Seven days to Apocalypse
“In God’s name shall he preach, In God’s name shall he warn, In God’s name shall he lead...lead you, a son of God, to your downfall” said the shrill voice, of a ninety year old hag...the one they called, the Oracle of Blemfl.
“My downfall? Is there someone brave enough...strong enough...sane enough to lead the great king of Calmenforde to his downfall?” snickered the thirty eight year old, man, with a pointy nose, tall, lean structure, long hair, thin moustache and powerful eyes. “I, Montaine Flumberg, am the heir to God’s kingdom and I am going to be defeated by a mere follower?”
“He is no true follower of Him and he certainly has no need of fearing you to be His son, as he doesn’t believe in His existence in the first place” said the oracle, in a very calm, slow manner.
“What? He doesn’t believe in God? He must be the son of the Devil,” said Elis Frankton, a short, plump, fifty year old man, with short grey beard and trimmed hair, the prime minister, Flumberg’s council and unofficial lacky.
“He doesn’t believe in the Devil either. He is a smart man” the old hag gave out a short giggle.
“The oracle seems to have lost her mind” whispered Elis to his king.
“So who is this man? Where can I find him? I’ll have to deal with him as soon as possible” said Montaine, ignoring his lapdog’s comment.
“You do not have to find him, he will find you. Time is nigh” said the Oracle, as she dreamily looked outside the cave, within which the trio were seated, to the starry sky above.
“How shall I identify this deceiver? The one claiming to be a follower of the Lord, but really isn’t” asked Flumberg.
“You shall do nothing, even if you recognise him as the one. He is the deceiver in every sense and he will bring forth the end of your reign as the supreme ruler of Calmenforde. And you can do nothing about it. He will deceive you and every one in your kingdom. But all is for the good... good of the people, that is...not of you” the lady began to laugh hysterically.
“She’s lost it completely. I think we are wasting our time here, my Lord. There shall be none, who can deceive and defeat you. We came here to seek guidance, regarding the building of the shrine near our border in Truttenberg and this woman started rambling about some man whom we should fear. This is sheer stupidity”
“No Elis...The Oracle has never been wrong before”
“Age catches up my lord...Not everyone could be good at what they do forever, could they?”
The old lady seemed to completely ignore the two men’s private discussion. She kept mumbling something in some strange language and laughed like a crazy person.
The King took note of what his minister had said and he also noticed the woman’s strange behaviour. He decided to go with his trusted man’s words and chose to leave the cave, forgetting about the prophecy of the old lady.
“Heed my warning, young king...Your days as the ruler of Calmenforde is numbered and his actions and words shall lead you astray” the witch like woman’s laughter had vanished for a moment and she had this really serious look on her face, as her hazy eyes stared straight at the king’s own. “Do not trust anyone, who say they could predict the future” the lady’s expression once again changed within seconds and she started with this haunting laughter.
“Told you so” Elis, rolled his eyes and shook his head, as he led his king outside the cave.
Though Montaine Flumberg had chosen to ignore the Oracle’s words, on seeing what the old lady’s behaviour seemed to tell him, that she had lost her senses a long time back and also the fact that, he preferred to believe that he indeed was too mighty to be defeated by a single man, there was an uneasy feeling inside of him, that told him, that he had to be a little wary of the ancient hag’s warnings.
The two men walked out of the cave and got into their extravagant carriage waiting outside, which was surrounded by a small troop of dozen odd, heavily armed soldiers, standing by, just to escort their king, back to his castle, safely. Though Elis Frankton seemed little bothered by the old lady’s predictions and was more keen on planning the events of the day, Montaine opened the window of his carriage door and looked back at the cave, from within which he had just walked out. The laughter of the old woman seemed to still resonate from within the darkness.
“Something about her warning...churns my guts...but why?”
