It was the year after Christ died for our sins and arose in victory over Satan and the forces of darkness. Those dark forces leaped into a state of retreat and disarray.
During this time, a large multitude of humans rose up and spurned the Christ and the Blood He shed for them. This multitude summoned demons and made a pact with them.
"Because we cannot stand the sound of the Name of this Christ or the righteousness he stands for, we will allow you to possess and use us as your foot soldiers."
This was the spirit of the pact, or so the scholar's say. From this pact came an army of physical demons. The demons having possessed the bodies of the humans, altered them to suit their fancy, and from this came creatures of large stature, with large muscles and insect-like exo-skeletons.
At the raising of these armies, the demons immediately attacked the Christians. Terror and violence was experienced by all, and a cry arose from the Christians to the Lord of Hosts, "Lord, deliver us!" The Lord heard their cry and provided them a way to defend themselves from the terrors of the demonic enemy.
First of all, the Lord reminded the Christians of what the Apostle Paul said about spiritual warfare and the armor of God. With this act, the Lord gave them the means chosen to take the battle to the enemy. Certain families were chosen to become Warriors of the Lord, but they were taught theology and homiletics. These warriors were going to be in the eye of the people both as role models and at other times, servants.
A large responsibility was placed upon these families, and for many years these duties were performed, and are to this day still carried out.
Excerpt from Arthur Meier's journals and writings.
The kingdom of Light stands surrounded on all sides by the Dark Empire.
The physical demons have recently been disguising themselves in the flesh of men once again to infiltrate the kingdom of Light. The infilterations have begun to be discovered, by discerning Warriors. They refer to these disguised demons as Dark men.
It is apparent that the Dark Empire wants to squeeze the kingdom of light out of existence, but the plan to do so has not been discovered. The Warrior families' Council of Light has called for all to be on guard for an attack from any quarter, to be ready for the final battle. No event has been linked to such a battle being eminent, but still the Warriors watch and wait...
Bruised and exhausted from the day's sword training, young Hawk McClaron sat in his room hunched over the stringed instrument. He tried to recall how he had just managed to accurately play the melody that had come to his head in the early hours of that morning before he had been called away to breakfast and his daily studies.
Someone called his name from the bottom of the stairs, and with a frustrated grimace, he left the lute on his bed to go down to eat the evening meal with his family.
Coming to the table, he had to smile at he sight of his two youngest siblings, Justin and Crystal, already seated.
Justin had just begun his training as every child in a Warrior family was required to do. Hawk knew that he would readily take to the family occupation and looked forward to the day of his sword's final forging, when the owner would speak the Words and personally strike the ceremonial hammer blows before receiving the sword's hilt presented by Mother and Father.
Hawk breathed a sigh to think that even though he was a year past his own final forging, the training would go on as long as he wasn't assigned his first mission.
Evidently, the enemy had been idle in the local area for about a year and a half, and even Father had no mission at present. The only queer thing in this peaceful time was there had not been a sign of the intelligent mounts that were impressed on new Warriors. There seemed to be no new foals to be brought before new Warriors for the Choosing. As a result, Hawk had no mount.
Father had continued to train his sons, giving his sword master a mission to scout for a herd of mounts to see why there were none at hand, and to try and persuade foals of the proper age to come for a Choosing to become impressed on Hawk.
Thaddus, Hawk's other brother, had just arrived at the table. He would be the next one to stand at the forging ceremony.
"Where have you been since lunch?" asked Hawk.
With a wry smile, Thaddus replied, "Demonstrating unarmed combat in the village."
"More like street brawling with the rough necks." murmured Hawk. "Don't let Father or Mother smell beer on your breath or we're all in for a tougher training schedule. I was planning to visit the old minstrel in forest cottage tonight, and something like that could cancel my plans."
"I have plans, too."
Hawk shook his head. The only time Thad seemed to relate to him anymore was when they both were up to the same kind of mischief. There was a time when they did everything together; now Thad went one way and Hawk another.
Mother called everyone to dish up their own bowls of stew, as Father appeared freshly washed from the day's training sessions.
At the sight of Thaddus, Father McClaron inquired, "Did our order of sword-iron come in?"
