The Day of Love
Thus did Dan so remain tied to a stake throughout the evening and into the night. The crowd of Metro City had dispersed, but were told to return at sunrise for the procession to begin to the ancient site of Mt. Olé, the summit of which was the exact location of the holocaust of Lu so long ago, and cave nearby the resting place of the Lord of Light’s ashes. Dan kept vigil alone, save for two armed Dome officials with light blasters in hand, but who were presently dozing off on the prisoner watch.
Dan had no such luck. He hadn’t been asleep ever since he was knocked out by Johnny with the iron rod in the mirror room, and was feeling his exhaustion, mostly in his stiff, aching legs which supported his body’s weight begrudgingly. There was no use trying to get out. Even if he wanted to–– which he didn’t, as now he was quite sure his being sacrificed for those thirty-three hundred people in Domardor so at least they might hear his message was Tulu’s will, and he’d quite resigned himself to it––his arms and legs and body were so fastened against the stake by ropes, nothing but a sharp-toothed saw could loosen them.
The night air in the edge of the city was cool and pleasant, but Dan was having a very difficult time relishing it. When he wasn’t praying for strength to endure his coming execution, he was wracking his brains trying to remember better days in Aerlan, happy days with Marie. He wondered if he himself had children, what their home looked like, where he was most fond of eating. Only essentials struck him and sunk into his consciousness, hurled at him from the depths of unconsciousness and beyond by some unknown benefactor. Dan could only recall that Aerlan was indeed a place of happiness and peace and fun. Aerlan was, so his recollections would strike him, majestic, lofty, light, cool and refreshing like a crisp autumn day, though without the odor of decaying leaves. Blue as sapphire. White as diamonds all afire. Clear as crystal. These were the color notes that Dan recalled. But, try as he might, nothing of Marie or the domesticity of Aerlan or of his royal business there, or anything of facts and figures could be called to mind. Only, as it were, sense impressions and vague sentimental nuances of the place he called home for almost eighty years, and now would never see again.
So absorbed in this exercise of trying to call to mind his past life, he did not notice the moon rising out of the eastern sky, just peaking above the the mountaintops like a child playing peekaboo. Not that there was anything exception in this particular moonrise that should have demanded Dan’s attention. He was, after all, quite occupied, his thoughts, as it were, rather heavily bent on more grave matter than watching a routine moonrise. But had he looked up and watched the rising of the moon, he would at once have seen that this was no ordinary moon rise. The moon was a rocking cradle of a crescent, shown with the brightness of three full moon faces all together, and became bigger and bigger and bigger as it approached!
Dan didn’t notice. He was facing westward toward the place of his execution, and would have never noticed but for the fact that it seemed the moon would be noticed. It insisted. What now felt like a flashlight beam in the corner of Dan’s left eye, made him looked eastward, thinking a guardsman was flashing him with a light for amusement. No, not a flashlight, but Tulu, descending out of the low-lying clouds on the moon, resting her majestic form on her heavenly throne. Dan blinked twice, and would have rubbed his eyes, but settled for shaking his head back and forth a few times to check his sight and senses.
As Tulu approached, Dan observed that She was not alone. A young lady stood just behind her, perhaps on a cloud. As they came close, Dan could just make out the emotion of their faces. Tulu and Marie were very happy, and both were smiling, like a mother and daughter-in-law pleased to see a son and husband returned from war. Dan could only thus make out their features, as the brightness of the moon shown with such intensity as it came nearer and nearer, that Dan was forced to squint because his eyes did not adjust as quickly as they came on. Tulu spoke.
“My son, my son! Thou art a valiant and ready son!” She said, her voice as clear and mighty as a waterfall.
“My Lady!” and lowered his head in honor, “I’m unworthy to be called thy son!”
“Whatever dost thou mean?” Tulu asked, now gently as a kindly mother.
“I’m not ready to die. I am willing. But I am not ready. Please, help me be so!” Dan said, pleading through copious tears.
“Thou art as ready as ever a one could be, my son. Take heart. I’ve brought a visitor to thee. Thou hast but a few moments, then day shall rise upon this valley, one of only two more suns that shall be spared for the conversion of the world before I return with my Son to destroy it. Tell me, hast thou been successful in thy heralding my message?”
