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THE LOVE REVOLUTION III: INFIDEL’S CAUSE

Infidel's Cause_theloverevolution

Dear Brave one,

That you have returned in search for more is evidence of your courage. I must conclude my story. I could not continue my account of what transpired when my friend, Marcus, was crushed for I was overcome. But if you have not read the first or second volumes of this missive, I urge you to seek them. You alone know where you shall find what you seek.

But I must conclude.

There we stood before the cracked ground on which Marcus had been crushed. My dear friend, the closest thing I had had to a brother was gone, crushed into the broken pavement.

I stared at the Great Cross before me. For God’s sake, this had to mean something. For that brief moment, the Cross was no longer a sacred symbol. It was a horrible thing to me, foreboding in my sight. It was a sign of God’s judgment. Just like the judgment meted on Marcus. Was God so cruel?

The broken pavement was an icon to us all that said: ‘Beware! He loved, and was crushed for it’.

So also was the Cross, Arnold. So was the Cross.

Was this what God had done for us? Was it what He demanded of us all? To put our very lives at stake? To present ourselves for crushing, by loving others? Like Agnes, who had just spat on Marcus’ dead body? Agnes, the woman he had loved. He had dared to love, and died because of her. But she spat on him.

Had I spat in God’s face before? Have I rejected God?

The lords had decided to burn Marcus’ remains, to remove all records of his existence and of the proceedings of his trial. They would not make a martyr of him. The only memorial would be the broken pavement by the Cross, as a deterrent. His name is now a warning. The message had been passed. No one should dare utter or consider the Forbidden Word ever again, or they would be crushed.

But the full import of that message did not resonate within me until I retired to my home. I kept wondering why God would demand this from us, to risk death so that another undeserving one may live.

As soon as I got to my door, a couple stopped me. “We’re very sorry for your loss,” the man said. I turned to them, trying to understand his message. He seemed truly concerned.

“Thank you,” I said. “Thank you very much.” I was amazed and shocked that they had considered me.

“Here,” the woman gave me a bouquet of flowers. I took it, wondering what had prompted this. No one had given me flowers before, for any reason! My heart soared.

“What should I do with them?” It was a stupid question, really. I just did not know what to say.

“To let you know that you’re on our hearts,” the man said, mustering a smile. Then he whispered, “And so is Marcus.” I smiled at him and dipped my head.

They were a very queer couple. As they walked away, I noticed they were holding hands. The norm was for the man to walk ahead of his wife. Everyone knows that. But this couple held hands. I did not know then that something more was happening.

A boy and his mother came later with some pie. “In case you needed to eat,” the woman said. “I know I couldn’t eat when my husband died.” I welcomed them in, wondering what had prompted this. I had barely spoken when I heard another rap on the door. And that is how it began. Friends, fellow soldiers, neighbours, different kinds of people came to my house that day, to simply ‘apologise for my loss’. But it was more than that. These were people that I had seen every day, and not given a second thought. Here they were, showering me with such kindness.

Love. We had all grown up without hearing or knowing that word. Now we had all seen it on radical display for all to see.

I love you, Arnold. I remembered Marcus’ note to me.

Perhaps we had been capable of love for so long, but had not pursued it. We cared for our families and friends. But how far were we willing to go? Even for those we did not know?

It was new not just me, but for everyone. It was insane. They had all come, just to share a kinship with the memory of my friend, Marcus. They did not see him as a heretic. They saw him as a hero who dared to rebel, because he finally understood something called ‘Love’. Now here we were talking and laughing as friends do. There were no differences between us for the moment. We all had shared in the horror of watching Marcus’ selfless death. The implications were burnt into our hearts forever.

“And the lady did not appreciate his sacrifice,” I heard one woman say.

“No,” her husband said. “He, uh … you know … had that word for her.”

“The Forbidden Word.”

“Yes,” the man said, carefully staring into her eyes. “That … word. But we all know what it means now, don’t we?”

“Death,” his wife intoned. “It can only mean death to whoever is foolish enough to utter it.”

And he held her hands and stared into her eyes. “I love you, my fair queen.”