On a very hot summer afternoon, in a heavily crowded, busy market place, in the centre of the city of Calmenforde, one man moved calmly through the narrow streets, not bothered by the ruckus around him. People were moving in all directions, speaking, yelling, crying and laughing, buying all sorts of items from the various mongers and tradesmen, who had established their shops all around. Fruits, vegetables, flowers, fishes, meat, rugs, cotton, silk, spices, antiques, clothes, wine, all sorts of food items and a lot more, were sold in all sorts of shops, all around the market region. It could clearly be said as the most happening place in the whole of the kingdom. There were even street performers and many road side acts going on and people were usually in thousands, in this particular part of the city, all the time.
The fifty three year old man, with greying long hair, dense beard, not so short, not so tall, body structure, blue eyes, skin, heavily tanned, by the constant walking under the sun, adorned in long dirty grey robes and carrying a long wooden staff in his hand, passed steadily by, amidst the densely crowded marketplace, ignoring all the people around him, trying to sell him various objects or at least asking him to take a few moments to look as to what they had to offer. He had this large hood over his head, to protect him from the unrelenting sun above.
“Buy one of these rugs for your home sir. They are imported from lands from across the globe. These are some of the best in the world” said one monger, carrying half a dozen odd rugs, folded into bundles on his shoulder.
“Want some fishes, sir? Freshly caught this very morning”
“Get some nice fresh lilies for your wife sir...She will treat you well, this very night”
The man however had no need for anything that was at offer. He had no home, no desire for food and no wife to please. He was a loner, a man who had absolutely no interest in his own life, but always keen on making the lives of others better. An ardent lover of nature, a keen observer of art, highly knowledgeable of the lands beyond the Clamenforde walls, a curious explorer during his younger days, but later dedicated his life to the service of God and his children...or that was what he made the world to believe. He had a relatively calm and peaceful life, barring the horrible death of his sister to a then mysterious flu and the estrangement of his beloved nephew. For years he had lived, what youngsters of the present would call, ‘a boring, dull life’. Then something had happened the previous week and he was set on a very important mission, a mission to save the people of his land from the inevitable end.
“Pardon me sir, is this the route to King Flumberg’s palace?” asked the hooded man, in his deep, calm, majestic voice, to a couple of soldiers standing nearby.
“It sure is,” replied a soldier, not even bothering to look towards the man. The old man too did not mind the soldier and he continued walking. A fat soldier, close by him, eyed the man and nudged at his mate, who had just replied to the passerby. The first soldier turned and noticed the man, in the dirty robes, a moment later and yelled out to him. “Hey you! Stop! What business, have you to meet Lord Flumberg?”
“He does not seem like anyone important with any major business to deal with the Lord, by the looks of him” snorted the large soldier towards the first soldier, who also gave a little laugh.
The man with the staff did not say anything and just gave a pleasant smile, from under the hood. He casually turned away from the two soldiers and continued walking.
“Hey, did you not hear me ask you a question?” the first soldier demanded, offended by the stranger’s snub.
“Your friend already seemed to know a lot about me. His answer seemed to satisfy you, by the looks of your laughter” replied the old man.
“Trying to act smart, are you? Answer my question. Who are you and what do you want with our Lord?” asked the soldier, once again.
“Probably a derelict, trying to beg for money from the king? Our Lord might be gracious, but you can’t just walk into his palace and ask for money” said the heavier soldier.
“What’s going on here? Who is this man?” asked an older, more senior soldier with red hair and a large red moustache, a tall, well maintained body, but for a large belly that had developed with age, who had moved closer to the scene.
“He is heading for the palace, that much we know, Sir. We are trying to find out more. But the old man seems to be rather arrogant,” complained the leaner of the two soldiers, who had questioned him a few moments back.
“In what way, have my actions been arrogant? You asked me a question, your friend answered it. So what need have I to say anything?” smiled the man.
“Forget about them. Now answer me, who are you and why are you heading to the palace. Not anyone can just go in and come out of there. There will be soldiers there to question you as well,” said the senior soldier, seemingly much calmer, than the two hot headed younger soldiers.
“I know what he will say next. If there are going to be soldiers there and if I am to answer them, then why do I have to answer you as well. Isn’t that right old man?” asked the rotund soldier.
