Great shouts of men and neighs of horses awoke me from my slumber. I gazed upon a morning fog much darker than normal for it seemed to permeate every village, home and barn, disheartening every living thing it touched. An unfamiliar gloom settled upon my mind and heart as I watched dark figures tear through home after home, ripping children from their mothers. Shuddering in fear, I hid away behind my safe walls as the dark shadowy figures drew their swords. There is no sound comparable to a childless mother’s scream.
I listened intently as the black-armored soldiers marched just outside my window. The clank of their armor and the weight of their step meant they were here upon destruction, here upon war. Timidly I stole a glance to see their faces, but fear gripped my heart and pulled me back. Afraid I might soon be discovered; I crawled away from my window and hid beneath my bed.
Hours passed before I ventured back to the window. I hadn’t heard the soldiers’ voices for some time and thought they might have left our village. But when I glanced over the ledge of my window, I saw yet another dark figure darting to and fro between huts. Something was different about this one, though; he wore a cloak about his shoulders and a hood over his head. Whenever he entered a home, there was no scream of fright; it was as though the mothers were happy to have seen him. But a shout from behind my home caused me to scamper to my hiding place.
“Do you think the child might be in here?” I heard a soldier say.
“No, the place looks empty,” replied another. “Should we ask, though? Perhaps they might know of a mother and her husband running through these parts. It wouldn’t hurt.”
“Aye, let’s see what they have to say,” and a pounding fist sounded upon my back door. At this point I was trembling and thinking over what I might do to avoid their rampage. The front door still appeared unguarded and I could easily slip away to another’s home. But before I could decide upon one action or another, a massive boot tore a hole through my door. Within moments, an unimaginable monstrosity stood inside my home looking around. From head to foot, he was clothed in black iron armor with black leather beneath it. He stood a good seven or eight feet in height and carried a deadly sword – poisonous, maybe – half the length of a man. Silently, I tried to get a view of his face, but then the second beastly thing appeared and I ducked back beneath my bed.
“Looks like somebody left when we first arrived,” the first one said.
“Aye, but let’s tear it apart to make sure,” and the other began throwing my table aside and turning over my chair. I watched as the first’s boots walked in my direction. My body now trembled with my heartbeat as massive, clawed hands gripped underneath my bed and lifted. Within moments my bed was flown across the room and two eerie green eyes maliciously bore down upon me.
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t another pathetic man, cowering behind his safe walls.”
His words stung my heart. In an instant he grabbed my neck with his massive hands and slammed me against my wall. His breath was foul and his teeth like wolves’. How desperately I wished to escape, how in vain I hoped.
“Where is the child?” the beast growled.
“W-what do you mean?” I asked.
“The child who was prophesied to be born this night in this very town!” barked the other.
“Please, I know of no child or any prophesy regarding a child. Please, let me be!” I whimpered.
His grip tightened and he menacingly turned to his companion.
“Why does Master never let us kill the men? We would win the war outright and have fun doing it.”
“I know,” replied the other. “But then we’d awaken the Enemy. And now is not the time.”
“Tell me, pathetic man, have you ever tasted the flesh of a child?”
I cringed at the question.
“Ha ha, you should try it sometime.”
“Legion,” said the other. “We must go; this one obviously doesn’t know where the child is.”
And at that he let me fall. Instantly I huddled into the corner where my bed had been only moments before. As they left my broken home, shameful tears flooded my eyes and I wept for nigh an hour. In my sorrowful state, I must have fallen asleep for when I awoke; night had descended over the town. With my door still broken, my body was now shivering from the cold. Grabbing the blanket that had been flung across the room, I wrapped myself and prayed for daylight. As I sat against my wall, two boots stepped into my doorway. Fearing the worst, I glanced up. It was a dark figure!
“What is your name?” the man asked in a tone just above a whisper.
“F-Freahelm,” I stuttered in fear.
“There is no need to fear me; I’m here telling all of good news,” he stepped over to my fire place and moved a few logs around. Within moments, as though from his very hand, he had lit a fire and warmth poured throughout my home. In the light, I could see that he was a traveling warrior. A sword hilt at his side shined from the firelight when he turned to face me.