"I put it in the smithy," replied Thaddus. He had a gleam in his eye at the thought of possessing his own sword.
At the end of supper, Father looked up at Hawk. "I know you're going to see old Carter at the cottage tonight, but I want you to know that I want you to be ready to spar with your brother Justin tomorrow, after I show him the forms for a while.
Hawk inwardly cringed at the loss of his free time for the next day, but dutifully replied, "Yes, sir."
"I'll spar with him!" said Thaddus with a grin.
"This is not a license to wail on your brother, Thad. I want Hawk to spar with him."
Mother looked at Hawk. "I wish you wouldn't go visit that old drunken minstrel. I'm sure he drank himself out of a job." She glanced at Father. "He could be a bad influence," she finished.
"Mother, he's only teaching me some songs that everyone knows anyway. It gives me ideas to compose my own music."
"You spend a lot of time with your lute and sheet music."
"I would like to see any music he gives you," declared Father.
Hawk merely nodded as he met his father's eye. He wondered what they thought was so wrong about pursuing an interest in music.
Hawk breathed a sigh as he passed through the gate of his home, The Keep. The evening was mild and his lute felt pleasantly familiar under his arm. He began to daydream of being a wandering minstrel as Carter had been. Receiving the praise of lords and all who stopped to listen. Carter had told him some entertaining stories of his own life on the road, but Mother had a point about Carter's drinking. His stories were about drinking and tavern women as much as being a minstrel. Could there be a more noble way to be a minstrel?
As the cottage came dimly into view, he saw that there was no lamp lit. Hawk decided to make sure the cottage was secure while Carter was away.
The cottage was dark and quiet, confirming Carter's absence. Not wanting to stay in such a gloomy place alone, Hawk decided to go into the village and sit in the Square. Maybe the mayor's daughter would happen by with some of her friends. He enjoyed seeing her--she was pretty to look at, but his being of the local Warrior family had never impressed her enough to even speak to him.
Hawk sat under a tree that grew near the Mug and Trencher Inn on the west side of the village Square. He played the tune that he had barely worked out before supper, reaching for lyrics to go with it.
Hearing a murmur and a small giggle, he looked up from his playing to see the mayor's daughter, Megan, with a friend, Joanna. The two were grudgingly accompanied by Megan's older brother, James. His obvious desire was to go into the inn and leave the girls to their own devices.
The young ladies soon found themselves without an escort and looked to sit under the tree, only to find Hawk already there.
Joanna move toward Hawk's tree, but Megan held back. "Come on. I'm sure he'd share our favorite spot with us."
"I' d be happy to move, if you wish," called Hawk.
"Oh," said Joanna, the self appointed spokesman, "I, for one, want to hear you play something."
Joanna sat near Hawk, but Megan sat almost behind Joanna in the grass under the tree.
Hawk began to play, not knowing what to say to these two who had never bothered to talk to him before. The song was one he had composed on a quiet night at The Keep just this past summer. It was one that spoke of romance and loneliness, a longing for someone to share his life with. It was the only song Hawk was proud of writing and considered it the only real song he had ever written. He put his heart into the song.
When he had finished, Hawk looked to see that Joanna had closed her eyes to take in the song. When she opened them, the torches burning outside of the inn allowed him to notice they were dark in color, probably brown, but only daylight would reveal the truth.
"Excuse me," uttered Megan, breaking Hawk's reverie, "I need to speak to James." She rose quietly to her feet and stepped into the Mug and Trencher. Hawk was only halfway to a standing position before she disappeared into the inn.
Joanna took advantage of his move to rise to put her back against the tree where Hawk had been seated. "You're Thaddus' brother, aren't you?"
"Yes," answered Hawk. "I am Hawk McClaron. And you?"
"Joanna Clarke, niece to Mayor Thornhill."
"So you are actually Megan's cousin," concluded Hawk.
She smiled and said, "Could you play something else for me? I really like what you just sang."
"What would you like to hear?" asked Hawk sitting near her feet.
Something like the first song you played." She drew her feet toward her to one side and smoothed down her skirt with small, delicate hands.