“Of those I was able to win from the Fallen, all but eleven have fallen away. Of those eleven, I do not know who remain. So few! So few counted among the saved! Please, Queen of Stars, is it so throughout the lands? So few are saved?” Dan asked, his face glistening in moonlight tears.
“It is so, my son. So many are lost. All lost will it. Not my will, but theirs. So be it. Thou hast tried, and thou hast been successful thus far in even the few fishes caught. Now’s the time to reel them in, Daniel,” Tulu spoke, and, though Her subject matter was grave, she smiled through her pity for Dan to encourage him. “When thou come to Mt. Olé in procession, do not resist. Do not rebuke. Be silent. Be still. Allow what will be. It is my will, and that of my Son’s. Accept as the price of those eleven souls thy torments, thy agony, and thy isolation. Then wilt thou have a crown glorious and shining in Mundluc, a Light Princeling thou wilt be in what will soon be the newly founded realm of Light here. And, for thy Light Princess, I present thee, Marie the Generous,” and held her hand toward Dan, who looked up into the sky from his prepared pyre.
“My Lady! My Princess! How have I thought of you, and tried to remember our happy days in Aerlan, but could not!” Dan said, all tearful and in love.
“Now’s not the hour for merriment or happy memories of another life, Dan. Now’s the hour of death. We will have days unending for making new, more merry memories, like a million Christmas mornings without repeats, and then you shall even recall Aerlan. But not now. Now you ready yourself to offer yourself as a worthy sacrifice. Are you ready, Dan?” Marie asked, still standing reverently behind the Lady of Light as she spoke.
“Yes, yes, now I am, I think. I shall make you both proud. I do this for love. Therefore, I shall not resist. I accept all the pain for love of thee, my Queen, and you, my dear Princess-to-be, and for those whose souls I must pay for,” Dan spoke and as he did so, his will was strengthened in the resolution. Yet he still pined to hold Marie’s hand again, or to speak and listen to Tulu, so beautiful and wise.
“We shall depart, son. The sun is quick at our heels, and others there are throughout the world that we must visit this night. Look to Me and my Son’s coming Sunday at dawn,” and steadily the Lady of Light and Marie were off as they arrived, becoming smaller and smaller, and more dim every second, until only a thin, small crescent of light shone lightly in zenith of the sky. Dan could not see Tulu or Marie anymore at that distance. The low-lying clouds had moved on, and so a star-studded sky lay heavily over the desert floor like a big, black blanket. Dan closed his eyes and fell into a restful and dreamless sleep.
When Dan opened his eyes, the sun had risen on a new day, and a small but ever increasing crowd of spectators were gathering for the procession and execution on Mt. Olé later that day. Viceroy Guth had moved on to another city in the hemisphere, so Rutherford, or the man who was pretending to be him, was the master of ceremonies as it were. Johnny was there, too, just below him on the steps of the speaking trailer from which Rutherford addressed the growing crowd, and grinned from ear to ear as he spoke, surveying the crowd and then Dan on another nearby trailer.
“We gather here today to see justice done!” Rutherford said to the crowd, and waited for applause, but the crowd wasn’t as enthusiastic as yesterday. They wanted to see someone burned alive, not merely told so. Rutherford went on. “So, if you follow the gliders hauling the trailers to Mt. Olé, you will see justice done!” This incited a little more enthusiastic replies but not more sympathetic, such as “Hear, hear! Let’s get on!” or “Go, then!” and other such impatient shouts.
The gliders were turned on and needed a few moments to warm up––such as a diesel tractor, though the internal mechanics similarities between the glider propulsion engines and combustible engines end there––so Johnny had a moment or two to head behind his glider he was piloting to have a moment with the prisoner. Dan saw Johnny come up to the trailer steps but pretended not to notice him.
“Ah, come on! Don’t be like that. You and I are good old friends, right? Remember the days in the orphanage? The jokes I’d make? Ah, yea, that’s right, you never laughed at my jokes, did you? And, come to think of it, you never really had a nice word to say to me ever, had you?” Johnny said, now quite close in Dan’s face. Dan didn’t speak or even flinch. He just took it. “Well, it will be a real hoot and howler when your skin is melted off your bones, won’t it, little Glitter-boy,” he hissed into Dan’s ear, and as he made his way back off the trailer, Johnny turned to grin one more time at Dan, but to Dan’s shock and horror, for a split second Johnny displayed snake fangs in his head, and a winding two-pronged tongue where only a moment before he had a human one, then turned to step down.
