Monday, January 31, 2011
Saturday, January 29, 2011
Friday, January 28, 2011
I rarely wear pantyhose anymore, since pants seem to allow me greater freedom and comfort. But every once in a while (weddings, dressy events) I have to pull them out, and there's always the question of what to do with a ruined pair.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
One of the things I've been doing in this two-month break between books is "Kindle-izing" some of my older (way older) books. I'm happy to announce that yesterday (when I wasn't fussing with my slip covers) I finished the last of the Cassie Perkins books, so they are now available on Amazon.com.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Okay--I'll confess, I'm usually a domestic diva. I've sewn my own curtains, painted my own walls, stenciled my borders, even laid tile. When the disposal is stuck, I fix it. When the plumbing is leaking, I stop it (or call the plumber). I can dismantle a vacuum cleaner, rehang an electric chandelier, and gather a ruffle in a flash.
Monday, January 24, 2011
Sunday, January 23, 2011
This is adorable . . . funny, to watch these kids try to figure out how to work these "old" technologies, none of which are really old! Enjoy!
(While I was kindle-izing some of my 20 year old books, I realized that these kids weren't calling each other on cell phones, etc. A couple of times I had them pick up on the "extension" and found myself wondering if modern readers would even know what I was talking about!
Saturday, January 22, 2011
As the sun set, Corba bedded the children on their mattresses while Wido stirred the coals on the hearth in the center of the house. A fire was hardly necessary, the weather was so warm, but the glowing red embers comforted him.
Wido watched the coals until he heard the regular breathing of sleeping children, then he joined Corba in their bed. Her back was to him, and when he touched her, her body convulsed in soundless sobbing. He held her until she lay exhausted from crying.
The moon was shining through their open window when she spoke. “I never thought of us as poor,” she said, her voice remarkably clear. “We have each other, we have a home, we have children.”
“We are not poor,” Wido said. “Even when my poor crops have failed, the lord’s generosity has sustained us.”
“I have never counted that as charity,” Corba said, wiping her face with the light woolen blanket that covered them. “We give Perceval his due as lord, and he gives us our due as his villeins. It is a partnership.”
“Aye,” Wido answered.
“But today has taught me what poverty is. It is not that we lack clothing or furs, for we have what we need and no more.”
Wido lightened his voice. “You have to agree, dear wife, that we could find use for a cow.”
“No.” Corba’s voice was emphatic, and she gazed steadily into his eyes. “We are poor because we have no power. We have no voice. If we had twenty cows, we would still own nothing. All that we call ours is the property of Lord Perceval. We do not even own the children we and God have created.”
Wido was silent, thinking. “The voice of God is our voice,” he said, finally, “And He has sent us another child to replace the one we will lose to Perceval. God is our judge, as He is Perceval’s. Father Odoric tells me so, and I do not believe a priest can lie.”
“Aye, but will God comfort Afton when she is flogged for making a mistake in the castle? Will He teach her when she grows wise to the ways of women? Will He defend her chastity when a knight desires to have her?”
Wido felt a slow burn begin in his stomach. “I will make it so,” he said slowly.
Friday, January 21, 2011
Wido’s steps were heavy as he led the ox home. Afton scampered ahead of him, happily splashing her slim legs and tunic in the rutted road’s muddy puddles. How could such a child find a home in Lord Perceval’s castle? Why had Endeline not chosen one of his sons? He had five sons, fine sons, but only one daughter!
Wido was not a man of learning or sophistication, but he had the good sense to prize the few rare treasures life had sent his way. Corba was one treasure, more beautiful and gentle than the rough village girls he had known as a young man. He had been honored and humbled when she consented to become his wife. And Afton was like her mother, all golden hair and sensitive spirit.
The ox snorted behind him, anxious to be back in the community pen, and Wido considered what his neighbors would say. “You are fortunate to lose her,” the men would agree, “for what is a girl child but an obligation to pay a dowry?” Sons were strong and valuable, and Wido was particularly blessed with sons.
But there was something about the sprite that had been born to him first. Endeline had recognized it; even Bodo, wretch that he was, had desired it. Wido could not define the quality that made Afton unique, he only knew she had always unsettled him. Perhaps it was God’s will the girl leave. He had never felt she belonged to him.
Afton sprinted toward the cottage, and the ox quickened his pace now that its pen was it sight. Wido dreaded breaking the news to Corba. He led the ox into the pen, fastened the gate, and stooped to affectionately rub the tousled heads of Matthew and Kier, who were spinning their wooden tops on the impacted earth. Was it only a few days ago he felt like a king of the earth with a beautiful wife, five sons, a daughter, and a sheep? Now he knew full well that he was not a king.
