Harvest House Publishers
It wasn’t easy to put this story about a boy named Brin into words.
Not that I’m complaining. Angels never complain.
You humans, on the other hand, are so childlike that your constant whining to God often tempts me to roll my eyeballs in disgust. Yet I don’t. First, angels don’t even have eyeballs to roll. Second, rolling eyeballs is a silent way of complaining, and, for those of you who weren’t paying attention, I’ve just made it clear that angels don’t complain.
So, telling you it wasn’t easy to write this story is simply an observation. Not a complaint. If you decide that my observation sounds like a complaint, it’s your fault, not mine.
Writing isn’t easy for many humans either, from what I can tell. But let me stress that it seems infinitely slower and more cumbersome for an angel. (Cumbersome. Kum-burr-sum. If you watch too much television, you may have difficulty with the size of this cumbersome word. Kum-burr-sum. It means bulky, awkward to handle, a big load.)
See, if you were another angel, we would just have a meeting of minds, so to speak. In an instant, you’d know everything I wanted you to know. Neither of us would have to say a single word, let alone write it out.
Not that I’m complaining.
At this point, I expect you are curious about how this meeting of minds works between one angel and another.
Good. Curiosity is one of the nice childlike things about you humans. But don’t expect me to give you the answer. Nor am I going to answer exactly why and how I’ve written down this entire story about Brin. There are many questions that won’t get answered for you until you are on the other side of life. Deal with it.
If you continue with me, however, I promise to answer a lot of other questions by the end of this book. You will have to pay attention, though. Otherwise, don’t waste your time reading more. There’s always television. Or nose picking, which is at least useful and has the same entertainment value. Especially to angels, who may be invisible and watching when you least expect it. (Enough said about that.)
Have I established, then, that it has taken a lot of effort for me to put this story into your words and that you will get answers worth learning? Good. Show your gratitude and stay with me.
Even though I won’t promise a happy ending.
What, you say, not fair? Who says it’s supposed to be fair? When I’m sent from heaven as a guardian, I sure don’t get that promise. I’ve seen it end happy for the ones I’m sent to guard. I’ve seen it end sad.
That might sound mean and horrible, but it’s not.
Whatever happens to the people I’m watching over—happy or sad—works to the greater good of those who believe in our Father and His love. Think of His work as a beautiful painting. When I’m stuck in a particular place and time on earth to watch over someone, I see only what you see: individual brushstrokes. The little bits and pieces that make up the painting. I trust all of those brushstrokes will make sense when our Father has finished the entire painting, though. You should too. Life will be easier on you that way.
As for a happy or not-so-happy ending for each person under my watch, learn and remember an important concept. Maybe the most important concept. Ready?
You humans are given the freedom to make choices.
Yes. Choices. You are responsible for what you do. Don’t blame other people. Especially don’t blame me or other angels.
Imagine you’re in a room with a screwdriver in your hand. You have a choice. Jam it into a nearby electrical outlet? Or not? You may think that’s an obviously easy choice. But in guarding different people through centuries of your human history, I’ve seen a lot of things that, in comparison, make jamming a screwdriver in an electrical outlet look like a smart thing to do.
Take the people of a small mountain village one sunny morning in Italy.
At the time, my assigned charge was a boy named Brin. Probably not a great name, but that’s the way it goes.
Brin was a gypsy. Sixteen years old. I’d been watching over him for years by then. Standard stuff, like keeping him from crawling into open fires when older gypsies in the camp forgot to pay attention. Or when he was older, standing between him and wolves when he wandered into the forest. Nothing really exciting enough to pass on to other angels.
I’m not suggesting, though, that his childhood had been easy.
He’d been born before the invention of the telescope. Before steam engines. Before trains or train tracks. Before ouchless bandages, cough syrup, and flu vaccination shots. Yes, even before the invention of the remote control.
This part of Brin’s life took place in AD. 1364 (That means Anno Domini. Latin for “the year of our Lord.” At least you humans have had enough sense to keep track of time from the birth of Jesus, the Son of our Father.)
Brin lived when wealthy people often wore flea traps under their clothing. That’s what I said. Flea traps. Little cages filled with a piece of fat to attract fleas so the fleas would get stuck in the trap and not be all over a person’s body.
The 1300s were not pleasant, as you can see. Fleas, lice. No soap, no showers, no toothpaste. But try not to think about that and concentrate on the important parts of the story.
Like how humans in Europe had just spent centuries of short life spans and miserable living conditions because of all the knowledge that had been lost after the fall of the Roman Empire.
Like how the people of that small village that morning in the northern part of Italy were all about to make a choice.
Based on greed.
I was there to watch it all. I was there especially to watch Brin. I knew him well enough by then that I could guess his thoughts just by reading his face.
And let me say that the morning did not turn out the way either of us expected.
“Dare to wager a gypsy?”
Brin had heard Marcel issue this challenge dozens of times, in dozens of crowds of peasants, in dozens of market towns. It was like casting fish bait.
“Spawn of the devil!” an old woman cried out. “Thieves! No good layabouts! Get back on the road!”