It was a commitment, right there. He was committing himself to die for her, if the need arose. It was a commitment to live his life so that she could live fully. His wife let the tears flow. “I love you too,” she whispered.

I walked away to hide my own tears.

Something was being stirred in our hearts. I was not the only one that felt it. Marcus had been on to something after all.

We had all thought the Forbidden Word was vulgar, but now we saw it for what it was.

It is so divine, that it is dangerous. No one can forget the cracks. Love is death, we knew. It is not a word to be used lightly, except death is meant.

It had taken one man to dare to seek Love, and to proclaim it for us to know.

I heard no one else say the word, but for that moment we shared it. All around, here were people apologizing for past hurts, laughing over awkward situations, crying, talking, and sharing. That was Love. We could not say the word in public, but we could live it. Because we knew it was right.

I was in heaven that day. Marcus had not died in vain.

But it only lasted that day. By the next day, everyone returned to their secure lives. Yesterday was forgotten. Reality had dawned. There really was a law that still banned even the very thought of the Forbidden Word. I saw people on the streets walk by each other, as though they were strangers. I saw husbands walk ahead of their wives. I saw young men argue with one another. I held out hope that none of these were the ones that had come to my house yesterday. I hoped they had understood what love is, and vowed to follow God’s way of Love. Like I had.

I could bear it no longer. Mortals are incapable of continuous love. But I wanted to be capable. I could not bear to live if I knew I was not following God. Marcus’ death could not be in vain.

I had to leave Duchinson that day, vowing never to return. I wanted to be free to pursue God and His love in a land where freedom to love is not denied. Not just to honour Marcus’ memory, but for myself as well. I too was incapable of love. There I was criticizing the townspeople, instead of loving. I needed to find God’s love for myself.

I have been free to find Him. I have leafed through the pages of the Holy Bible, and they burst with such love and justice. Now I see what it was that Marcus’ saw. I cannot live without loving, for God wants to love through me.

Jesus did not remain dead. He arose, and came with an even greater life for us to live, if we accept it. I have, and now my heart burns with such love for others. Now I can love without condition, without precedence, without expecting reward. I am filled with God’s Love, and I must share it. This flame cannot die.

In this time, I have seen how ‘love’ is said in the most appalling ways in other lands. I am even more broken at this. ‘LOVE’ is said so flippantly and leisurely. Everyone says it, but few mean it. It tears my heart every day. They do not know. They are free to pursue God’s Love, and to express it. Why must they pretend to love, keep speaking about it, but not show it? I began to understand why our fathers had put a ban on the word, however wrong they were. It is too sacred for mortals, without the spark of the Divine.

But now I know that I must return. This Light must shine in the darkness. My home is Duchinson. For here, we have seen the risk that love is. The cracked pavement by the Great Cross remains for all to see that Love is Death. But there is no better way to live. I know we know what love is. We experienced it that day. Why not forever?

I urge you, dear brave one, to join me in this cause. Find God’s Love. We may be denied the right to speak the Forbidden Word, but we are surely not denied the freedom to express it in every way. We will not be silent, for we cannot hide the truth that changes everything. We will be seen, even if not heard.

Be sure of this, we will be crushed.

It may not be by the mallets of the Crushers, but worse – we will be rejected. Many will not see or understand our sacrifice. Most will despise our acts of love toward them, and the rejection may be as gut-wrenching as the Crushing. But we will take the risk. We will remember our Lord’s words when he urged us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him. We will take our deaths with us. For it is God’s way.

We will bring death upon ourselves so that others may live.

We will let the light shine through the darkness.

For LOVE’S sake.

For God is LOVE, and anyone that does not love does not know God.

And I hope that, one day, when I finally meet my maid, I will be willing to give my all for her. I know that when we stand before our Master, He will tell us that we were right to follow His Way of LOVE, as He instructed us.

Redeeming Love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.

I leave you with the words of one that found our Master’s love, and learned to live it.

