Once upon an exiled time, I lived under the power of a terrible curse which robbed my life of both love and light. The nature of the curse was this: every morning just before sunrise I died; and every night I awoke in darkness. My life was void of illumination and warmth.
Strangely, I did not know the depth of my own despair for because death robbed my days and darkness blackened my nights, how could I know that such miracles existed as the faithful rising sun, the purity of color blue or the beauty of a smile? Still, I felt a sense that there was something missing like bread baked without salt or the loss of an old, family ring.
Then, on a day woven on the loom of destiny I saw it—coming from the forest toward me, bobbing bright and blinding. As it drew near I felt fear at its foreignness. What was it?
“Hello!” A voice called flavored with music.
I jumped to my feet and pulled at my coarse, wool tunic that had knotted itself about my ankles. “Stop right there!” I demanded fiercely. “Who are you? What is that terrible thing in your hand?”
She laughed a light, jovial laugh. “I am Etsmey,” she said. “And this fearsome thing in my hand is a lantern,” she shook it and the light danced off the bare trunks of the withering oaks, swept bare with late autumn’s cold.
“What is it for?” I asked suspiciously.
“For? Well, to see by of course! I was hunting chestnuts and I won’t be able to find them in the dark,” she held the lantern aloft and the light caught her angular features. “You’re not a fool, are you?” she asked curiously, drawing near to investigate my face.
“Of course not!” I clipped, brushing a tangled strand of hair from my lip. “I’ve just never seen one—it makes my eyes hurt to look at it—put it down.”
She lowered it a little. “You are a strange girl—I’ve never met anyone so strange. Let me guess, next you’ll be saying you’ve never seen the sun!” Etsmey mused sarcastically.
I frowned. “What is that?”
“You’re not lying to me, are you?” she asked suddenly serious.
“No, I swear on the darkness I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“The sun is what gives this land life, it makes the wheat grow, the trees change and the soil warm. By it we see…well, everything!”
I had heard of people, poor peasants mostly, who worshiped the different elements: wind, water and air. I wondered if Etsmey was one of the exiles who practiced these rituals. “Is the sun your god?” I asked.
She laughed. “Of course not that would be ridiculous! There is even a greater Light than the sun and that Light commands the sun like a servant. Why, compared to the Light the sun’s glow is like the tiniest ember.”
I leaned forward intrigued. “What is the Light?”
“You mean Who is the Light?” her voice grew gentler. “He has many names, but my people and I call him Abba, Father.”
Abba. That name reached in and touched the darkest, driest places of my soul as if with a glowing, liquid hand. Something about the idea of a Father both frightened and fascinated me. “What is he like?” Unconsciously, the thought of him brought questions on the current of my mind.
Etsmey sighed wistfully. “He’s a fierce warrior yet he is peace. He’s a lion yet a lamb. He is the most excellent One—the fairest of all men.”
“How can I meet Him?”
“You must ask him to come with his light to touch your eyes to see. Then you will be able to see him as the rest of my people do.”
“Will it hurt me?” I asked. “His light I mean...”
Etsmey considered. “Perhaps a little at first but that will pass. You could ask him to come now if you want. He can pull back the veil of darkness from your heart.”
I was used to the darkness. I’d grown accustomed to it, at times, it even a comforted me.
“Will I have to walk in light?”
“Naturally, all his people do.”
I thought of how Etsmey’s small lantern had hurt my eyes, how much more the One she called the Light. I shook my head and as I did the feeling of death began to grip my body, cold and paralyzing as poison. “It must be nearing dawn,” I thought through the thick heaviness that wrapped itself around my mind. My legs gave way and then...nothing.
I awoke alone in darkness. There was no sound. No familiar wind whispering secrets to the shivering trees. No night owl lording over the forest with his watch. Suddenly, a cold sweat leapt to my pores and my heart began to pound. I wasn't alone.
“Etsmey? Etsmey, is that you?” I whispered shakily as my soiled fingers groped for my staff.
“No…it’s me,” a masculine voice replied on my left.
“Who are you?”
“One who will give you your heart’s desires…” he said on my right.
“How do you know what I desire?” I challenged the darkness.
An amused chuckle burst from him and echoed through the naked wood. “Correction: desires, for there are many of them. You desire to no longer be in exile. You desire the curse removed. But above all, you desire love.”
“How—how do you know that?” I asked. I had never voiced my longings even to the darkness.
“I know many things,” he said. “Things about you: your past, your future, your exile, the curse, even about your enemy.”
I stopped. “Who is my enemy?”
“One who would hurt you. His half-witted followers (like your friend Etsmey) think that he ‘loves’ them. They lead others astray by their deceived doctrines of the ‘light’ he brings. Do you want to know a secret?” He drew nearer and I could feel his warm breath in my hair as he whispered, “He’s the one who exiled you. He’s the one who cursed you. Do you want to belong, wandering one?” the voice asked softly, his strong arms embrace me. It felt good to be in his arms. I could belong there. “I will take care of you. I will be your father. We can live in my kingdom and perhaps I will even give you power to rule.”
“Really?” I asked, intrigued.
“ I promise.”
“Ha! Father of what lies?” It was Etsmey. Her small frame stood planted in the clearing holding her lantern. She was glaring at us, teeth clenched like a wild, barbarian.
“Etsmey,” he exclaimed like a pleased show master. “I hoped you would join us. I have been waiting to have a little chat with you.”
“I don’t want to talk to you,” she snapped. To me she said, “Come on I’m taking you home with me.”
“Do your people know what you did, Etsmey?” he asked then clucked sadly. “If they did, they wouldn’t even want to touch you. Filth is what you are.”
Etsmey reddened and swallowed. “I’m not that person anymore. Abba says...”
“Abba-says-this-Abba-says-that!” he mocked in an annoying singsong voice. “Come now, when are you going to think for yourself? He isn’t any of the things he says he is!”
Instantly, Etsmey’s eyes flashed the color of boldness. “I may still be learning who I am, but I know his nature is love and truth,” she held the lantern higher and began to walk forward. “I know you to appear good and handsome only in the darkness, but when his light shines on you…” she shoved the lantern forward.
I saw for the first time the wretchedness that held me in his arms. Putrid ugliness wreathed in rotten distain, not a man at all, but a monster of a creature.
I screamed and struggled but he held me tighter his broken teeth grinning evilly upon me. “You will be mine,” he hissed venom in my ear. “You will live with me forever!”
“No!” I shrieked, clawed and twisted, even bit him, but I was powerless. An image flashed into my minds-eye, chained in one of his reeking dungeons, no water, the floor a bed of red coals, starved rats gnawing my toes and fingers, evil monsters torturing me with hot brands. Forever. “I never said I wanted you!” I shrieked.
“But you never said you wanted him either.” His reminder was like a boulder falling in my stomach.
“Call upon the name of Abba—ask him to rescue you!” Etsmey’s voice roused me.
I tried to find my voice, but even that failed me. Nothing came out. I closed my eyes. Only my heart whispered and somehow its cry was louder than the confusion.
Instantly, the darkness and all evil fled the earth. Suddenly, we were standing there in the light bathed forest. I was looking at him and he was seeing me.
“Daughter,” his face—his wonderful, satisfying face—broke into the most generous, smile that man had ever known. He said it as if there was no word in the world he liked better; nothing that pleased him more than to say it. “Daughter,” he breathed again, eyes glistening as though he could hardly believe it was true.
“I see you, Father!” I sobbed with joy and fell into his arms happily, willingly.
Once upon an exiled time, I lived under the power of a terrible curse which robbed my life of both love and light.
But now, because of him, I am changed forever after.