Corba was waiting in the doorway. “Lady Endeline was here,” she said stiffly, a broom in her hand. “We are to lose one of our children in place of the sheep that died.”
“I know,” Wido answered, patting her shoulder as he passed. He settled onto a stool near the table. “The annual rents are to be paid next month instead of at Michaelmas.”
“So soon?” Corba’s hands flexed instinctively over her unborn child. “The babe will not yet be born.”
“It’s not the babe she wants,” Wido said, trying to keep his voice calm. He reached for the round loaf of brown bread on the rough table and broke off a generous hunk. “She wants the girl.”
Corba abruptly drew in her breath and sat down. In the corner of the room a chicken clucked, a sure sign their best laying hen had laid yet another egg.
“Nothing else will do?” Corba asked, her voice strangled.
“Nothing else,” Wido answered, chewing his bread. The dark rye bread seemed tasteless in his mouth, and he swallowed it with great effort. “It would not be wise to argue, in any case.”
Corba straightened her shoulders. “Then there will be one less mouth to feed and a dowry we may not have to pay, if all goes well,” she said, her eyes dark and wide. “If the girl minds her manners, she may stay as a handmaid for many years. It will be good for us.”
“Aye.” Wido agreed. He muttered the words Corba wanted to hear even though he did not believe them: “This is a good thing.”
The family ate supper together as they always did, the children scrambling for bread and scooping thick pottage from their wooden bowls. Wido found his eyes irresistibly drawn to Afton. She ate with her usual concentration, but once she looked up and frowned. “Mama,” she asked, one eyebrow raised delicately, “can’t we get some pomegranates for supper? They were delicious.”By all the saints, perhaps it was a good thing she was leaving.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Endeline wasn’t sure what she would find at Wido’s house. The mud cottage with its freshly thatched roof looked neat enough for the house of a lowly villein, but out of it emanated odors and sounds she couldn’t identify.
She nervously jiggled the reins in her hand and nodded to Sir Gawain, the burly knight who had accompanied her to the village. He dismounted from his horse and called into the dusty courtyard of Wido’s house: “Lady Endeline is at your door, villein! She asks to see Wido the plowman or Corba, his wife.”
A woman’s dust-streaked face appeared at the window, then she hesitantly stepped through the doorway. “I am Corba,” she said, wiping her hands on her apron.
Endeline’s gaze froze on the woman’s belly, where the rough tunic stretched tautly over the round shape of her unborn child. “My husband Lord Perceval tells me that your sheep has died,” Endeline said icily, forcing herself to look into the woman’s faded blue eyes. Her horse stamped a hoof impatiently, and Endeline shifted in the saddle. “I have come to choose a substitution for your annual tribute.”
“Aye,” Corba answered, bowing her head respectfully. “What do you have in mind, my lady? I weave very well, and I could make you a nice cloak.”
“I would like to see your children.”
Corba blinked rapidly, but stepped back into the cottage. Endeline studied the sky, where a squawking flock of crows flew overhead. Troublesome birds. She ought to have Gawain kill them all.
Presently a boy stepped out of the house, then another, until five dark-haired children stood blinking in the sunshine. Endeline gazed at them hungrily.
The youngest boy was but a baby, a chubby bundle of delight. The next was dark-skinned. Two were of the same size and manner, both shyly studying the trappings of her horse, and the tallest stood defiantly, a challenge in his eyes.
Endeline bit her lower lip. Perceval would choose the tallest boy, no doubt, but she knew the choice was not simple. The child who would live with her noble children must possess a brave heart, adaptability, and charm. Most of all, he should reflect well upon her and Perceval.
Gawain interrupted her thoughts. “Are these all the children?” he called to Corba. “I heard there were six.”
“There is a girl,” Corba replied, her voice uneven. “She is with her father in the fields of the lord.”
Endeline lifted her reins. “I must see her, too,” she said, relieved that her decision could be postponed.
“I will lead you there,” Gawain offered, and Endeline pulled her horse’s head to follow Gawain to the fields.
Several villeins were plowing in the wide wheat field, but only one plowman was accompanied by a young girl. Endeline watched the pair from the edge of the field, carefully noting the child’s slender form, height, and agility. “She moves well,” she said, watching Afton leap from ridge to furrow as she goaded the ox. “She could be a beautiful dancer.”