Dan’s body quivered with revolting disgust and horror at the sight of Johnny, but at least he started to understand that mystery. Johnny and Rutherford were dead. Fallen Lights must have assumed their form for a time to carry out their sacrifice to Ferater the Filthy. “What cunningness,” Dan thought to himself, then his body quivered again at the thought of Johnny’s snake-tongue.
Presently the gliders and procession of Metro City were underway. The morning was crystal blue without a cloud in the sky. This accented the dome-like canopy of air overhead, which gave Dan the weird, far-fetched, yet almost quaint and charming idea that he was processing to his death, to be burnt alive to ashes, in a gigantic world-sized snow-globe. All that it needed was someone with a big enough hand to shake up the litter of snow flakes at the bottom, and the scene would be complete.
The morning rolled on and on, as it took three hours to reach Mt. Olé by foot and by a turtle-paced glider. Rutherford’s glider and trailer were in front, Johnny’s and Dan’s just behind, with at least a third of Metro City emptied out to see the execution at the back. Dan looked out at all the crowd following him at a leisurely pace. Many had never ventured beyond the city limits, and most had never been to Mt. Olé. It was a new experience in more ways than one, but one thing was old and familiar to all. Everyone was completely indifferent and positively thrilled at the notion of someone being put to death, or, better, sacrificed, though it was doubtful that any considered to whom or what Dan was being offered. It was enough that it was a novel act, or at least a very old thing, and so practically new, that the masses cared about. The Dome religion had since the council given up on the whole notion of sacrifice, so this was a welcomed piece of nostalgic religiosity. And so many were smiling, and laughing, and giddy in one form or anther.
Dan looked on not in the least feeling resentment or hatred for those who persecuted him but a ponderous sadness and pity, the kind that settles in one’s guts and doesn’t lighten up. He bowed his head, and prayed that, by some miracle one or two or even a handful of the congregation would be converted and so saved from the judgement of fire.
The procession finally arrived at the foot of Mt. Olé. It was afternoon now, and Dan was, surprisingly not so much concerned about being burned but was wondering how the orchestrators of this little execution ceremony had it in mind to get him and his trailer up to the top of Mt. Olé’s summit. The people were being directed to ascend the path now by Dome officials, the path being marked clearly by large boulders strewn about up the path, the ones with the strange markings Dan couldn’t decipher. But Dan, Rutherford, and Johnny remained at the foot of the mountain, with the latter apparently waiting for someone or something. Dan was going to ask, “It’s not going to be much of a execution without a body to burn, don’t you think?” but before he could get out the words, a pulsating THRA-THRA-THRA was heard off in the distance toward the City. Dan knew plenty what that could mean, having often taken courses out in aeronautics and flight simulation during his time at the Academy. It was a spirwing, a large flying vessel designed for air transport of heavy objects, which had an impressively powerful propulsion system by which wing-like blades slashed through the air creating lift, while hot air jets streamed behind for acceleration and forward movement.
The spirwing approached very quick and agile for its shear bulk, and landed not a few yards from where the gliders were parked. Rutherford approached it, but Johnny headed toward where Dan’s trailer was hitched to the glider, and removed the rigging. Dan looked on, knowing what was going on, and knowing that the motions of these men were bringing him minute by minute closer to an agonizing death. But he just looked on with disinterest, curious to know how the rigging was going to be attached to the spirwing. “I’ve always wanted to fly,” Dan said to himself aloud. “Probably an unconscious desire remnant of memories from Aerlan, I gather. Well, now I’ll have my chance,” and chuckled to himself.
The rigging was attached by points along each of the four sides of the trailer by Rutherford and Johnny, neither of whose face Dan was in the least desired to look upon, given what happened before. Dan just stared off into the blue haze hanging over the desert floor, or back up the mountain path, watching the people ascend like so many ants up a hill.
The trailer made fast to the harness and to the spirwing, the spirwing never having turned off its engines. Rutherford and Johnny boarded, and all were off on the wing up to the the summit of Mt. Olé.
