GP Taylor is a New York Times best selling author whose works include Shadowmancer, Wormwood, Tersias, The Curse of Salamander Street and The Tizzle Sisters. He lives on the banks of a river in the midst of a dark wood, an arrow’s flight from the Prince Regent Hotel near the ‘town at the end of the line’. He spends his days writing and collecting firewood. Visit him online at www.gptaylor.info.
Paula K. Parker is a nationally recognized playwright, author, and freelance writer whose works include the stage plays, “Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility” and “Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.” She is highly respected in the Christian entertainment industry and is frequently called upon to write about it. Visit her online at www.paulakparker.com.
The remnants of the evening fire smouldered in the ring of stones. It had lasted long into the night but now, the moon had set long before and the sky was filled with bright stars. They clung to the canopy of the sky as if they were diamonds sewn on to the velvet of the night.
A small boy no more than ten years old lay huddled in the long cloak that belonged to his older brother. It was wrapped around him, covering all but his sun burnt face and dark eyes. It had been discarded in the panic. He was alone. The hillside was deserted. Stirring from his sleep as if the whispering wind was speaking to him of his fate, the boy slowly opened one eye and then the other. He was fearful of what he would see.
Looking out across the valley, the stars burned brighter than they had ever done before. It was as if they had come to life and moved across the galaxy, pushed by an unseen hand. It was then that he had the sudden and dreadful feeling that all was not well. Gone was his father. Gone was his brother. Gone were the rest of the men who had been on the hillside. Gone were the sheep. Yet, the boy knew he was not alone. He had the feeling before, one night when he was seven years old. Sleeping on the roof he had dreamt that something was staring at him from the darkness. It was only when he woke from his sleep and opened his eyes that he had seen the snake at the foot of his bed. Its head had been folded back as if about to strike. The long black tongue had flickered in the darkness and then… the hand of his father had snatched it around the neck and cast it from the roof.
Now, as he lay alone on the hillside in the dark of night with only the ever-brightening light of the stars, he felt the same.
‘Do you always sleep so deeply?’ the dark voice behind him asked. The boy dare not turn. He looked at the sky, convinced that the heavens were falling as the stars drew closer. ‘Daniel – do you hear me?’ the voice asked.
Daniel turned slowly. Whoever was there, knew his name.
‘Where is my father… my brother?’ he asked as his words fell from his mouth and then suddenly stopped. Terror gripped his throat as he looked up at the biggest man he had ever seen. His mouth fell open as he panted and gripped a tuft of grass.
The man threw his head back and laughed. He loomed above the boy, bright and radiant, a long sword in his hand.
‘Fear not, Daniel. I will not harm you.’
‘What…’ Daniel answered slowly, the only word his feeble mind could think of. He licked his lips and croaked, ‘…are you?’
‘An Angel – that is what I am – a messenger of the King of kings and I bring the word to you…’
The boy-shepherd screamed in terror. With every word that the Angel spoke he glowed brighter and brighter. It was then that Daniel realised that there was not one man standing before him but a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand. They were not stars in the sky but Angels that swooped back and forth above his head. As if in one voice they all sang, filling the night air. The boy fell back and lay on the ground staring up at the Angel who stood over him.
‘My father….’ Daniel screamed hoping his words would be heard. ‘What have you done with him?’
The Angel laughed, bent down and then, with one hand gripped around the boy’s waist, lifted Daniel from the ground and held him in the air.
‘The Heavens declare… that tonight… in Bethlehem … the KING is born and YOU… will be a witness to HIM…’ The Angel roared, his words like the howling of a volcano that echoed across the valley and around the mountains. ‘Go… find your father and you brother… they have gone to the town. NOW RUN…’ the Angel shouted as he put the boy on the ground and nudged him in the back. ‘As fast as you can – go… quickly…’
Daniel dared not look back. He ran through the parting phalanxes of radiant creatures that stood around him. As he passed each one, they turned into wisps of silver mist. Daniel ran and ran, tears streaming down his face as the words of the Angel echoed through his mind again and again.
‘A King… the baby…’ he said over and over as he ran towards the town on the path he had walked a hundred times.
In the town below, at the back of a small tavern above where the landlord kept the animals, an old man tapped on the door.
‘Congratulations!’ The old man paused. ‘There are some men – shepherds – who want to see the child.’
Inside, a man stood up and moved to the doorway, so as not to wake the woman who slept on a small bed by the fire. ‘What?’ he asked.
‘Yosef – wake Miriam… a rabble of dirty shepherds just arrived at my house and they stink more than my animals,’ the host explained. ‘They want to see the child. I told them, “No, leave the young couple alone,” but when they told me their story, I changed my mind,’ he said quickly, his voice raising in excitment.
‘Their story?’ Yosef asked. ‘What happened… how do they know we are here?’
‘I should let them tell you,’ the old man said as he walked away.
‘Yosef?’ his wife Miriam called to him. He crossed the floor and knelt by her, giving her a drink of water. Then he lit the lamp and set it back on the top of the post. ‘What is happening?’ she asked, her voice still weak with fatigue.
‘The owner of the house said that shepherds have arrived, wanting to see our baby.’
Before Yosef could finish speaking there was a knock at the door. The old man stepped inside, followed by six dirty, disheveled men. They were hesitant and wide-eyed as they entered. Each looked around the room as if expecting to see more than was before them. When they saw the sleeping baby, they gasped and fell to their knees.
‘It is the child!’ one of them said.
‘Just as we were told,’ another agreed.
Yosef and Miriam looked at each other and then at the shepherds. ‘Who told you about our baby?’ Yosef asked.
The shepherds looked at each other as though uncertain what to say. Finally, the one who spoke first turned to them. His words were hesitant. ‘An…angel,’ he whispered. ‘We were watching our sheep nearby. It was like any other night then suddenly a man appeared in the sky. He was an angel!’
The door burst open a young boy rushed in and dived into the arms of one of the shepherds
‘Father! He was huge!’ Daniel said, ‘Taller than Goliath must have been, with a robe that was blinding white!’
‘Daniel, please, let me tell the story,’ his father said. He turned back to Miriam and Yosef. ‘I am not ashamed to say that we were terrified. We cried out and fell to the ground. This…angel…told us to not be afraid. Then he said he had good news. “It will be for everyone in the world,” he said. “Today, in the birth place of King David, a Saviour has been born. He is the Messiah. You will know it is him when you find a new born baby lying in a feeding trough.’
Daniel pushed free from his father and took hold of Yosef by the hand.
‘Suddenly the whole sky was filled with other angels,’ the boy told Yosef. ‘I have never heard anything like it; it sounded like all of creation was singing. Then they turned and – flew – upwards. This child is the KING…’
His father pulled Daniel back apologetically.
‘We had to come and see the child they had told us about.’ The shepherd peered at the sleeping baby. ‘And here he is, just as the angel said.’