“She would do well with you as her teacher,” Gawain answered, displaying the tact that had earned him the distinction of being Perceval’s most trusted knight. “But no child of a plowman will dance as well as a nobleman’s daughter.”
“How old would you say she is?” Endeline mused. “She’s about Lienor’s age, is she not? And the blonde hair will be more seemly in my household,” she added, thinking of the row of black-haired boys at Corba’s house. “She would almost be able to pass for Perceval’s child.”
“No child of a plowman--” began Gawain, but Endeline silenced him with a stern look.
“Go tell the plowman I’ve chosen his daughter,” Endeline said, turning her horse’s head toward the castle road. “The girl should be brought when the rents are collected next month.”
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Wido stood before Hector’s desk and shuffled his feet uneasily. “What is it?” Hector snapped, looking up from his ledger books. “I’ve a full day planned, plowman, so state why you’ve come.”
“It’s about the lamb for my tribute,” Wido said, clearing his throat. “My ewe has died. I wondered if you would give permission to make a substitution at Michaelmas. My wife would gladly weave the lord a tunic or surcoat, or perhaps his lady would like a linen cloak? My wife does fine weaving.”
“So does every other woman in the village,” Hector replied, scratching in his ledger with his quill. “I’ll think on it, plowman, and we’ll arrange for a substitution.”
“I could capture a wild hog from the forest,” Wido offered.
“The hogs in the forest already belong to Lord Perceval,” Hector sneered, glaring up at Wido. “And hunting is prohibited there by the king’s order.”
Wido looked at the ground in embarrassment and Hector paused to dip his quill in the cow’s horn of ink. “I’ll make mention of your dead sheep in the ledger,” he said, “and I will decide later what you shall give at Michaelmas.”
Lady Endeline gave a curt nod to her maids. “You may leave my chamber,” she said, her tone sharp. “Lord Perceval is on his way.”
When the maids had curtseyed and left, Endeline slipped off her heavy fur surcoat, loosened her hair, and reclined regally on their bed. Her silk tunic clung to her slim body; perhaps Perceval could be distracted this afternoon. She had already bade Hector send two cows to the church, and the priest had promised to pray for her. As an afterthought she had quietly commanded one of the village women to buy a fertility charm from a carnival witch. The charm now dangled between her breasts, and Endeline smothered a smile. Her brother the abbot would threaten her with hellfire if he knew she had resorted to witchcraft. But whether through the powers of heaven or hell, she wanted another child. Three were not enough.
She heard the sound of Perceval’s boots on the stone floor and absently pulled all but one curtain down around her bed. She raised one knee, exposing the white flesh of her leg, and extended her arm to the door. When Perceval came in and saw her thus--
But Perceval was not alone. Behind him was Hector, and neither man even glanced at the bed when they entered the room. “I want a careful accounting,” Perceval said, tossing a ledger book on the table. “King Henry may visit in September and the stores must be replenished before then. Have all the manors sent in their due?”
“Aye,” Hector nodded. “And more is due at Michaelmas.”
“Perceval,” Lady Endeline interrupted.
“Michaelmas is not until the end of September!” Perceval fretted, pulling energetically on his beard. “Could we demand an earlier accounting? If we required the annual payment in August, would our store be sufficient to do the king honor?”
Hector scratched his bald head thoughtfully. “August is harvest month, my lord. The villeins will be hard pressed to harvest their crops as well as yours.”
“Perceval.” Lady Endeline’s patience was growing short. What if the witch’s charm would not last for more than the day?
“Why don’t we take the annual tribute in July? We could call for the rents on the day of St. Mary Magdalene.”
“Hay month, my lord? The villeins will be so busy--”
“All right, then, June.”
Perceval lost his patience. “Man, how long does it take for a villein to bring his required rent? The annual tribute is well-known and planned, so what difference will it make if we call for the rents early?”
Hector bowed his head in face of Perceval’s anger. “None, my lord, but in the unusual cases. For instance, Wido, a plowman in the village, must pay tribute of one lamb. But his ewe has died, and he will need time to come up with a suitable substitute.”
“And what is a suitable substitute?”
“I do not know, my lord. Perhaps you can tell me.”
“What does the man have to offer?”
Hector shrugged. “Chickens. A small garden plot. His wife, who weaves.” He smiled. “His wife’s best talent is producing children. A healthy baby every year, to serve you, my lord.”
Endeline’s temper flared. “Perceval!”
Perceval turned toward his wife in bewilderment. “What are you doing, woman?”