As Hawk automatically began to play the new song he had been working on, he decided that though Joanna did not have Megan's obvious beauty, she was far from homely. Her thin brows were faintly visible above the soft glow in her eyes. Her full lips quirked easily into a smile as the corners of her mouth seemed to be drawn to a noticeable dimple in each round cheek. She possessed a wholesomeness Hawk found very appealing. He knew he could fall for her because of her warmth and openness as well as her own particular beauty. She seemed to freely offer an unspoken sense of friendship that eclipsed whatever Hawk had seen in Megan. He did not want the moment to fade.
Megan soon appeared with a sullen James in tow. "Come, Jo, I'm taking you girls home. I'm to meet Thaddus McClaron pretty soon, and I'll not have you in my hair."
Hawk's eyebrows rose, but he said nothing.
"Thank you, Hawk," said Joanna rising. "I'm glad I met you."
"It was nice to meet you, Joanna."
Joanna flashed her winning smile and hurried to catch up with James and Megan.
Hawk stepped into the inn to get a small pot of jasmine tea that the innkeeper had told him was from the Far East. The innkeeper had wanted to impress Hawk with something exotic that only his inn had. It was a sweeter tea than Hawk had ever tried before, so he developed a taste for it.
Seeing Carter at a table in the back, he took a seat in front of him and noticed that the old minstrel was falling asleep over a tankard of beer.
"Wake up," Hawk prodded as the innkeeper's plain-looking daughter came over to take his order. "I'd like a pot of the jasmine tea, please," he said looking up at the unsmiling woman.
Carter opened his eyes, and they were as red as blood. He had been drinking for most of the evening, and from what Hawk could make out from his slurred speech, he had been hired by the innkeeper to play his lute for the customers.
"This is a pupil of mine," he bellowed suddenly. "Make him sing for his drinks like his teacher!"
Hoping for a replacement for Carter, the innkeepers daughter suddenly narrowed her eyes, "I'll give you the tea, but your teacher hasn't earned his money and has already drunk it all up. You can save him an appointment with the constable, if you finish his term of employment.
Hawk merely nodded, and with both disappointment and disgust with his music mentor, he picked up his lute and walked to the front of the dining hall.
The young man closed his eyes and pushed aside all the emotions that could distract from the task that was thrust upon him. This was something he had secretly hoped for: a chance to be a minstrel. He began a song called "Adventure Road" which seemed to draw him in a reverie of memories that led to the next song, and then the next.
An hour later, he ended with his newest song, humming the tune for lack of lyrics. "I could have put lyrics to this tonight if it weren't for Carter," he thought.
Find him asleep on his arms at the table, Hawk half carried the minstrel to his horse.
Just as the minstrel's head sagged in the saddle, the innkeeper's daughter came to Hawk. "You played well, tonight," she stated with a softer look in her eyes than Hawk had ever seen her have. "Too bad not many people were left to hear you. I like the thing you were humming at the end."
"Thank you, ma'am." said Hawk sincerely.
"You're Reed McClaron's son, and a Warrior may not need it, but I could have my father pay you a few coins if you come to play one night next week.."
"I think I will," said Hawk thoughtfully.
"Come and see my father tomorrow. There'll be some tea for you." she called behind her as she headed for the inn's front door.
Hawk made sure Carter was in bed in his cottage before returning to The Keep.
"Have you seen your brother Thaddus?" asked Mother as Hawk walked into the dining room.
"Your father took Claymore out to find you both," chided Mother.
Reed McClaron came into the room just then. "I found the forest cottage dark and empty. I was looking for you and Thad." he said trying to keep a level tone.
"I went to the Mug and Trencher after I found that Carter wasn't home," replied the eldest son. "I haven't seen Thad."
"What were you doing at the inn?" asked Mother McClaron.
"I ended up taking Carter's place as the inn's entertainment tonight. I was offered another chance to play, and I'd like to."
Just then Thaddus' head appeared at the dining room's doorway. Seeing him, Reed said, "We can talk about that in the morning. You go up to bed while I talk to your brother."
Hawk was too tired to care what would happen to Thad. He went straight to his room.
Justin sat on Hawk's bed with Hawk's sword across his knees. As Hawk came in, he said, "Be careful. It's sharp."
Reed's youngest son said nothing in reply as he put Hawk's sword back into it's scabbard.