Love suffers long and is kind;

Love does not envy;

Love does not parade itself;

Is not puffed up;

Does not behave rudely;

Does not seek its own,

Is not provoked,

Thinks no evil;

Does not rejoice in iniquity,

But rejoices in the truth;

Bears all things,

Believes all things,

Hopes all things,

Endures all things.

And be sure of this:

Love never fails.

Fare thee well, Brave one.

ARNOLD.

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THE LOVE REVOLUTION II: INFIDEL

Infidel_The Love Revolution

This is the continuing account of matters pertaining to my brother and friend, Sir Marcus of Gaulea. The man that dared.

If you have not read the first volume of this chronicle, please seek it, however dangerous it might be. For this is even more dangerous. I shall have to let go of all restraint in telling this story, concerning the Forbidden Word.

Marcus was brought before the Council for inquisition. There he stood in chains before all seven lords, all in their ceremonial robes. The lady Agnes was seated by her father, Lord Morrison’s side. She gazed on Marcus with utmost contempt.

I was disguised in a hood and stood with the crowd beyond the barricades. My sword was sheathed, but I had not the strength to draw it. All around me, the commoners whispered wondering who was on trial.

He had left a note before leaving my house. I will narrate it here, but remember I warned you that I will no longer hold back in writing the Forbidden Word.

You will not understand

But I hope, one day, you will.

There are some things that are more important than life itself.

Like LOVE.

I love you, brother.

 

I folded the paper in my fist. It made no sense to me. It seemed vulgar. How could he ascribe such a word to me? He was mad! He needed help, not excommunication, or whatever it was they had in mind.

What are you doing, Marcus?

Lord Arian stood with a scroll in hand. “Men and Women of Duchinson!” They all hailed him. “Welcome to this Assembly! You should know that this is a sad day for us all. For one of our own, a man sworn to protect and defend your very lives with dignity and respect for law and justice, this very man has turned against all that we hold dear!”

They jeered. It was all I could do to keep myself from drawing my sword to cut off their tongues.

“He has committed high treason,” he yelled, and they jeered even louder. “He is a rebel! A deviant! A …” His words were drowned out by the shouts of the throng. A tear ran down my cheek as I gazed on my brother. He stood there; eyes fixed ahead, his jaw set. He was still strong. He could break out of those chains (I’ve seen him do this on many occasions). But he did not. He would not.

“He is one of our very own,” Lord Arian finally said. “I give you Captain Marcus of Gaulea, of the Sixteenth Regiment.”

For a brief moment there was a collective gasp over the din. Perhaps they had just realized who it was that was on trial. I could tell many were wondering what he had done.

Lord Arian unrolled the scroll and read out loud. “’None shall speak the Forbidden Word. For it is henceforth banned from the lips of all men, for your fellow man’s sake.’ Are you aware of this law, Captain?”

Marcus turned to him and nodded. “Yes sir. I am.”

“Do you admit that you have committed wrong in breaking this law, and thereby incurred the wrath of God?” he asked.

Marcus stared at him for a moment. The people fell silent. Could he really have uttered the Forbidden Word? Had someone finally broken that law? I noticed Lord Morrison’s brows furrow. Truly, I had never seen him smile before.

“Sir,” Marcus said, his voice carried over the crowd. “I have done no wrong.”  That caught us all off guard. Even I wondered what would happen. Marcus had known that the word was forbidden. He would not give a false statement here, before God and man.

Lord Arian cocked his head. “Have you not admitted to the efficacy of the law?”

“My lords, if our laws require us to do wrong, then right must be done, even if it deviates from your law.”

What was my friend saying there? I was expecting that they would dismiss the case as one of infatuation, but Marcus was directly defying tradition. He was on a warpath, and was not backing down.

Lord Arian winced. “Are you implying that our laws are wrong? The very laws ordained by God for the sustenance of balance and order, are wrong?”

Lord Morrison stood then and silenced them. He was the oldest on the Council, and the only one with much at stake here. It was his daughter that had been Marcus’ target.

“Captain Marcus of Gaulea,” he said. “You are aware that you are on dangerous ground here, are you not? But you’re better than this. You’re a champion, a war hero. A man of valour. A scholar above your peers. I hear in your voice something that tells me that there is more at work here than mere interest in my daughter.” The other lords stared intently at him. “You have the countenance of a soldier bracing for a fight. You knew this moment would come, did you not?”