Hector bowed and left the room. Endeline rolled onto her stomach and kicked her bare legs playfully. “I want another baby, my lord,” she whispered, her voice husky. “Give me another child.”
Perceval shook his head. “For this you interrupt a meeting with my steward? I have given you three children, and I am not to be blamed for your barren womb.”
Perceval turned to leave, but Endeline ran to him, her bare feet skimming the floor. She flung her arms around his waist. “I gave two cows to the priest. I sent for charms from the witch at the carnival. I’ve done all I can, Perceval. But you must give me a child!”
Perceval scowled in impatience, but she would not let him go. For seven years she had longed for another child, but lately the feverish longing would not be denied. She clung steadfastly to his belt, perspiration dripping from her forehead, her hands trembling. She desperately hoped her body would convince her husband; her words had evidently failed.
Perceval lay his hand on her head. “Come, my dear,” he said, helping her to her feet. He walked her to the bed, and her eyes alighted in hope. But Perceval shook his head. “No, Endeline, I cannot stay with you now. But you should not carry on this way. If God wills another child, it will be. Didn’t your brother assure you of this?”
“I am barren because the first animal I saw after Lienor’s birth was a mule,” Endeline moaned softly. “A sterile mule. My handmaid said it was so, and I believe her.”
“You must not believe her.” Perceval sat on the bed and draped his arm around her thin shoulders. “You have three worthy children, lady, what others could you want?”
Endeline shook her head. “Would you be happy with only three horses? Only three fields? Only three manors?”
“That’s a different matter.”
“No, it is not.” She raised her head and looked him in the eye. “I am married to a great man. I should raise great and noble children, as many as I can bear in a lifetime.”
“Then raise noble children.”
“How?” Her voice was flat.
Perceval stood and smoothed his surcoat. “Wido the plowman has a wife who has a baby every year. He also owes me tribute. Go to him with my blessing and take what you desire.”
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
After passing the hedge that sheltered the village, Afton walked resolutely to her house. “I’m sure no queen lives here,” the boy said, tilting his head and peering at the rustic cottage. “My father says only villeins and a few free men live in the village.”
“Your father didn’t know about the pool of the twin trees, and he doesn’t know about the queen of Sheba, either,” Afton replied, grabbing the boy’s hand. “Come on in, and I’ll show you.”
The boy allowed himself to be led inside. Afton waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness, and she wondered why he looked so curiously at the furnishings: a table, a bed, several straw mattresses on the floor, chickens, and a huge presence over in the corner of the room.
“The queen of Sheba, our sheep,” Afton answered, taking the wreath from his hand. She placed the wreath gently over the ewe’s head and watched while Sheba began to nibble contentedly on the flowers. “See? I told you she loves flowers.”
The boy sat uneasily on a small wooden stool and looked around. “You live here?”
“You left the feast to come here? Why?”
“Because I was tired of taking care of my brothers.” She tilted her head and gazed at him. “Why did you leave?”
Calhoun shrugged. “I wanted to find some excitement. Maybe a fight. I’m a good fighter.”
“I’m not going to fight you.” Afton walked over and stroked the soft nubby wool of the newly shorn sheep. “Don’t you think Sheba is wonderful? I love her. My father loves her. She’s going to have a lamb, you see, and that’s good for us, my father says.”
“I want to find a real queen and pledge myself as a knight. I want to fight battles, maybe even in Jerusalem, and kill the infidels.”
Afton turned blank gray eyes on the boy. “What’s an infidel?”
“You don’t know? Why, they are heathens who are not Christian,” Calhoun said, pounding his palm with his fist. “The enemies of the church! My uncle the abbot tells me about them all the time.”
“Oh.” Afton grew quiet and sat on a bench. “I don’t want to kill anybody. I want to stay here with Sheba and the chickens.”
“That’s because you’re not a man,” Calhoun said, standing up. He stretched to make himself as tall as he could, and Afton was impressed, even if the boy would not swim.
“We ought to return to the castle,” Calhoun announced.
“Yes,” Afton agreed. They left the house, where Sheba munched contentedly on her wreath of poppies, berries, and daisies.
The next morning when he opened his eyes, Wido knew something was wrong. Flies that usually attached themselves to the shredded ferns Corba hung in the corners of the room were swarming in the darkness. There was a strange odor in the room, too, something more than chickens and sheep and eight people.
He rolled off his hay mattress and slipped on his tunic. Over in the corner, not far from where his children lay sleeping, Sheba lay on the dirt floor. With one touch Wido knew she was dead.