Dan arose with a dizzying speed. He was forced to feel every sudden and subtle shift of movement, as he was himself held fast against that which moved, namely the stake and the trailer, and so his body couldn’t compensate for the changes. Notwithstanding the motion sickness, the speed, and the height––the last of which Dan was quite already used to, having scaled the heavens before, and indeed lived therein for a lifetime, though he couldn’t recall it all––Dan was quite enjoying himself. He could see so clearly over the desert floor and the mountainside path marked out by the Guiding boulders. His ascent was effortless as he flew higher and higher up the path.
Soon he overtook the procession who were seemingly having a hard time with the more difficult parts up the path. Dan recalled when he had to ascend the path, too, how hard it was for him. He recalled his knocking himself out and dreaming away the day, time traveling, and exploring his father’s ship with an elderly Marie. Dan thought about all this, and about the poor souls who ascended the path, though who were completely oblivious to the meaning and history of the path they trod. The deep feeling of pity arose again in his bowels.
Landing was not as smooth as takeoff, but not completely unpleasant. Dan was set down with a thud onto the summit floor, which reverberated through the trailer into his feet, through his body up his spine and into his teeth. The experience was not unpleasant, for it concluded the sensation of sudden movement Dan had throughout his ascending flight, and the solid, steady earth beneath him was a kind of comfort.
Rutherford and Johnny disembarked the spirwing and unhitched the rigging from the pyre trailer, then saluted the pilot to take off, which left Dan, Rutherford and Johnny alone at the summit, awaiting the procession. Dan longed for the in-flight motion sickness.
“Well, looks like you have about twenty minutes of spare time in which to contemplate how painful it will feel to be barbecued alive, eh, glitter-boy?” Rutherford said to Dan, though no response came to the taunt. Rutherford walked over to Dan. “That puts me in mind. His attire isn’t quite right, is it Johnny?”
“It ain’t, sir. No sir,” Johnny said, walking over and stepping up to where Dan was still standing, and had been for so long. He was wearing the garments Tulu had clothed him in, the sparkling bright vestment of light, which now blazed with the sun. “I’ll soon have him dressed aright!” and went to tear off Dan’s clothes from beneath the rope, which would have been possible to do, as there were sufficient gaps between the rope, but as soon as Johnny attempted it, he wrung his hands back in searing pain, and a cry of agony that seemed to come from the pits of Hell. “Arrrrhhhhh!”
“You buffoon!” shot up Rutherford at Johnny. “What you do, give yourself rope burn?”
“He, he, his shirt’s as hot as the surface of the sun! Hotter!” Johnny shouted, stepping back several feet. “It’s cursed, it’s cursed!”
“You’re forgetting yourself, Johnny, and the Master whom you serve. You’re the cursed one. This shirt is blessed, blessed by Tulu, the Lady of Flaming Light Herself,” Dan said, but as he spoke the name of that blessed Woman, both Johnny and Rutherford fell immediately to their knees and stopped their ears. Dan would have pitied them their pain but for the knowledge that they knew precisely what they were doing, unlike so many of those who were amid the procession.
“Never mind the dirty shirt! The fire will soon have it. Come on, lets get to the foot of the path and await the people,” Rutherford said in a hissing tone, and he and Johnny slithered off twenty yards away. Dan looked around at where he exactly was. It turns out he was where he had entered the cave in his dream, at least what he imagined it might look like in the daylight. He saw the mouth of the cave twenty yards or so the other direction from the path. His trailer and pyre was placed on what appeared to be a miniature plateau of raised rock like a naturally occurring altar, about ten feet square, and about four feet higher than the surrounding summit ground floor. This afforded Dan a considerable perspective from which to survey the scene of his execution and the spectators who would witness it.
Soon the people of Metro City started to arrive, trickling in like hikers at the conclusion of an arduous trail. They were exhausted looking, and the mirth in their hearts and wind in their sails had been quite extinguished by the path up Mt. Olé, or else the Guides silently spoke to their better judgement and souls, and made them sober to the reality of the occasion.
As all were seemingly present and gathered round Dan, though at a safe distance as not to be themselves burned or singed, Rutherford spoke as Johnny held what appeared to be a light blaster.
“Today, we are gathered to see justice done! And to see this murderous fiend put to death for his crimes!” but there was no cheering now, only blank expressions of fatigue. “As is something of an unfortunate custom of civilized societies, it is permitted that the one to be put to death to speak a word or two before the sentence is carried out. I am pressed by the immemorial custom to permit this devil to do the same. Though you all are, by no means compelled to listen,” Rutherford said in a loud, commanding voice toward the crowd, and all the crowd became immediately intent upon hearing Dan speak his last, and turned toward him with interested expressions.
