In the last issue, Wort’s uncle had convinced him to accompany Jude to see Joshua, and continue the Gueuzer’s fight against the regime.
The front of Joshua’s home was secluded enough for Wort to leave the package his uncle had given him, without being seen. A rambling, beautifully landscaped front lawn with bushes sculpted into angels greeted Wort; he fixed the layout in his mind, noting monitor shadows where people could remain hidden from view.
Massive front doors led into the house’s plush interior. A high-ceilinged entrance branched off in several different directions. A man answered the door and led them toward the back of the house. The walls were decorated by numerous large pictures of Medieval-era art. The back of the house overlooked a large canyon. Unscalable cliffs dropped directly off the house’s rear, preventing access from that direction.
Joshua was a heavy set man with roughened, cragged lines across his face. His eyes appeared dark brown and troubled, as if the sins of his parishioners weighed heavily upon his soul. He motioned to two seats a short distance from the plush chair in which he sat.
“Thank you, I prefer to stand,” Jude said, obviously taken aback by Joshua’s age.
“As thou wishes,” Joshua replied. “Verily, some time hath passed since you were sent to shepherd the colony of Job.” Joshua’s eyes turned to Wort, who remembered what his uncle had said about the priest being so elevated in rank and surrounded by intrigue that he didn’t recognize distant enemies. Getting past the front gate had been the difficult part, and he’d had unseen help with that.
“My Lord, I am concerned,” Jude said immediately, drawing the priest’s attention. “Many things have come to pass that hath me believing I am an enemy rather than the shepherdess of Job.”
“What hath happened?” Joshua asked.
While Jude voiced her fears, Wort scanned the open rear of the house, filling his mind with the details of its layout. He stood within reach of Joshua, but suspected that the slightest threatening move would cost him his life. He would get his chance, his uncle promised, and the Gueuzers would accomplish their greater goal.
“...have had some problems that keep me from explaining all to you,” Joshua said. “You must rest your faith me, as all will be made clear with time.”
“Others have spoken, saying, ‘Verily, the people you labored for hath turned against thee,’” Jude said.
“What people?” Joshua asked.
“Naysayers, I would forsooth,” Jude said, avoiding names. “Yet some of what they say hath come to pass.”
“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inward they are ravening wolves,” Joshua replied.
“Forgive me, O Hallowed One, but I have heard likewise,” Wort said suddenly. “I have heard that your perfect world is an illusion, created with virtual realities & hiding the faults behind technology.”
Joshua looked at Wort, surprised, and said, “I am saddened at your view, Witness. Verily, we have created nothing. We have merely allowed Christian families to live in peace and without fear.”
“And those Inside have been reduced to living hells,” Wort said.
Joshua shifted in his high-backed, royal chair, a quizzical look on his face. “I find your thoughts puzzling. Verily, before you lays a world of great peace and near perfection. We have wrought this, relying on the power of the Almighty, yet you ascribe terrible things to us.
“We are not yet perfect,” Joshua continued. “Our mission is to spread His Truth throughout the galaxy. As we do so, we become more perfect. For we are a peaceful people, as Our Lord Jesus hath commanded.
“And the Solar Reinforcers?” Wort replied. “What peace do they bring?”
“It has always been necessary to defend the faithful from those who would defy His laws. We must be prepared to slay those who would destroy His doctrine, His truth. Yet you mistake the purpose of our peaceships.”
“Forsooth, what purpose hath its presence near Job?” Jude asked.
“To gather you up for a mission,” Joshua said, turning back to Jude. “We have need of your leadership to carry our battle to a new frontier. But that is a topic for us two alone.” He pushed a button on the arm of his chair. “For now, I caution you both, rest your doubts. There is danger in little faith. Now let us refresh ourselves.”
Moments later a woman appeared. Dressed in a flowing robe she walked first to Joshua and placed a full glass near his hand. Then she turned toward Wort.
The sight of Elizabeth brought the memories crashing out of Wort’s subconscious. He fell to his knees. Jude grabbed his arm, helping him to his feet. “I am sorry, Hallowed One,” Wort managed to say, his instinct for self preservation returning quickly.
Elizabeth looked at him for a long moment, then held out a drink. He took the glass carefully, resisting the temptation to touch her hand . She turned and bowed to Joshua, then started to leave.
“O Hallowed One, I have one last question,” Wort said desperately. Elizabeth continued walking toward the door. “What sayest thou to a servant’s free will? Canst not one—such as the servant before you—doest what she most wants?” Elizabeth stopped.
Joshua’s face turned red and his lips began moving back and forth over his teeth. Then, quickly, his demeanor calmed. “Verily, this Gift of God has a free will and doest whatsoever she desires in that it please Our Lord.”
“Would that thou prove what thou spakest by allowing me to question her,” Wort challenged.
Joshua looked at him, again surprised, then replied, “So doth all within the realm of my—His—kingdom come to pass,” he said. “What is it thou thinkest she desires?”
“To be free,” Wort said, keeping hold on his emotions with all his power.
“My dearest Elizabeth,” Joshua said, “Doth thou not feel free to do as thou desires?” She nodded silently.
“Art thou free to leave?” Wort asked.
She looked at him for a long moment, then said, “I stay here of my own free will.”
Joshua turned to Wort. “You have many questions, Witness, and this last one most odd. I will leave you with one thought. Wherefore by the fruits of a tree ye shall know them. Now I must rest and pray. Judith, we will meet again at this time tomorrow, to discuss your mission.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Wort dimly heard the huge, ornate, sculptured door fall closed. He stood for a moment in the open patio staring at the huge expanse of lawn before him. Judith took his hand and led him slowly down the sidewalk, past the sculptured bushes and glistening white pathway stones. Halfway down, he encountered a worker. It was a black man. Their eyes met briefly. It was Garvey. “Thank you,” he said, then handed him a folder. “Give this to your uncle. He will know what to do.”
Garvey walked quickly away.
By Bill Metzger
Copyright 1994, Southwest Brewing News