implements. Their clothing, which appeared roughly made at best, was torn in places, and a few of the men were nursing what looked like recent wounds. They were obviously exhausted from the long climb up from the valley floor, but seemed to be suffering from hunger and lack of sleep as well.

“Come sit by the fire,” said Friend. “You must be hungry; we’ll heat up something, if you don’t mind leftovers.”

“Anything would be appreciated,” said one of the men, who looked to be their leader. Extending his hand, he said, “My name is Ken, and these are men from the village where I live, over that mountain to the south. Fisher and his wife came to us, and told us of the fate of the family who left. I want to thank you for taking care of Lisa. Is she all right?”

“She’s fine,” said Friend, “and sleeping in that tent over there with my daughter. She’s a very special girl.”

“Yes she is,” agreed Ken. “And I need to tell you, before we eat your food and enjoy your hospitality, that these men and I had come with the intention of taking Lisa back.”

“Of course, I understand,” said Friend, unable to disguise the disappointment in his voice. “Lisa belongs with her family. If you’ll stay the night, then tomorrow morning we can …”

“But I have to tell you more,” said Ken. “Our intention was not to return Lisa to her family, but to take her to a High Place we call Bamah. There, she would be sacrificed to the Ruler, in order to insure his blessing and protection over the village. Fisher of course would not agree to this, so we kept his wife as a hostage while he was to lead us here to you.”

Friend’s empty hands immediately and unconsciously doubled into fists, while the hands of defense team members standing around the fire went to their swords. Trying to control his words, Friend said, “I notice you said that you had intended this. Am I to assume that this is not now what you want to do?”

“Fisher and Sandy warned us about the one we call ‘Ruler’. They said he was a deceiver who didn’t want us to know about the Power over him. We would not … could not believe their words. But this morning we were attacked by the Ruler’s beasts. Two of our men were killed, and the rest of us would have surely died if it hadn’t been for two things: Fisher and the Power he spoke of. Even now, we’re not sure what we saw, but we want to know more about it. Fisher said that at the place called “Rendezvous” we’d find the answers we were looking for.”

“Fisher spoke the truth,” said Friend. “We do serve that Power, Whom we call ‘God’, and I can assure you that there are no other gods before Him. I suspect that the one you call ‘Ruler’ is the same that we refer to simply as the ‘Evil Man.’ He’s been around a long time, and he has many followers, such as the beasts that attacked you today. But the path you’re standing on leads to the Kingdom of God. Those who take this journey are called by many names: such as pilgrims, Christians and believers. But the oldest name given is simply the ‘People of the Way.’ You are very welcome to join us on this journey, and as we go, we would consider it a privilege to share with you what we know and what we’ve seen.

“But what about Fisher and Sandy?” asked Friend. “And there must be others; will they come with us as well?”

“Fisher’s wife was left under guard, along with my parents, who have been trying to tell us for years these stories that we now know must be true. Altogether, there are more than fifty men, women and children living in the valley. I can’t speak for them, but I feel certain that when we go back and report what’s happened today, they’ll gladly come back with us.”

“And Fisher?” repeated Friend.

Ken looked to the ground uncomfortably. “If he’s still alive, it’ll be yet another miracle. Fisher insisted on going back alone, to be with Sandy. If he runs into those beasts on the way, and doesn’t get the kind of help we did, I don’t see how …”

Friend thought about that for a moment, then said, “Well, if there’s one thing God specializes in, it’s miracles. We’ll pray for his safety; then I want you and your men to eat and get some rest. Aaron?” he called out. “Take a couple of guys and dig through the supplies. See if you can scratch up some sleeping arrangements for these men. Patty? Can you and some of the ladies get this fire going and warm up some stew? Ralph! Organize your defense team: half to go with us, half to stay here and guard the camp. There’s no use leaving before daybreak, so get some sleep. It may be awhile before you get another chance.”

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