"Tomorrow's going to come early for you as well as me if you don't try to go to sleep now. I walked all over today and had to play in Carter's place tonight. The only redeeming part of today was meeting the Mayor's niece, Joanna," said Hawk removing his boots.
"Was Megan there?" asked Justin.
"Yes and no," answered Hawk cryptically. "Do you know what Thad would be doing meeting James Thornhill tonight?"
"Hmmm. Well, excuse me if I fall asleep on you," yawned Hawk falling on the bed and bumping Justin off.
"Good night, my brother," said Justin from the hallway.
"Good night, Justin."
It was hard not to gulp down the cool water carried to The Keep from a clear running stream in the forest. The water was kept in large crocks, and Hawk was leaning over one with the dipper to his lips.
Justin had already had his turn. He had dumped some water over his head to cool off, but was reminded by his brother not to let their mother see him do it.
The brothers had been sparring for an hour before lunch. Now Hawk sat with a small portion of the food while Justin heaped his plate. The dining room was empty because they were eating later than the rest of the family.
Between bites, Hawk juggled his lute and a pen and parchment.
"Can you play the hymns from chapel?" asked Justin.
"Sure, I've figured most of them out. Father's going to let me play during the services now." replied Hawk. "I'm glad. It makes me feel more a part of things."
"Maybe Mother will make you sing instead of me, now." said Justin.
"You know we've all done our share of singing solos. I think, if Mother gave us more than a moment's notice, we would do a better job of it. I know I would like to be more prepared." said Hawk, writing a few words on the parchment.
"What did Father say about Carter?" asked Justin. "I thought we needed him to play the music for the chapel service."
"Mother doesn't want to hire him anymore because of his getting drunk at the Mug and Trencher, but Father said he only comes to chapel for the coins earned by his playing. He wouldn't come at all but for that." explained Hawk.
The two ate in silence for a while.
"I need to study my Scripture verses," said Justin.
"Let's work on a song for chapel later," said Hawk. "Then we will have something that sounds decent." Hawk rose, gathering his dishes. "I'll be upstairs if you want to prepare a song for chapel."
Hawk had been upstairs in his room, unmindful of the passing of time. He had been finishing the lyrics to his latest song, when there was a knock at his door. "Come in, Justin," he called.
It was Reed McClaron who opened the door. "Hello, son."
"Hello, Father. How's Thad's sword coming along?"
"We'll hold the ceremony, soon. I wanted to talk to you about some concerns of mine."
The young man set aside his lute and stretched. "Yes, Father." He sat up to listen to what his father had to say.
Reed sat next to his son on the bed. "I wondered, has the Lord shown you anything about how to carry out your own commission as Warrior?"
"I don't think so, Father." Hawk looked down at his hands and began to frown in concentration as his father continued.
"You know what God expects of a Warrior, and everyone has their own approach," said the senior Warrior. "What is your desire in this area?"
Hawk hesitated searching his thoughts. "The only thing I want right now, is to write and play music." He looked into his father's eyes, not sure of what he saw there.
"Music is valuable for chapel worship and adds a lot to a service. It helps to focus our hearts and minds to hear from God.
"That's another thing, you need to hear from God for yourself. The best Warriors take time alone to pray and listen for God to speak to them. And he will speak, if you take the time. They don't stop until they know they've stood in the very presence of God Himself." Father looked exultant, and his piercing gaze told Hawk his desire to have him fully experience what he spoke about.
"I remember seeing you once on the floor, crying and talking to God a few times," related Hawk. "I was a little scared the first time I saw that."
"Yes, what you saw, was examples of God speaking to me. All you saw was a man on the floor, because one experiences God on the spiritual level, inside." Reed put his arm around his son. "I'd like to see you seek God in this way. Once you experience God for yourself--to have your own relationship with him, the life we live becomes more real to you. It becomes more a part of you."
After his father had gone back to the smithy, Hawk walked out the front gate to see about playing his lute at the Mug and Trencher.
Coming into the village proper, Hawk was tapped on his shoulder from behind. Whirling around, he found the grin of his brother, Thaddus. "Hey," he said.
"What are you up to?" queried Hawk.