“My name is Michael and I am here to tell you that the King is born in this very town,” he said.
“But wouldn’t those beasts have killed him? They tore this town apart looking for him, killing every child they laid their wretched hands on.”
“Yes, but they looked only in homes. The father and mother of the King were unable to find rest in the inn or in any one’s home; the King was born in a manger, not far from here.”
“So what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be with our King?”
“I am here to gather men to protect the child while the parents flee. Those demons you saw have not yet left and will soon find the child.”
I glanced at his sword and his warrior stature.
“Couldn’t you kill them yourself?” I asked. “I mean, why trouble the men of this town with some child who is supposedly our king to fight against these soldiers when you appear more than capable of handling them?”
He seemed frustrated at my question.
“You do not understand; this King is not just any king. He’s the one prophesied from long ago to save His people.”
“From our current king? Isn’t that called a rebellion? Have you known the power our current king holds? His soldiers number as the grains of sand on the shore–”
“And this King created every last one of them. If He wishes to, He could simply take their lives away with a word; He needs no army for that. But the rebellion I am here to call you to is one that is not of this world. Those demons are not under the command of your current king; they actually are above him. They influence him to do evil deeds and they have influenced him to send thousands of men this way to finish the job that they haven’t. What I need is a group of men who will resist those demons and provide a way out for the King. Every moment we waste arguing here brings them ever closer to their target.”
“Then we’ll stop arguing if you leave. I have no part in your army. My business is my own as my life is also my own.”
“You know not what you say,” and slowly, he left.
When his footsteps faded in the distance, the fire dimmed low. Strange, I thought, that the fire would rise and fall at that man’s presence. What kingdom is this man from? I wondered. I’ve heard of magic before, but this was strange; he merely touched the wood and set it ablaze. That is power wizards and magicians only dreamt of having. Something powerful then overcame my heart. Blood pounded through my veins, sending my limbs in a terrible tremble. It wasn’t just fear that overcame me, I knew that much. But rather a powerful, violent emotion I could not quiet down. After searching my mind ceaselessly to think of what I felt, my heart nearly skipped when I found it. Hope. It was hope that poured refreshing life through my body and soul.
A scream outside my home stirred me from my stupor.
“Is there no one in all of Bethlehem to help me?” the woman cried. I rose to my feet and ran to the door, but an armored fist flew through it and landed on my chest, sending me back to the wall.
“Do not try to interfere, puny-hearted man. You will only irritate us and waste our time,” the demon called Legion had returned. Hours ago his words would have stung my heart, but anger grew inside of me, an anger I could not control. I stood to my feet.
“If that’s what you mean to do, so be it,” Legion said, and unsheathed the deadly black blade. I did not quiver this time.
“Oh, so now we have a brave warrior before us, eh?” the other demon entered my home with his blade also drawn. “Tell us, weaponless and witless man, how do you mean to defeat us with no blade?”
Just then something like a whisper spoke to me, inside of me, as though it spoke from my heart.
“You are neither weaponless nor alone. Stand your ground.”
Legion lunged with his blade, but I dodged to the side punched out with my clenched fist, landing it square on his massive head. The other demon charged at me, but the anger I felt was now a full-blown hatred and my fists flew in a fury unknown to me before this moment. Dodging and punching, ducking and kicking, I eluded their blades and frustrated their minds. Exhaustion was quickly upon me and I stood back away to rest my limbs. Fully angered, they charged at the same time. I couldn’t dodge them and soon I was upon the ground, pinned by Legion’s colossal arms.
“Fight’s over, coward,” he growled.
Fear returned to my heart as I wrestled in vain against his strength. Whatever anger was once in me was no longer there. Frantically, I glanced to the window and the open doors, but there was no sign of Michael. I regretted telling him to turn away and now I longed for another surprise arrival. But there was no cloaked figure at my door. A sound, however, left a fiber of hope remaining in my veins. How beautiful was that sound.
“The King is born! The King is born! The King is born! Israel shall be set free!”