I stared at my friend. Lord Morrison was right. Marcus had known this would happen. I still held his crumpled note in my hand.

What I did not know until then was that the love letter he had sent was not the first. He had sent many before. She had been aware of him for a long time.

The lord unrolled one of Marcus’ many letters to Agnes. He then read it out loud, substituting the Forbidden Word with ‘blank’. The crowd screamed in excitement and shock anytime it came up. Mothers covered the ears of their sons. Marcus had poured out his heart for this woman. If I was Agnes, I would be swooning. I was appalled that my friend would lavish such pure poetry on a woman like her.

“You were deliberate,” Lord Morrison said. “You used the Forbidden Word with abandon. Now tell us, why did you do this?”

Marcus dipped his head. “I am grateful for your wisdom, sir. While I do have great interest in your daughter, what has overtaken me goes deeper. I truly want what is best for her. If I cannot win her heart, then I will let her be, as long as she is happy.”

“Noble,” Lord Morrison conceded. “But let’s talk about that word. That Forbidden Word. You used it over and over again. Why?”

“I could find no better word to describe this, my lord. You see, I found it explicitly pure while reading in the … the … the Holy Bible.”

Father Antigon stood then, muttering. He was the Bishop at the Chapel, representing the Church in the Council. Lord Morrison urged him to hold his peace. The only Bible in the village is the old codex chained to the pulpit in the Chapel. Only clergy read it, and teach from it. But I knew that Marcus, never a stranger to danger, had taken a fancy to sneaking in there to peer into the pages since last summer. Ever since then, he had been speaking strange things and expounding foreign thoughts. I had not connected this fascination of his with his current madness, until now.

“If I have committed a crime, let it be that I sought God in His Book. He said that we should LOVE our neighbor as ourselves…”

The court was filled with murmurs and gasps. Some elders placed their hands on their chests, begging God for mercy. Many leaned forward, asking to hear what he had just said. The lords were visibly shocked.

“You will not desecrate this Council with your accursed tongue!” Lord Morrison said, clearly irritated.

“But sir, doesn’t it say in the Bible, which we revere, that God Himself is LOVE?”

That did it. I respected my friend, but how dare he utter such a blasphemous statement? There were gasps and shouts. Everyone wanted to hear what he had just said this time. The audacity! How could he…?

Father Antigon stood. “Yes, that is true.” We were all surprised. “But it is here that we must explain the reason behind the law. But I must add that this is clearly why Scripture interpretation is reserved for clergy, not for laity.” He stared Marcus down.

“A long time ago, the Forbidden Word was used in every way by just any person. But its meaning was corrupted by the evil and conceit of man, and was used loosely. In its name, many have been violated, jilted, deceived, and cheated! The Holy Bible states that it is an appellative of God alone, as you have all heard. Our fathers deciphered that God is beyond knowing or understanding, and thus agreed that the Forbidden Word was also beyond fully understanding. It was to preserve its sanctity that it was forbidden from the mouths of mere mortals as we.”

“Thank you, Father,” Lord Morrison said. “Our fathers made this law to protect us. Why misuse such a sacred word when we can directly state our intent. Say you desire my daughter. You could have said ‘desire’, or ‘longing’, or ‘craving’? That’s how I wooed my very own wife,” he turned to his fellow lords, and they shared a laugh. “I crave you, darling!” They laughed even harder. Agnes rested her chin on her fist, bored. Marcus just stared at them. “No need for deceit there. But the Forbidden Word must stay that way. Forbidden!””

Marcus put in then. “And where has that gotten us, my lords? No one understands what ‘love’ is anymore. And, yes! I will say it again. If I am going to die, then let me be courageous and sincere for once in my life!

“No one knows what ‘love’ means. We regard women as objects of desire. It has been nothing but superficial. Carnal! Selfish!

“That is all we are capable of,” Lord Morrison said. “We are mortals!”

