Harvest House Publishers
It may not surprise you that angels have names.
What may surprise you is that we have a choice in our names.
And what may surprise you more is that nearly 1100 years ago— as you humans measure time—I respectfully asked our Father for the honor of being named after one of you.
To explain why, I want you to imagine you’ve been taken hostage. The old-fashioned way. Not the way you see in movies where bank robbers wave a gun around, shouting outside to the police that unless they get the money and a private jet, all the hostages will be severely injured.
(I know about those kinds of movies because now that you humans have reached the twenty-first century, I’ve been forced to watch DVDs far too often when I’m guarding one of you. Can’t you go outside and run around the woods and fields and get into more interesting mischief?)
Since you weren’t around a thousand years ago or so, and since I was, take my word for it that the old-fashioned way of hostage-taking was usually very civilized. Although once in a while it would have a gruesome ending…but I’ll get to that soon enough.
The way it worked was simple.
For example, a king from one country would send his son to the king of another country and vice versa. Under the care of the other king, each son would be well-treated, as kings generally had plenty of money and whenever they ran short they raised the taxes and took what they needed from the people.
Essentially these sons were like loaded guns pointed at the head of each king. (More like loaded bows and arrows, since back then guns still weren’t invented, but you know what I mean.) Each king knew that if he did something to severely irritate the other king, the hostage son would be killed. It could get messy. After one king killed the other’s son, the second king would retaliate by killing the first king’s son. Usually, however, the kings would behave and the ending would be happy all around.
Another example happened with bandits, who were fond of kidnapping rich travelers and then sending letters back home asking for money to release the hostage. This was before cell phones. Before telegraphs. Before trains to deliver letters quickly. In other words, it would often take months for anyone in the rich person’s household to discover what had happened. Then months more for their reply to reach the bandits. In the meantime, those bandits needed to keep their hostage alive. Because one thing has not changed among you humans over the centuries: Dead hostages aren’t worth much.
You can imagine that often the hostages and bandits would become friends, staying together all those months, especially if the hostages promised extra money for better food and accommodations, which would naturally be shared with the bandits.
So, you say, what would be bad about being taken hostage a few centuries or more ago? There would be no machine guns waved around, no crazed terrorists threatening to send you home in little pieces, no muscle-bound cops more concerned about getting headlines than protecting your wonderful smile. No media helicopters above you filming every second of it and cashing in on your misery.
Unless, of course, the people on the other end don’t come up with the money to keep your bandits happy. Then comes the gruesome ending I mentioned earlier. Bandits, after all, had reputations to maintain. It would not do them any good at all for the world to discover they would let you go if the money didn’t arrive.
Why am I asking you to imagine that you’ve been taken hostage the old-fashioned way?
Because I’d like you to consider what it would have been like a thousand years ago to be a ten-year-old Spanish boy traveling with your uncle through the lands occupied by the Moors. (Back then, the Moors, who lived south of Spain on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, were considered the bad guys by the rest of Europe, mainly because the Moors were good at winning wars whenever Europe tried to take land from them.) I can’t even tell you why the uncle was traveling through the dangerous land, but after they were captured, I think it’s easy to guess why he had his ten-year-old nephew with him. This uncle made a deal with the bandits to leave behind the ten-year-old as a hostage for ransom money that the uncle would send as soon as he got back to Spain.
There you are. Ten years old. You wave goodbye to your uncle because he promises to send back money and save you from the bandits. Every night you pray to our Father for protection, and, as time goes by, you discover the bandits are not going to hurt you. Still you pray because you have a deep faith in our Father, and you recognize that when He sent His Son, Jesus, it was the greatest gift in the history of the world.
A year passes. Your uncle is now safe in Spain, hundreds of miles away from the bandits with their big, curved swords—but no money has arrived. You blame it on slow transportation. Old, weak horses maybe.
Two years pass. Still no money. You hope it’s because your uncle lost the address and is trying to fix the problem.
By the third year you are beginning to think maybe your uncle has decided he’d rather keep the money than get you back. Unfortunately the Moor bandits come to the same conclusion and they don’t want to wait any longer. Fortunately after all this time together, they have formed a great deal of affection for you.
So they offer you your freedom. And a reward.
This you like.