“No use talking to this sort of people. I say we arrest him and enquire him in our office. He might even be a foreign spy or an assassin trying to kill our king” said his mate.
“Silence you two! Reckless speculations shall not be tolerated. You go on, gentleman. Tell me about you” said the old soldier, patiently and respectfully, yet in an authoritative tone.
“I am Barnaby...Christopher Barnaby” said the man, lowering his hood and beaming towards the soldiers standing nearby.
“Christopher Barnaby? Now where have I heard that name before?” the old soldier found the name familiar, yet had difficulties trying to recollect as to where he had heard of that name before...but that was only for a moment or two. “You...You are that priest...the one that performs all those miracles...” there was a long pause, as the old soldier stared towards the stranger with awe. “You healed hundreds of people, who got sick eating tainted wheat in Blasby village. Aren’t you the one?” asked the senior soldier, really surprised.
“Priest Barnaby, hey everyone look, it’s priest Barnaby” a man moving past that way, spotted the priest and was as surprised as the senior soldier himself.
“The one chosen by God” said a lady, walking by.
“Priest Barnaby, do you remember me? You healed my child’s rashes two years back” a young girl ran towards the old man.
“He is said to be the one who has seen God. Bless us priest Barnaby” an eighty year old man, fell at the priest’s feet.
“Why fall at my feet? I am just like you, a mere follower. Seek your forgiveness at the feet of God, not an ordinary human” said Barnaby politely, lifting the old man up.
“You are close to what we have to God. Bless us and all our sins will be forgiven” said a twenty year old boy. Within a matter of seconds, dozens and dozens of people started falling at the priest’s feet and the soldiers were left puzzled and dumbstruck.
“Hey, everyone stand back...What’s happening here? Soldiers, move these people away from here” ordered the fat soldier, to a couple of junior soldiers a few feet away. The younger soldiers did as said by the man and they tried to disperse the crowd. Things started to turn chaotic, with the people not willing to move away from the priest and the soldiers, trying to get as many people away from there, as possible, by pushing and dragging the common folk.
“Everyman has to face the consequences of his actions and none can escape the hand of fate. God can only lead you to a right path and take you into his kingdom, once you are done toiling for your sins. And a mere mortal like myself, can only point you to God and not become God myself” said Barnaby, raising his staff.
“What is this joker doing? Arrest him first...He is the reason for everything” said the large soldier again, seeing the commotion between the soldiers and the people there.
“Can’t you see who he is? Or do you still not understand what influence he has on people? Nobody shall lay a hand on him, while I am here” said the senior soldier, who himself, seemed to be a firm believer of the priest.
“Don’t tell me you believe in this nonsense, sir. Do you really think he can heal people and that he really deserves people falling at his feet?” retorted the soldier
“Wyman, don’t forget you are talking to our senior” said the soldier, who had first halted Barnaby.
“Philip, not you too...”
“We do not know anything about this priest ourselves, Wyman, but we have to show him some respect. Look at the scene before you. He has so many people trusting him to be close to God Himself. And our own senior, Norman Wright, seems to know about him as well” said Philip.
“I have heard a lot about him. He has travelled across various lands and has done a number of miraculous deeds. Though he is not as famous in other lands and in various parts in our own kingdom, he is revered by many as God’s chosen one,” said Norman, the soldier with the large, red moustache.
“What is the probability that he is not a phony?” said Wyman, as he disgustedly watched the priest surrounded by all those people, being praised and worshipped.
“He never used his name to fill his coffers. He never sought powerful position in the senate or in the royal courthouse, using the influence he has on the people and he does not even own a house in his own name. He lives in a small rented outhouse, within a small church compound just outside the walls of Calmenforde city...if I had heard correctly” explained Norman, who seemed to have already learnt a lot about the priest, over the years.
“That does not prove anything. What if he is planning to meet the king for one of the reasons you just mentioned? Like planning to cheat our king, who is a believer of God himself and ask for money or a position in his courthouse?” said Wyman, still cynical.