“But God demands more from us. Sure, when the word was abused, many were violated. But now, it is much worse. We now think it right to take any woman we … ‘crave’ and lie with her, as long as you are fulfilling your carnal desire! Marriage has lost its value, but is now just another outlet for sexual relationship. The value of friendship is lost. How many of us came from full homes? How many of us knew our fathers?”

They all exchanged glances.

But he was not done. “And what about our relationship with our fellowmen? Since we do not LOVE one another, we simply ‘do a good deed’ by tossing a coin to the beggar on our street, so that we can be judged good. We don’t care. We are afraid of breaking out of our comfort, and risking it all for another. I think we are capable of more. He says that we should LOVE our neighbour.”

He was turning as he spoke. His gaze now fell on mine. “I too was trapped in this lie until I saw that God loves. He loves us. Dearly! He defined LOVE for us all!” He pointed to the Great Cross in the courtyard. It was so huge that we could see it through the window. “That’s what the Cross was all about. He was God, and He died on that cross so that we would not have to, for we were to be punished for the evil within us. He took that away so that he could change us so we could love. That is what LOVE can do. God does not want to be angry with us anymore. He LOVES us.”

I felt his note in my hand.

He turned to Agnes. “You deserve better than this, my fair lady. It is not about what I want. Love is not about what I can get? It’s about what I can give. My all. My life. Even to the death.

“LOVE is sacred. But that is because it is God’s expression to us and through us. But to deny its true expression is a bigger curse.”

Agnes shot to her feet. “Then you are as mad as they say you are!” Her voice echoed in the silence that followed. Marcus fell silent. In that moment, I felt him cringe. I felt the rejection too, and it hurt. Marcus…

The lords were fuming. Father Antigon tore his robe in anger. “HERETIC!” he yelled.

The crowd was silent in shock. Never before had we seen this! Even for me, it was horrible. I knew my friend would not lie. Neither was this the diction of a mad man. Why did he do it? Why? Did he have to qualify God with such vulgar terms? Unless he was right, and the word meant something deeper. Who could know?

The punishment could only be severe. This would surely not end well.

“Such is the curse upon you,” Lord Morrison intoned. “You have brought the death upon yourself.”

I could not listen as he declared the verdict. Crushing.

Oh Marcus! Because you dared to love, you were crushed.

I held on tight to the hilt of my sword, but I could not muster the strength to wield it. I was shaking with tears. My own friend would be killed like a heretic!

He was taken to the courtyard, past the crowd. I stared in horror as he was stripped before us all. And then the crushing. That was the worst part. We had never seen it before, for none had dared inquire into the meaning of the Forbidden Word, nor even said it. Huge burly men, soldiers of the Order of the Crusher, came forth. I had always regarded them as an unnecessary Order of rejected soldiers, whose only assignments were to eat and build their muscles. They towered over us like giants. Their purpose had until now been unknown to me, but I now understood that they were trained for this very moment. The Order had been established for this very cause. To crush the heretic that dares break the law of the Forbidden word.

And he was crushed. With each strike of their huge mallets, his bones were broken. BAM! BAM! His skull. His arms. His chest. His legs. Crushed. He screamed. He wailed. His blood was splattered every which way. What a coward I was! It was then that I should have charged in and delivered him. But I was too fearful. I did not move.

My brave reader (I call you brave for venturing this far out into my account, for only the brave would dare read this despite the glaring risk) LOVE’S power is so strong, it must not be made light of. A conqueror, my friend, let the blows of death overshadow him, because he chose to LOVED. His cries had been incoherent to me until I heard. He had been crying for Agnes.

And they left him there. His body lay within the cracked pavement, splattered with his blood. He was dead. And the cracks would remain in the ground for a very long time.

Agnes walked over and – oh, the horror – she spat on his body.

Marcus my brother! Was it worth it? Was it?

One by one, the crowd dispersed. But some remained. His body was soon dragged away, leaving a trail of blood. It took a great while before I could muster the strength to draw closer to where he had died. I would be identified with him. They would recognize my face. It did not matter to me anymore.

With my fingers I traced the cracks in the ground, crying. My friend was gone. My brother… Dear God, why?