"I'm going to try to make a deal to get one of the blacksmith's horses," answered Thaddus.
"He'd work you to death if he agrees at all," returned Hawk.
"Well, if you put in some time with him too, we could be half-owners," stated Thaddus.
"I don't want to have to take responsibility for an animal right now. Besides, you'd ride him more than I would," declared Hawk.
He arrived at the Mug and Trencher and stepped inside.
Catching the eye of the innkeeper's daughter, Hawk asked for her father.
"I'll get him from the kitchen," she said.
The innkeeper, Henry Larson, came in and motioned Hawk to a nearby table. "I see you always carry your lute with you," he smiled. "My daughter, Becky, tells me you played well last week. That sot, Carter, proved to be undependable. I'll not hire him again."
Becky set a cup and pot of tea in front of Hawk without so much as a nod, and went to wait on another customer.
"If you come this Saturday evening," Larson continued, "I will give you a handful of coppers and all the tea you want."
"I like to play," said Hawk. "You'll see me here at dusk on Saturday, then."
"Done," said the innkeeper holding out his hand.
Hawk shook his hand, and the innkeeper excused himself while Hawk finished his tea and contemplated his new situation.
At dusk, the Mug and Trencher had more people at the tables then Hawk had ever seen. They were all strangers, travelers passing through on their way to larger towns such as Brimmerton and as far away as Arcad, the capitol city of the dark Empire that creeps slowly across the land.
He could sense various moods in the clientele. There were children with their parents who anxiously waited for the young minstrel standing in the front of the dining hall to begin. Other seemed indifferent or were involved in private arguments or liaisons.
As before, Hawk began with "Adventure Road." He now had more songs to put in with the many that Carter had taught him.
He also had a few hymns that he had developed into intricate instrumentals. These were a new source of pride for him. If someone knew the hymn, they would just be able to make out the melody if they listened carefully.
The musician in him noticed that different groups of people perked up to listen as he played one song after another. He was realizing as each one enjoyed a different piece of music, how important it was for a minstrel to have a variety of songs to play. To his inner joy, an occasional coin would be tossed at his feet as if to validate his ability to at least please this crowd.
When the hour grew late, and Hawk had gathered coins from the floor--a few gold, even--some people came to speak to him. A pair of young people expressed their admiration and a mother bragged of her child's musical abilities and asked for some practical advice.
From the back of the dining hall, Hawk saw Joanna gliding around the tables, coming toward him. She placed her hand on his arm just as the mother and embarrassed child turned to leave.
"Hello!" Hawk almost sputtered. Then, gaining his composure said, "You look lovely, tonight."
Slightly taken aback, Joanna lowered her head a little and said, "Thank you. My father came for me, and I am going home in the morning. I wanted to say I enjoyed your playing once again."
"Thank you," smiled Hawk. His heart jumped a little when he saw her smile ignited by his own. He now noticed in the light from the inn's lamps, that her eyes were a shade of green that drew his own. He had heard Carter sing of such eyes, but had put that down as a minstrel's expression of infatuation. These eyes could almost draw him in on their own, but Hawk felt himself attracted to the girl herself, as well.
With a sudden pang at the thought of her leaving, he asked, "Where's your home?"
"I live just beyond Brimmerton in a village called Camden. I wanted to tell you also that there is a place in Brimmerton where minstrels and musicians of all kinds come and play and trade songs and stories. They have impromptu concerts that are great fun to see. The instruments come and go with the different minstrels, and I've heard the most unlikely combination of instruments sound beautiful together. I thought you would enjoy being a part of that--if you ever were to go to Brimmerton."
Hawk's mind ran furiously with thoughts of new music, new ideas shared, chances to perform, and the thought of seeing Joanna again. He longed to go on the road to try a minstrel's life, and this could be his starting place.
After he said goodnight to Joanna, Becky the innkeeper's daughter brought Hawk a small leather bag with drawstrings. Inside were the promised coins. She didn't stop to say anything and hurried past him to finish closing up the dining hall for the night, so he merely shrugged and put the rest of his coins into the new bag.
The walk home was quiet, and Hawk thought hard of a way to convince his parents to let him go to Brimmerton. His desire was strong; he had never wanted anything so much in his life as to go off by himself to pursue his music.