Wido dragged the carcass out of the house without waking Corba. Around the ewe’s neck were the remains of one of Afton’s floral wreaths. Wido fingered the usual flowers, then pricked his finger on an unfamiliar leaf with a sharp tooth. There were berries on the branch, and Wido knew instantly what had happened. “Baneberry,” he muttered under his breath, silently cursing the field where it had grown. The berries, highly poisonous, had killed not only the family’s ewe, but the lamb that was owed to Perceval at Michaelmas, only four months away.
Monday, January 17, 2011
A stand of oak trees lay between the pasture outside Margate Castle and the village; lonely sentries for the army of oaks that dwelt deeper in the depths of King Henry’s forest. “I know this spot,” Afton said, skipping ahead of her companion. “Would you like me to show you a magic place?”
“There are no magic places in the forest,” Calhoun answered, lifting his chin. “My father and I hunt in these woods, and he would have told me if such a thing existed.”
“He can’t know everything, though, can he?” Afton asked. It rattled him that there was laughter in her voice. “Can anyone but God know everything?”
After considering her words, he nodded. “All right, show me this place.” He threw the floral wreath over his shoulder. “Lead on, girl, and I will follow.”
Afton laughed and scampered into the trees. The ground at the edge of the forest had been recently flattened by the footsteps of eager villagers searching for greenery, but Afton moved quickly into the deep woods where the brush grew thicker and footing was more uncertain. Calhoun looked up uneasily as the trees thickened and daylight disappeared from around them.
He struggled to keep up. The wreath was awkward and scraped against his side. He would have thrown it off, but he was anxious to present it to the mysterious Queen of Sheba. He also found it difficult to keep his footing in the leaves that carpeted the forest floor--his previous journeys into the forest had been on horseback, never had he actually walked through it.
He was tired and a bit cross when he finally caught up to the girl, who stood before a pair of massive oak trees. “I call them the twin trees,” she said, her eyes shining as she gazed upward. “See how the trunks have wound around each other? Why did they do that, do you know?”
Calhoun made an effort to close his mouth and quiet his breathless panting. “I suppose they grew together,” he answered, his voice sharp. “Does it really matter?”
Afton shook her head. “No. But up there, where both trunks bend together, they point to my secret place.”
Calhoun’s eyes followed her hand. Perhaps twenty feet from the ground, both trunks jutted sharply westward, then seemed to recover and reach again for the warmth of sun and sky. He looked from the tree to the west--what place could this simple girl have found?
He was about to ask when she suddenly smiled and whirled away from him. She ran about twenty paces to the crest of a hill, then jumped down and out of sight.
Calhoun followed, then gasped at his delightful discovery. Beyond and below the hill lay a perfectly round pool, shimmering like an emerald in a dark and lush earthen setting. No human footsteps had crushed the dainty vegetation surrounding this pool, indeed, the boy wondered if anyone but this blonde sprite had ever visited the place.
Afton sat on a rock at the edge of the pool, her long legs gently skimming the surface of the water. “It’s nicer than you might think,” she told him in a conspirator’s whisper. “You can swim here and no one will bother you. I call it the Pool of the Twin Trees.”
“How did you find it?” Calhoun asked, his voice sounding strangely loud in the stillness. “Does your tutor let you enter the King’s forest--”
“My what?” She crinkled her nose and grinned, and he noticed for the first time that she was missing two front teeth. “I come here when my mama says I am free to play. I learned to swim here, too. Watch.”
Without warning, she kicked off the simple slippers she wore, shimmied out of her outer tunic, and dove smoothly into the water. He was amazed that the water was transparent; the emerald quality of the water came from moss growing on the bottom. He could see every movement the girl made, and soon her head and shoulders appeared at the far end of the pool, her soaked chemise clinging to her skin. “Come in,” she called, her teeth chattering. “It’s cold, but you’ll get used to it.”
Calhoun pondered his situation. He had learned to wrestle and fight, to throw horseshoes and handle a horse. But never had he learned to swim. Yet, the girl made it look easy, as simple as jumping in and sailing underwater to the far side of the pool. But what if it were not easy? What if he floundered and sank? Drowning would be better than asking for help, but neither choice was attractive.
“I want to go see this so-called Queen of yours,” he called, his chin jutting from his youthful jaw. “My patience grows thin.”
Afton dove and again became a rippling watery angel, then reentered the world of light and air and climbed out onto the bank. She threw her tunic over her head and stepped into her slippers. “We can go now,” she said, passing Calhoun without a backward glance. “But I could teach you to swim.”