“I have no such intentions, son. My need to meet the king is for a much superior cause. I wish to not speak about it to anyone but the king himself. It’s for the welfare of the people and my revelation might just create unnecessary panic and chaos. Trust me on that...” said Barnaby, as he sent the people away and walked closer to the discussing soldiers.
“No matter what you say, I don’t really trust you. I want a proper explanation” Wyman caught hold of the old priest’s robe and tried to pull him closer.
“Wyman, you are crossing the line. As your senior, I order you to let him go” Norman, angrily commanded his junior.
“Do as he says, Wyman. You don’t want to get suspended for this” warned Philip, as he nudged his buddy, prompting him to walk away from the priest.
The large, rotund, soldier, reluctantly let go of the priest and he was then led by Philip, a little further away.
“Forgive us for not treating you properly. Not everyone in the city knows about you, father.”
“Not a problem sir-“
“Norman Wright” said the man with the bushy red moustache.
“Mr. Wright...I don’t expect any of this. I am just a normal human being and it is right of the soldiers to enquire me...though he could have been a bit more polite and made judgements after knowing someone better” said Barnaby.
“The younger generation are reckless. I once again apologise for the behaviour of my men. As for your meeting with our King...I’m afraid it’s just not too easy to go in to the palace and meet him, without telling the army general or the ministers within the courthouse, the reason for your visit. Even if you do tell them, you cannot be sure, that you will be allowed to see Lord Flumberg right away. The king might be busy and he might not necessarily be in a position to meet everyone who has come, seeking him. I hope you understand”
“I understand Mr.Wright...but I do not have much time and the matter at hand is quite a serious one. As I said before, I cannot explain it to you just yet. I do understand the situation and I am willing to disclose the matter to someone in a position as high as the army general or the prime minister, but to no one else. Please do not mistake me that I am not respecting you and not confiding in you, to tell you everything” explained Barnaby.
“No, you have no need to apologise and I do trust your words. I have heard a lot about you and I’ve for long wanted to meet you. God has finally given me that privilege. And it will also be my honour to get you to meet the army general. I have worked closely with him since our younger days in the army”
“Aw, very well...You would be surprised to know that I had a dream last night, that an angel will be sent by God to assist me in my mission. Never realised that this angel would be someone like you” smiled the priest.
“Me, an angel? I am just an ordinary man”
“Anyone, who works for God, becomes his angel. By helping me, you are working for God and therefore you too are an angel”
“I...I really don’t know what to say...” said the large man, clearly overwhelmed by the priest’s comment.
“You don’t have to say anything...just do the holy work of the Lord and you shall have your salvation”
“I would do my best, father” bowed the senior soldier, “Right this way” the large man, wiped his seemingly wet eyes and led the priest to a carriage nearby. A tough man like Norman Wright getting tearful because of some simple words of the old priest? Quite unbelievable, isn’t it? Not really, if you know the old soldier well enough. This had been a different day for the senior soldier. He had always wanted to be part of something special and he had joined the army for just that. But barring a single week in a war zone and having had the pleasure of knowing the army general from a very young age, he has had a very ordinary, dull career. Now all of a sudden, he felt his life to be full of purpose. He did not know why, but he just felt it. He had indeed heard a lot about Christopher Barnaby and being a man of faith himself, he had longed to meet the man, who was being called by many, as “God’s messenger”.
The more he had heard about him, the more he had wanted to see him and that day, it had finally happened. Not only was that an overwhelming moment by itself, but he was called an angel of God, by “God’s chosen one”. Though he was outwardly, a tough, strong man, Norman Wright was very emotional and spiritual on the inside. He had said to himself, that very moment that he would do everything within his power, to help the priest with his mission, even though he knew nothing about the mission itself.
Christopher Barnaby’s thoughts were quite different. Never had he thought that a single line of his can move an experienced, senior soldier to tears, in a matter of seconds and make him submit himself to him completely. He had gotten himself a slave, who was to make his work a lot easier. His deception had worked indeed.