I lifted my face to wail at the sky. It was the cry of my heart. Why God?! Why?

  And it was then that I realized it.

I was kneeling in the shadow of the Great Cross. The same cross that Marcus had pointed at.

If you have followed me through these chronicles, please seek the third volume. Where it may be found, only you will know. I shall conclude my tale, and you may decide what you wish. Remember, none of these volumes must be found in your possession. Keep its message in your heart. But my account must be told.

For LOVE’S sake.

ARNOLD.

THE LOVE REVOLUTION

The Love Revolution3

THE LOVE REVOLUTION

Beware! Reading this may be dangerous for you. There are those who would kill to get rid of this missive. But my message must get through. This voice, crying in the wilderness of blindness and deliberate ignorance, must be heard! For I write of things that must not be spoken of. Things that will change everything, if accepted. It is with quivering hand that I pen these words.

My name is Arnold, son of Heimich the lumberjack. Our town of Dutchinson in the hill country of the Scots is famous for its iron stand on law and order. Everyone knows their place. The young defer to the elders. Our wives respect their husbands as the head. Even our beasts have learnt who is boss. Everyone knows their place. There has been peace for as long as we all can remember. Everyone knows that disobedience to the Church and the Council will be punished.

Especially if the Forbidden Word is uttered.

Like any village, we have our own criminal elements. There are drunks, molesters, thugs – the worst of the underworld. But our soldiers have been worthy protectors. I know because I am one of them.

The man whom this script concerns is one of controversial record in our village. His very name is deemed a curse. I may be fearful of many things, but the loyalty of friendship is one thing from which I shall never recoil.

He is my friend and brother-at-arms, Marcus. Son of Gaulea.

(I have warned you. You have my blessing to rip this paper now, while you have the chance)

A truly great man he is, if there ever was one. We have fought back-to-back in battle, slain many beasts, and vanquished many foes in the name of the king. I know he is a great man of valour, but not as others know him to be.  For I know that there was never an enemy that could take him down, never a foe to weaken his resolve, never a cause to bring him to his knees…

Until he told me the very words that will forever shake my world.

“I’m in ____,” he said. I hesitate to pen the exact word he said. For it is forbidden.

I gasped. I could not believe my ears. I pulled him away from the thoroughfare and dragged him into my house.

“What did you just say?!” I yelled in his face as soon as the door was slammed shut.

The usual smart expression on his face was gone. He was as sober as could be. “I said that I am in –“

“I heard what you said!” I whispered hoarsely. “Have you lost your mind? Have you no sense of the danger lurking behind those words? What do you think you’re doing?”

“I cannot pretend any longer, brother,” he said, a hint of a sob in his voice. “I ____ Agnes.” May the Lord have mercy on me for even thinking that word.

It was all clearer to me then. Marcus’ eye for the beautiful, but pompous, daughter of Lord Morrison had not been lost on me. No man in the village, however, gave her a second thought for she was legendary for her sharp tongue. The barracks rang with distorted tales of her pride and arrogance. No man considered her for a wife. But my friend saw something none of us could see. I just thought it was madness.

I knew my friend was of strong countenance, but also gentle at heart. He would not give himself to a dream (and that is what I considered this to be; nothing more) were not his heart pulled by it. If it were not worthy of consideration, he would not yield to its pull. He did not deserve to be crushed so.

“‘No one shall speak the Forbidden Word’,” I reminded him of the law.

“That is irrelevant,” he said. “I can’t pretend anymore. I can’t hide this—“

“Longing, yes I know.”

“It’s more than that,” he whispered. I sat, trying to stare him in the eye. His eyes were glistening with tears. Oh, Marcus.

“I know. You’ve told me for so long. I know you want Agnes –“

“I ____ her, Arnold!”

I stood to check the windows as I tried to tell him to be calm. “You can’t go around using that word, Marcus! It’s Forbidden!”

He was shaking his head vigorously. “No. No! I will lie no longer. What I have for her goes beyond wanting, or longing. What has overtaken me is different. The words you speak of are superficial. Carnal. It’s not her body I’m after. It’s her heart…”

He was losing himself. I had good reason to be worried. And worried I was.