But then the bandits say something that makes you sad and afraid. To get this freedom and reward, you must denounce your Christian faith. You must publicly say that you don’t believe that our Father sent His Son, Jesus. You must publicly say that you don’t believe Jesus and His death and resurrection is the way to reach our Father both in this life and on the other side of this life.
Worse, if you don’t denounce your Christian faith and choose their faith, they will apply a sharp and fast-moving sword to the back of your neck. And that’s if you are lucky. Torture is far worse.
What do you do? Take the money and the freedom? (And life!)
Or do you choose to boldly declare your faith in our Father and His Son, who has listened to your prayers every night for the three years of your captivity? Do you choose this, knowing that it will cost you your life, even though you are only 13?
We angels, who constantly cross the border into your physical world, fully understand that giving up your human life to enter into the presence of our Father is far less of a sacrifice than you can comprehend.
On the other hand, because we travel across the border so often, we do understand that most of you lack the perspective to understand this. Because all you know is life as you see it around you, you are unaware of how great it is in the glory of our Father.
So we sympathize with you humans when you face the choice between faith and death, even as we pray that you hold onto your faith.
I can tell you that I mourned for the boy among the bandits who faced his own difficult choice.
You see, I had been sent to guard him since birth, and especially during the three years of captivity. I was there when he lifted his eyes to look into the faces of those who threatened to kill him for his faith. I was there when the tears streamed down his cheeks as he said he could not denounce our Father and His Son, Jesus. I was there when he bravely walked into the prison to face the days of torture waiting him. I was there as he screamed in agony. I was there as our Father’s love gave him peace beyond words in the last hours of his earthly life.
I was there because I was waiting to discover if our Father’s purpose for me in that moment was to rescue the boy from that torture. And as I waited and grieved over the pain inflicted on his young body, I understood the real reason I’d been sent was to preserve the boy over the three years so that he would have this chance to show the strength of his faith.
I cannot give you what you humans want as a happy ending. The boy died. He became a martyr.
On our side, however, he was immediately greeted with great joy. And of all who witnessed his bravery and faith on earth, a dozen more were so impressed that they too became believers to join us in our Father’s presence at the end of their lives. The Evil One, whom you call Satan, had hoped to defeat the boy; instead, the boy’s faith defeated Satan and snatched all those other souls from his horrible grip.
I tell you all of this for two reasons.
Reason one: My request was granted when I asked to be honored with the name of this boy. Pelagius. Among the angels, this is what I am called, and all understand the reason for it.
Reason two: When I am sent to guard one of you, I do not know the ending until it arrives.
It was no different four centuries later in Avignon, France—A.D. 1351 to be exact—where I’d been sent to watch over another boy named Raphael, who lived a lonely life, although he would never admit this to himself.
Because I’d been with Raphael since his early childhood and could read the thoughts on his face as clearly as if he spoke them to me, I am able to relate to you the events that were about to change his life…
A gentle cooing from the balcony reminded Raphael that he had lain awake in bed too long as he imagined the faraway streets of Paris. Pigeons, then, first brought him to the window that morning—not the knowledge of the man armed with a deadly crossbow on a nearby rooftop.
“My friends,” he called out to the pigeons, “I’ll be but a moment.”
Raphael threw back his blankets, swung his legs from the bed, winced at the sharpness of cold stone against his bare feet, and rose and stretched, hands high. Sunlight from the window cast his shadow against the wall. As Raphael began to yawn, he wiggled his fingers to make the silhouette of his hands become the shape of a dog’s head. Halfway through his yawn, Raphael snapped his mouth shut and dropped his hands.
He looked around his small room in puzzlement.
The cooing outside persisted.
“Patience, my friends,” he said with good humor. “I face a mystery.”
A mystery indeed. Where were his clothes? Not the colorful tights and vest that he wore as a jester when entertaining the court—those were plainly in sight on the wall hook. It was the regular tunic and pants that Raphael wanted—today was Easter Sunday and he needed to dress for a stroll through the town.
Where were his clothes?
Not on the chair where he’d set them the previous evening before blowing out the candle and falling asleep. Not on the floor. And not—Raphael pulled the curled blankets apart—lost among the bed covers.
The room was barely large enough for his straw bed, the chair now empty of clothes, and a small table which held a chunk of hard bread, a pitcher of water, and a chamber pot. If Raphael couldn’t see the pants and tunic, he could rightly conclude neither were in the room.