There was something about his playing and writing music he felt could only be from God. Nothing felt as suited to him as this, but he was being raised to be a Warrior.
Soon, he expected his father would send him off to another Warrior family to be an armor bearer and serve a senior Warrior to practically apply and vary his training. Hawk had no desire to so, but how could he avoid it?
The front gate to The Keep loomed ahead, and Hawk was so tired, he decided to think about it again in the morning. He would find a way to get to Brimmerton, soon.
Sunday mornings were busy. Everyone rose early and prepared for the chapel service that was open to any and all who wished to attend. Reed Mc Claron was usually the one to lead the services, and he wanted everyone finished with breakfast before The Keep's courtyard was filled with people to attend chapel.
Hawk enjoyed playing for the chapel service. He was please that Justin and Crystal were able to sing together on the song that Justin and Hawk had worked on earlier in the week.
After the chapel service, Hawk found his father alone in the library. The young Warrior-turned-minstrel stood before his father at a loss for the words he knew would disappoint him.
Reed looked up, and the son braced himself and said, "Father, I want to travel as a minstrel and go to Brimmerton and many other places. That is what I want to do. That is what I want to be, a minstrel."
"Our family is dedicated to God. I don't see how such a life can serve his purposes," began Father Mc Claron.
Hawk interrupted to say, "I feel God has given me a gift of music to use. I know he did it for a reason. All I know is I need to go out and be a minstrel. I know God will lead me to whatever he has for me."
"I don't want you to become what Carter Williams has become. He has lived a wild and ungodly life," stated Reed. "I am afraid you have gone down that road, too. In your heart, you have already left home. Your mother and I can't force you to stay for long."
Hawk stood silent again. There was a torrent of emotion with hundreds of thoughts of the undesired possibilities of his life should he stay here. No. He couldn't stay to see his dreams die in a life that didn't appeal to him anymore. Maybe he was wrong. Maybe he wanted the wrong things, but how could God give him something that his father couldn't approve of? He knew that even if it meant an eternity in Hell, he had to pursue this desire the only way he know how.
"I love God," Hawk declared, "but I can't stay. I have to do this."
"I had no one in mind to for you serve as an armor bearer, and this is not what I wanted for you, but I can't hold you here." Reed had tears in his eyes. "I will prepare your mother for your departure. I have more to say to you, but it will wait. I will speak to your mother now." Reed rose from his chair. The two men left the library going toward their own rooms.
* * *
Hawk walked the forest path to the cottage to tell Carter that he would be leaving The Keep soon.
The cottage was dark, and the door stood open as he approached. Stepping inside, he found most of Carter's belongings gone except for a small chest lying spilled on the floor.
The chest was broken, probably from falling to the floor. There was a pile of sheet music, a wooden object rolled when Hawk move the chest. It was a hollowed out piece of wood with several holes. A fife, Carter had shown him once. The musician had blown across the larger hole at the top of the instrument to play sweet high notes. Once Carter had wanted to play a duet with Hawk, but having had no patience with his beginner's skill, dismissed the whole idea never to be tried again even when Hawk had improved on his lute.
Something told the young musician that Carter wasn't coming back. He searched through the sheet music and found a chart that told how to finger the specific notes for the fife. At least Carter had taught him to read music, so he took the fife and chart and all the music he didn't already have a copy of from the pile on the floor.
Carter had unintentionally equipped him now in his desertion with an instrument that he would never have given him otherwise. Hawk had to work for the lute he owned. Carter had not felt inclined to give a rich Warrior's son anything for free. Something was strange that such a prized possession would be left behind.
The following morning was a silent one until it was time to say good-bye. Hawk hugged each of his siblings and his tearful mother.
Reed Mc Claron looked at his oldest son and said, "If you belong to God, your music won't be accepted by the people who serve the Empire of Darkness. We have raised you to serve the Lord of Light, seek him and you will fulfill your true destiny." He then hugged the young man as if that were all he knew to do.
Hawk started out the front gate carrying a sling bag of all we thought he would need including the new fife and music. His leather bag of coins was tied to his belt. Down the main path a little ways, he turned for a final wave and then didn't look back again.