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Where’s heaven? And how long does eternity last?
Heaven. When we hear the word, most of us imagine people in white robes, sitting on clouds and strumming harps. In fact, if we were honest, we have to admit that an eternity of cloud-sitting and harp-strumming sounds downright boring!
If you think that’s all heaven is, you’re sadly mistaken. Heaven is God’s home, and right now it probably exists in a dimension we can’t even see.
I read an interesting book the other day called Flatland, by Edwin Abbott. The book is about a group of beings that live in only two dimensions. Imagine, if you can, a tabletop covered with construction paper circles and squares and rectangles and lines. Now imagine that you ARE one of those paper circles or squares or rectangles or lines. If you lived in a flat world and could see only north, south, east, and west, but not above or beneath, you’d be living in Flatland. If you lived in Flatland and saw a circle approaching, it wouldn’t look like a circle—it’d look like a straight line. So would a rectangle. And a straight line, coming toward you, would look like a dot.
Because you could not rise above the table and look down on Flatland, you’d never have any idea that things looked different from another dimension. You wouldn’t even know there was another dimension, unless a three-dimensional person appeared in your world and tried to explain that there is more to imagine.
We humans get so used to living in our world that we forget that there is much more to imagine and to believe. God created this world with height and breadth and width, but other dimensions exist. We have eternal souls that cannot be seen or measured. We are surrounded by angels—good and evil—that we cannot see unless God reveals them to us. God sits on a throne in heaven, which is located in a dimension we cannot access—yet.
But one day we will enter heaven with supernatural bodies equipped for life in a new dimension. We will also be able to enjoy a new earth, a planet recreated and repopulated with animals and plants and mountains. We will be part of God’s family, with thousands of new brothers and sisters who love us. We will be able to do all the things we enjoyed doing in this life, but we won’t be badgered by sin or temptation. The sinful part of our nature will be gone, and we will be joyful and content to live in God’s presence for eternity.
When you arrive in heaven, you will feel as though you have finally come home—and it will be a place so much greater than anything you could ever have imagined. This earth will feel like Flatland compared to the rich diversity of heaven. Best of all, you will live there for eternity.
How long is eternity? Forever and ever. Longer than you can imagine.
Memory verse: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).
Read the following verses and explain what they tell us about heaven:
· John 14:1-2: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?”
· “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him. But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit.” (1 Cor. 2:9-10).
· “Marriage is for people here on earth. But in the age to come, those worthy of being raised from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage. And they will never die again. In this respect they will be like angels. They are children of God and children of the resurrection.” (Luke 20:34-36)
· “All these people died still believing what God has promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they all saw it from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. . . . But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13, 16).
· “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven . . .” (Rev. 21:1-2, description includes entire chapter).
2. What do you think heaven will be like? How has this lesson changed your view of heaven?
Even if you don’t understand it all, know this: God has prepared a place for his children, and it will be a wonderful, glorious place. You can trust him.
Well, that's it for my theology lessons . . . . unless I write some more. I hope you've enjoyed them. If you'd like copies of any of them (because you can't access them through the archives), drop me a note and I'll send it to you.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Afton was bored with the feast. The food was a treat because figs, dates, raisins, oranges, and pomegranates never found their way to Wido’s house, and for a while it was interesting to watch Lord Perceval and Lady Endeline as they ate on their raised table at the entrance to the huge stone castle. But they ate little and talked even less, and after a while Afton tired of looking at them.
After the tables were cleared and the games begun, Afton found that the holiday had become sheer torture. Corba expected her to watch her five younger brothers, and Jacopo, Marco, Matthew, Kier, and Gerald had more room to run and more avenues for mischief in the castle courtyard than at home.
She was too young to be a candidate for lady of the May and too busy watching her brothers to join the May dancers. After two hours of chasing the energetic boys, Afton noticed Wido leading Corba toward a quiet bench in the shade of a tall hedge around the women’s quarters. Afton herded her brothers toward their mother and stood silently at her side.
She and her mother had always understood one another. As the boys swarmed over Corba’s lap, Corba saw the question in Afton’s eyes and nodded. “Yes, daughter,” she said, sighing. “You may go play.”
Afton turned and scampered away.
There was much to see within the castle walls. Outside the kitchen buildings, two sheep and a calf were penned, awaiting slaughter for the lord’s dinner. A group of richly-dressed nobles lounged on benches outside the mews where the lord’s hunting hawks roosted, and Afton slipped quietly by them, not wanting to attract attention. She paused outside the stables--horses were so beautiful, so majestic! Just like the rich people who owned them.