“Legion, let’s get him! Clearly he’s heard the news and might know where the child rests.”
“Once I’m done with this one, then we can leave.”
“Well hurry, he’s getting away!” cried the other demon.
Legion paused a moment, glaring with his hateful green eyes, then released me and ran out the door. Breathing in relief at their departure, I quickly stood to see what was happening outside. My whole body ached, but I forced myself to a steady trot in wake of the demons’ route.
The night air was immeasurably cold and stung my throat and nostrils. I followed the heavy footsteps of Legion and his companion towards the edge of town, near the open fields. They had caught the joyful man and were questioning him violently. As I approached, hundreds of soldiers dressed like Legion emerged from the foggy alleyway of two homes. They watched as their commander interrogated.
“Where is the child!”
The man he held appeared to have a defiant look. I thought it might be the moonlight deceiving me, but he seemed to have a slight grin upon his face. I watched from behind a barrel.
“Do you really think I’m going to give that up to you that easily, Legion?”
“Who are you?” he let him go and stood back a pace.
“You don’t recognize me? Perhaps you might recognize this!” and he drew the sword. Light flashed throughout the village as he waved the blade menacingly about. I stared long and hard at the blade for it appeared to be ablaze, as though it was perpetually aflame.
“Michael!” Legion sneered and drew his rusty blade. The hundreds of demons behind him did the same and hemmed Michael in from all sides. He did not budge.
“Do you wish to fight, Legion? Do you really wish to suffer the same humiliation your kindred suffered?”
“Don’t let him leave!” Legion shouted and charged.
“Archers!” a voice bellowed from beside me. I turned to gaze upon hundreds of men with bows in hand, notching arrows to their strings. “Fire!” and hundreds of angry arrows hissed through the air, embedding themselves into the foremost demonic ranks. They turned and charged towards the archers and I quickly realized I was doomed. It was like standing in between darkness and light as they collided.
“Here take this,” the shouting man said, holding out something in front of me. I looked down to see a hilt much like the one Michael wielded and grabbed it. Glancing back at the man giving it to me, I noticed a similar cloak with a similar hood.
“I am Gabriel. Take this and fight,” he said. A strength never before known to me flooded my veins and beat life into my heart. I heard the heavy charge of Legion and his black armored beasts, but shuddered not in fear. Facing them, I charged.
As I ran, I noticed the same fiery glow emanating from the blade Gabriel had given me. Swinging, slashing and hacking through the sea of black, I noticed something else peculiar. My clothes seemed to fall and a bright, shiny armor emerged as though it had been there all along. I heard another volley of angry darts fly past me and into the demons surrounding me. I charged onward.
Within moments I was fighting side by side with Michael. He was a sight to behold in battle. A terrible anger consumed him and the blade in his hand lashed about violently, slaying many. The friendly face I gazed upon in the fire’s light was now a fearsome, dangerous grimace. There was danger within that look upon his face and within the blade in his hand, but yet a kindness also, something Legion and his minions lacked.
“Retreat! Retreat!” Legion cried and turned back to face Michael. “We’ll be back for you, you foolish slave.”
“And we will see who the real slaves are,” Michael quickly replied.
The demons seemed to vanish from the village for within several blinks of my eyes they were gone. Gabriel and Michael stood for a moment more to see if they’d return, then Michael stepped away and knocked on a small door behind him. It was a large building and as I looked upon I soon realized it was a barn. A man opened the door, cautiously.
“Joseph, it’s time. They have gone, but Herod’s men will soon be here. We’ll guard you along the way,” Michael said. Joseph stole away for a brief minute and then emerged wrapping a blanket around a mother and her newborn. Immediately Michael, Gabriel, and the army they mustered bowed to one knee. I quickly followed suit.
The men surrounding me broke into a whispered chatter and the only word I was able to perceive wasn’t a word, but rather a name: Immanuel.
Michael and Gabriel put their hoods up as they led Joseph and Mary, as I would later learn, and their child, our King, Immanuel. We watched as the stars glimmered brighter than ever before, and guided the young parents off into the distance. Peace reigned that evening.