He grinned to himself. Obviously someone had played a jest on the jester. One of the ladies-in-waiting perhaps. Or Claude, the cook’s assistant.
Yes, Raphael told himself, Jean-Claude had taken the clothes. Hadn’t it been yesterday that Raphael asked Jean-Claude if his ears were dirty? All the others in the kitchen had laughed when Raphael pulled an egg from Jean-Claude’s ear. It was an easy trick, really, palming the egg from a nearby basket and with a flick of the wrist pretending it had suddenly appeared from the side of Jean-Claude’s head. Not a mean trick either, yet JeanClaude had sulked, walked away, and refused Raphael’s apologies.
Raphael shrugged and reached for his jester’s costume. It would hardly do to prance down the hallway undressed as he searched for the other clothing. Too many other members of the courts and their servants occupied this wing of the Palace of the Popes. That would be exactly what Claude hoped to have happen.
Besides, Raphael’s friends stood outside on the edge of the balcony. He rarely kept them waiting. He also knew that it had taken months to train the pigeons to appear at this time of day. It would not do any good to disappoint them, not even once, for who knew if they would return then the next morning.
“Yes, my friends,” he said as he hopped about on one leg, pulling his tights onto the other. “I have bread for you.”
Tights overtop of socks, one green, the other yellow. Then shirt with stripes to match his tights. Vest overtop, cinched with a band at the waist. And because it was habit, he placed on his head the jester’s cap with the cloth balls that jiggled when Raphael juggled.
Raphael was big—unusual for a jester because most depended on the quickness and agility possessed by the small. It only made it more entertaining and unexpected when someone his size juggled or did backflips or balanced on a rope. He had thick blond hair that always fell into matted curls, and a wide-open face that always seemed to be smiling. The smile seemed to attract many of the maids and kitchen servants, although he was rarely aware of it.
Dressed now and wearing his usual smile, Raphael snatched the chunk of hard bread from the table and moved to his balcony windows to lean outside.
“Good morning, little ones,” he said.
The pigeons hopped toward him. Raphael looked them over. Three today. The fat white one who never failed to appear. A gray one, head cocked sideways. And…why the third one was very small.
Raphael clucked at the fat white pigeon. “Mother Josephine, is this one a child of yours?”
Mother Josephine did not answer. Mother Josephine was intent on the tiny pieces of bread that Raphael slowly tore loose and set on the edge of the balcony.
With strutting steps and bobbing head, Mother Josephine reached the bread ahead of the other two pigeons and stabbed her beak downward.
Raphael laughed softly. He tore more tiny pieces loose and set them behind Mother Josephine. The pigeon was long accustomed to him and did not take flight as his hand moved above her. The other two pigeons pecked at his offerings.
“It is good to see you again, my friends,” he said as he continued to feed them. “Good to see you indeed.”
As Raphael spoke in low, reassuring tones, he let his eyes sweep across the view from his balcony. Even with his eyes closed, he could have described the sights, for he had lived in the room since boyhood.
There was Mount Ventoux to the northwest, its rounded top like a huge mound at the horizon visible between palace towers. There were the rooftops below, red clay tile weathered to almost gray. Balconies and ledges among the maze of buildings. All comfortable and familiar landmarks.
Yet this morning, when Raphael swept his eyes over Avignon, he saw none of what he usually took in. For this morning, squarely in his line of sight, there was a man on the clay tiles of a nearby roof.
This man was lying almost at the edge of the roof. He peered downward into the courtyard. From Raphael’s viewpoint, it was impossible to see what the man was studying down in the courtyard with such care.
That mattered little to Raphael.
This man was dressed as a soldier. Full armor. Long broadsword. Helmet nearby.
What frightened Raphael most was the remaining piece of military equipment beside this soldier. The crossbow. Capable of slamming an arrow through a knight’s armor. Capable of sending an arrow right through a deer.
Even as Raphael watched, this soldier loaded the bow, bracing it to pull the arrow into place, and set the crossbow beside him. Then the man looked downward into the courtyard again. Whatever he was hunting from there, it was not a deer.
This was no soldier.
But an assassin.
Excerpted from The Angel and the Sword by Sigmund Brouwer. Copyright © 2005 by Sigmund Brouwer. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.