Dan thought a good moment while the crowd looked at him and waited for him to speak. What would words do that he hadn’t already tried to convert these, Dan thought. The only thought that made any sense or had any relevance now in the moment of his death ran thus:
“Today, I die. The day after tomorrow the rest of the world dies! Repent and believe and be converted!” Dan said in a soft but audible voice for all to hear, then dropped his chin on his chest and silently prayed for courage to endure the flames. The spectators did not boo; they did not shout back curses. They did not really even look at Dan or anything now in particular. There was a collective hush that went out throughout the crowd, and an impression of fear or remorse mixed with fear stole across so many faces, at least over those which were not now downcast. Rutherford saw what was happening, and also perceived the danger of Dan’s words. He spoke sharply to Johnny.
“Now, fool! Turn your blaster on low impulse to incinerate the kindling. Do it!” Johnny complied with his superior’s commands, and shot a blast of light into a faggot of sticks which had fallen off the Sacred Tree and were gathered together for ceremonial kindling. The impulse of light and heat stuck against the bundle but fizzled out as soon as it made impact. Johnny looked dumb at the bundle of unburnt wood, then back at Rutherford who also looked incredulous. The crowd oohed and aahed and pointed.
“Give me that blaster, you idiot!” Rutherford snarled, and cranked up the energy range on the impulse shot several degrees hotter, and aimed at the point where Johnny did before and shot another blast of light. This time, the light blast hit, then hovered there for an infinitesimal moment then dissipated into the air like a cloud of steam.
The third of Metro City which came out to Mt. Olé to witness the execution by the ancient practice of burning at the stake would have been disappointed indeed had Dan never been aloud to speak, to sow the seeds in their souls of doubt in their own immortality and belief in something greater than themselves. As it was, Dan did speak and delivered his message Tulu gave him with such eloquence and truth, and coupled with his rather dramatic speaking platform, that the crowd was actually happy to see that the pyre was not ignited.
Rutherford became enraged and turned the blaster on high power and shot one more blast at the bundle of twigs from the Sacred Tree. A bigger explosion of light and heat engulfed the pyre and the trailer and Dan in a cloud of light. After a moment, though, the nebula dissipated as before into a misty light then disappeared altogether, revealing Dan just standing their tied to the stake as before, looking down and praying, seemingly unaware of what was happening.
The crowd started to turn. There swept through it an awareness increasing by every shot Rutherford tried to destroy Dan with that he was a prophet, that this was a miracle and, that the world was going to end in two days, whether they liked it or not. Many started the chant, and an untold number continued it: “LIVE, LIVE, LIVE, LIVE!” It chanted it in a loud and steady voice, “LIVE, LIVE, LIVE, LIVE!” Soon Mt. Olé was resounding with the chant to LIFE! As everyone gathered to see death, they now were chanting to see LIFE, to see this unrelenting, this glorious, this innocent and unjustly accused and condemned life live, Live LIVE!
The chanting had its effect on Rutherford and Johnny. Just as one false miracle made them, so one true miracle unmade them. Presently Dan looked up from his prayers at the sound as the chanting grew intensely loud. Rutherford was no longer what he had appeared a minute ago, but a hideous monster of half-torn off flesh and blood streaming down a blackened charcoal colored skeleton of some kind of reptilian form, and was writhing at himself with such violence and rage that many in the crowd that beheld the heinous sight turned away for fear and disgust. Johnny was less animated but no less self-destructive. He destroyed himself easily enough by shooting himself with the blaster Rutherford had dropped in his outrage, and was presently turning into an incinerated pile of ash and dust. Rutherford’s remains lay beside the pile, himself a heap of lacerated flesh and crumbled bones.
Dan looked on in utter amazement not untinged with gratitude that the true fiends and devils were now dead and safely far away in Hell where they belonged. The crowd discontinued the chanting and closed in upon Dan to see this murderer turned miraculous prophet up close. The evening was falling on Mt. Olé, as the sun crested down over the horizon, so far away, so distant from where Dan and the crowd were on the summit, and light which glowed with a warmth and hue so soft and gentle as to be almost tangible. Dan was quite sure it was perhaps the most beautiful sunset he had ever seen.