Brin had heard this before too. He stood among perhaps 20 people. There were housewives, farmers, apprentices, maids, and beggars.
Marcel held a piece of rope above his head. The rest of the rope was wrapped around Marcel’s thick body, coiled over one shoulder and under the opposite armpit.
“One end of this rope, there!” Marcel pointed to the tiled roof of an ancient stone building. He moved his arm to point across the cobbled street. “The other end, there! And I walk across!”
Marcel paused. His black eyes glittered in the midafternoon sun.
Brin wished he could have the same arrogant manner. Brin wished he had the same dark good looks, the same heavily muscled body. At 21, Marcel was in his prime.
Brin? Brin was small. Fair-haired. He rarely spoke above a whisper. No amount of wishing could give him the same power and command that Marcel held among the gypsies.
There too was the matter of Brin’s entrance into the gypsy world. His mother, a gypsy princess, had died from the Black Death barely a day after giving birth to Brin. This ill omen had cast a dark shadow on Brin. Another baby might have received sympathy for entering such a harsh world without a mother.
His father had not been a gypsy, and those from outside the clan were hated and distrusted. But it didn’t stop there. Brin’s father had done far worse than most strangers. He had taken the gypsy princess away and had married her in a church. Nearly a year later, she had returned without Brin’s father, ready to give birth and in the final stages of the dreaded plague.
This was all Brin knew about his parents. Neither had been around to care for him. Both had left Brin an inheritance of disgrace, something Brin paid for dearly among his gypsy clan daily.
“I shall walk across this rope!” Marcel repeated. He stood on top of a wagon, and no one nearby could fail to notice him or his family members sitting on the wagon behind him. “And I shall be blindfolded!”
More peasants, farmers, and idle townspeople gathered. It was a hot day. Brin smelled bodies that had not been washed for months, waste thrown from houses onto the cobblestones, and manure from cattle driven down the streets.
Brin took refuge in his mind by thinking of cool nights in the gypsy camp. He thought of his quiet world in the shadows, outside the circles of gypsies who sat around the campfires, and how those moments seemed to bring him what little sanctuary he could ever find in a day.
“Yes, blindfolded!” Marcel said. “I will juggle three eggs as I walk from one side to the other!”
“What is your wager?” someone finally called from the crowd.
Despite his lonely thoughts, Brin smiled. There was always one person to ask that simple question. And so the hook was set.
“Why, if I drop one,” Marcel said, “every person gathered to watch will collect ten lira.”
The noise of the growing crowd swelled into excited babble.
“Quiet! Quiet!” a man shouted.
Brin stood on his tiptoes to see above the shoulders of the people around him and caught a glimpse of this new speaker. He was a large man with a red face beneath a dark beard, wearing the luxurious colors of a wealthy shopkeeper. A circle of hair ringed his bald head.
The crowd obeyed his command. This man, Brin decided, was one of the town’s respected leaders. Perhaps a mayor.
“If you drop an egg,” the man said, “you will pay ten lira to every person gathered.”
“That is so,” Marcel said.
“Blindfolded, walking across a rope, juggling three eggs.”
Marcel smiled. “If you like, have men beneath with pitchforks pointed upward at me. So if I fall, I impale myself.”
Crowd noise began to rise.
The shopkeeper raised his hands to keep the noise down.
“You announced this as a wager,” the shopkeeper said. “Not a contest. What, then, is the wager?”
Marcel waited until every eye in the crowd was upon him. It grew so quiet that the only sounds were of squawking chickens in the market stalls further down the road.
“What, then, is the wager?” Marcel said. “The only fair wager possible.”
Again, he paused.
Brin admired Marcel’s showmanship. Marcel knew how to play a crowd.
“If I succeed,” Marcel said. “Each of you gathered pays me ten lira.”
People in the crowd turned to each other to trade their views on this.
Marcel did not ask for silence. Instead, he held up a small leather pouch, bulging with coins. Heads turned back to him. Mouths shut.
“Is ten lira not a fair price to pay for entertainment? After all, I risk not only my hard-earned coins but my very life!”
Brin knew with certainty that the wager would occur.
Few were the opportunities for entertainment. These were not men and women of royalty, able to hire musicians, throw extravagant feasts, or travel with bodyguards to summer estates near the sea. Instead, these simpler poor folk lived their entire lives within the town walls, or on farms within a half day’s walk from the town. A hanging in the public square was entertainment for them. Or drunken brawls. Or the spectacle of chasing gypsies.
They would take the wager, simply for the chance to watch someone risk falling onto pitchforks.
Brin knew, too, what was going through the minds of most of these townspeople.
The townspeople hated the gypsies. If he drops an egg, Brin knew they were thinking, we will make him pay. If he succeeds, we will not pay, but run him and his clan out of this town. After all, they are only gypsies.
“I will take that wager,” said the wealthy shopkeeper with a greedy smirk. “Any others?”
All in the crowd raised their hands and voices.
“So be it!” the shopkeeper shouted to be heard above them. “Prepare the rope.”
Excerpted from The Angel and the Ring 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.