After circling for the space of half an hour, Afton decided there was no safe place to play inside the castle walls. She knew she ought not to visit the horses, for they were the lord’s, and she was frightened to death of the knights who lounged outside the huge stone tower that served as a garrison. The castle itself was off limits, of course, for the lord and lady actually lived inside, and Afton feared she would be clamped into prison if even her shadow fell upon one of those august persons.
She tiptoed quietly through the rowdy crowd of merry makers until she spied an open field of green grass through the imposing barbican that opened the castle to the world outside. In a flash she was through the castle gate, bolting for the meadow.
The meadow was delightful, not at all stuffy like the castle courtyard. She skipped through tall grasses that had not yet been devoured by hungry sheep and cattle and collected an armful of flowers: bluebells, buttercups, daisies, dog roses, and red poppies.
“What are you doing there?” An unfamiliar voice startled her and she nearly dropped her load of flowers. Was it against the law to pick the lord’s wildflowers? For a moment she was frightened beyond reason, but then she saw who had spoken. It was a boy, about her age, and obviously he had been overwhelmed by the feast, too. Why else would he be out here in the meadow?
“I’m gathering flowers,” she said simply, stooping to pick another bunch of daisies. “I’m going to make a garland for the queen of Sheba.”
“I’ve never heard of her,” the boy answered, coming closer.
Afton cocked her head and studied the boy. He was not from her village, but the castle was filled with people from many of Perceval’s estates. The boy was finely dressed, though, without even one hole in his tunic or surcoat. His eyes were the color of the creek water when it ran clear, with the same sparkle. His hair reminded her of the golden flax of wheat, and his smile was open and frankly curious. He allowed her to look him over without interrupting, then he repeated himself: “I’ve never heard of the queen of Sheba.”
“She lives in the village,” Afton replied, tossing her head. “In my house.”
“Really?” His tone was curious, not challenging. “Can you show me?”
Afton considered a moment, then nodded. “If you help. I’ve got to get a few more flowers so I can weave a crown. The queen loves flowers, and I like to make her a crown as often as I can.”
“Will these do?” The boy tugged at an unfamiliar plant, breaking off a twig loaded with small white flowers and shiny black berries.
“Bee-utiful.” Afton tucked the berries into her bouquet and they continued through the meadow, running from flower to flower until their arms were full. Then they sat breathless in the grass and Afton showed the boy how to weave the flowers and twigs into a wreath.
“That’s a very large wreath,” the boy said when they were done. He frowned. “How big is the queen’s head?”
Afton’s laughter echoed through the stillness of the meadow. “It doesn’t go on her head, silly, it goes around her neck. Come, and I’ll show you.”
“All right, but tell me your name.” The boy’s eyes shone with friendly interest.
“Afton. What’s yours?”
“All right, Calhoun, let’s go.” Together they held their wreath and walked down the road toward the village.
Friday, January 14, 2011
“Wido.” Hector looked up appraisingly, seeming to weigh even the flesh on the plowman’s bones. “Six children, one wife, and yourself--that will be sixteen eggs.”
“If it please you,” Wido said, proffering Corba’s basket, “my wife sends eighteen eggs for you and Lord Perceval.”
Hector nodded and dipped his quill pen into the ink-filled cow’s horn attached to the table. His left hand took two eggs out of Wido’s basket and disappeared under the table. “Wido’s tribute is paid. You may sit at the upper tables.”
Breathing a sigh of relief, Wido moved away. Behind him, Bodo, another plowman, was explaining why he was five eggs short. It would not go well with him, for Hector did not appreciate shortages.
Wido led his family to a long table where they sat and waited for the food to arrive. In front of each of them was a trencher, a large, stale piece of bread that served as a plate, and each place had its own knife and fork. Wido was pleased. The upper tables were furnished with utensils, but the tables farthest away were bare. Poor Bodo would certainly be sitting at a lower table.
A flush of excitement lit Corba’s face; her cheeks glowed like roses. Afton squirmed next to Corba, the baby on her lap, and next to Afton Wido’s five sons lined the table like a neat row of growing corn.
The flourish of a trumpet silenced the restless peasants, and a barred wooden shutter on the second floor of the castle keep was thrown open. A handsome man in a white and purple tunic approached the window and held up his hand.