“Have you seen this woman you speak of? She has no heart! She spites the poor, ridicules our fellow men-at-arms, curses all that is right and true! You’ve heard about her! It is only a matter of luck that God saw it fit to bring her forth into wealth.”

“We all have things we need to change—“

“No, I will listen to you no longer.  You listen to me! She’s a devil in woman’s skin, however comely and delicate to the eye she may be. You have a good heart, Marcus. At best, you pity this woman. You cannot … desire her!”

Marcus was shaking his head. “I’ve gone beyond desire. It has stripped me of all I have held on to, of all I regard as honour, until there is nothing left but this. I –“

I held up a hand, but he said the word anyway. I sighed. “You are in great need of help, my friend. I can help you no further. You’re sick.”

“Sick with –“

“BAH! Do I look to be in a gaming mood? If you deteriorate any further, I’d soon have you writing…” I lowered my voice to a hush. “____ letters!”

It was meant to be a joke. But then I saw it in his eye. That distant twinkle as he tried to avoid my gaze.

I held his gaze. “You didn’t…”

He winced. “I couldn’t hold back—“

“WHAT?! I was too late. He had written a letter to her describing his … madness! He had just sealed his fate. I couldn’t help it as tears flowed from my eyes. “What kind of spell has this … witch placed on you?”

“She’s not a witch!” he retorted.

“Why did it have to be you, Marcus? Why? You’re done for!”

He was also crying. “I brought this upon myself, brother.”

I had a mind to draw my sword right then and strike the heartless woman that had done this to my friend. But there was nothing we could do. He had delivered the letter to her already. I paid him no heed then. I resolved to hide him in my house for the night. We would escape together. I would never leave my friend. Never.

But I was wrong. This thing, whatever it was that had grabbed my friend, was stronger than friendship itself. For that very night, he was gone. He had escaped, hoping to see her that night. Such was his insanity.

He had taken the old-fashioned ways, of calling her out by throwing pebbles at her window. His mind was already made up, for his heart was already gone after this … woman. What would make a good man, of whom the world was not worthy, to go after his enemy?

She drew her curtain and opened the window. “Who calls for me?”

Marcus stood from behind the bushes. “It is I, Marcus of Gaulea.”

She stared him down. “So you did come?”

“I came to see you,” he said. “Even in the moonlight, you truly are beautiful.”

She held up a hand. “You think your words move me? Have you no idea who I am? If I did seek a man – and I definitely have found none that suit me – why would he be you? What makes you think you have anything to offer me?”

“I know full well who you are,” he called out. “And I may look to be of poor estate, but I have something more that no other man could ever offer you.”

“Oh, really?” She said in her bewitching playful tone. “And whatever may that be?”

“I truly ____ you.” He said it there again, right by her window. Oh, Marcus…

I can imagine the horror on her face as she looked around. “You dared speak the Forbidden Word?! Are you mad?!”

“If giving you all I have and all I am is mad, then yes. I am mad. But my heart goes out for you, Agnes. I want to get you out of your prison —”

She humphed. It pains me to imagine that she did not know what this man had lost to come to see her. “Sad that you should waste such words on a dame like me. Go to one of the servant girls. They are practically dying to hear such.”

“You like my words?” he actually was hopeful.

“They are the words of a fool!” she snapped. “One foolish enough to break the law, just to prove his folly.”

He squinted. “You wouldn’t call the guards, will you?”

She smiled and shrugged. “I already did.”

And out of the bushes leapt the guards, spears in hand as they surrounded him. They had all heard his words. They beat him with their spears till he was on his knees. All this while, Agnes stood in her window chortling like the witch she was. My friend and brother, Marcus, was taken away in chains.

It is here that I must drop my pen for the night. For the words that follow in this account are of the highest treason. They can kill. I have warned you.

If your heart yearns for more, then you may dare to open the second volume of my message. You alone know where to find it, for I must not be seen with it. And neither must you. The message it conveys must remain in your heart.

For LOVE’S sake.

ARNOLD.