The crowd stilled as if God had signaled them. At twenty-eight, Perceval, the Earl of Margate, was a commanding presence. He stood taller than most men, his height accentuated by his straight carriage and regal bearing. His shoulders were broad and tapered neatly down to a trim waist, where his polished sword hung ever ready. Like his father before him, Perceval tolerated no ambition but his own.
“My people.” Perceval’s voice carried easily over the crowd. It was a voice accustomed to giving orders. “As a father welcomes his children for dinner, so welcome I you.” He smiled down on his tenants. “It has been well said that May is the joy-month. After dinner, select for yourselves a lord and lady of the May to preside over your games and dances. Perhaps we can even get Lady Endeline to crown your lady of the May.”
The crowd cheered, and Wido saw Endeline obediently draw near to the window as her husband gestured to her. Younger than her husband, she was tall, thin, and regal, but there was no trace of a smile upon her face.
Perceval clasped the hand of his lady and outstretched his free arm to the crowd. “Eat, drink, and enjoy the hospitality of Margate Castle,” he said. “And long live England’s King Henry!”
“Long live King Henry!” the people responded, Wido joining in with the others.
Perceval withdrew, the barred window was again shut, and Wido and his family set about enjoying the food set before them. The people did not need Perceval’s instructions, for this was their holiday, long established in tradition and mutual agreement. They worked for the lord all the year long, in return he gave them a feast at Easter and Christmas. They gave him three days a week; Perceval gave them a week’s holiday at Easter and a two-week vacation from Christmas Eve to Epiphany. They brought firewood for the castle, and Perceval allowed them to cut wood for their own fires from his forests. Each man knew his place in the scheme of things.
Wido caught Bodo’s eye at a table on the far side of the courtyard. “Bodo!” Wido called, waving a loaf of brown bread to catch his friend’s eye. “How did it go with you?”
Bodo grinned, his black teeth showing plainly. He walked over and folded his scarecrow frame to kneel in the dust behind Wido. “I’ll be cleaning the stables for a month now,” he said, putting a hand on Wido’s shoulder. “Would a friend like you be willing to join me?”
Wido took a bite of bread and answered while he chewed: “And who’s to finish planting my ridge and furrow?” He swallowed. “Corba wants oats, peas, beans, and barley this year.”
“That’s what it will take with another mouth to feed,” Corba answered quietly, chewing a piece of the rough bread. She took a chewed bit out of her mouth and gave it to her youngest. “You should have had a talk with your hen, Bodo.”
Bodo raised an eyebrow. “‘Twouldn’t do any good. But that reminds me, Wido, I have need to talk to you.”
“Talk.” Wido took a drumstick off a platter that was being passed.
“My son is ten, you know, and I want you to remember I’ve come to you first.”
“About what?” Wido turned a bewildered gaze upon his friend.
A corner of Bodo’s mouth slowly curled in a half-smile. “Marriage. Your daughter and my son. We could arrange it now and let them marry when you are ready.”
Wido was stunned for a moment, then erupted in a hearty laugh. “Are we putting on airs now, Bodo? Since when do we arrange marriages like the master? It is not our choice, anyway. Lord Perceval must agree to any marriage in the village.”
“You know full well the lord does not care what we villeins do. Did he object to your marriage? To mine? I do not think he will object to this, either.”
Wido shook his head. “I don’t understand your hurry. They are yet children.”
“Yours is a special child, Wido. Have you looked at your daughter?”
Bodo’s eyes had left Wido’s face and were turned toward Afton and her brothers. Wido turned to look over the head of his wife at his daughter, while Bodo spoke: “Straight nose, gray eyes, little red mouth, high forehead, pink skin--you have a beauty in your house, Wido. Men will pay dearly to take their pleasure in such a wife.”
Something in Bodo’s words and tone made Wido’s skin crawl. His hand grabbed Bodo’s tunic roughly and held the scrawny plowman in a fierce grasp. “I’ll not talk of this,” Wido snarled, the words hissing between his teeth. “You’ll not look at my daughter in that way. Now leave.”
Wido’s powerful hand thrust Bodo away, and the hapless plowman fell back into the dust. “‘Tis a pity you were not born a knight,” Bodo said, raising an eyebrow. He stood and wiped the dust from his rough tunic. “Such a sense of honor! But, my friend, if you don’t give her to wife, someone will take her, and then where will you be?”
Wido snarled and made a move to stand, but Bodo threw his hands up in defense and backed away, smiling. “Peace be unto you, brother,” he said, chuckling as if at a bad joke. “It will be as God wills it.”