the Prince of Peace

Once, a very long time ago, there was a land full of people.

It was an extensive society with a great history. There were stories of triumphs and failures, of peace and war, of unity and division.

These people lived in a land that was growing weary. For thousands of years people had lived and died here. Some had lived long and happy lives and died quietly in their sleep. Some had lived but a brief breath of a moment. Others had lived “normal” lives with happy days and sad days, rich days and poor days. Regardless of the life lived though there was a dark cloud of discontent that had settled over the land. The people living there now could not remember a time without the cloud of discontent.

There were stories of another time, maybe even another land nearby where days were only sunny and delightful and full of life. Some of the grandparents and great grandparents still told stories of the sunny days in the happy place. They would explain that everyone living at that time did not grow tired. People were not hurt, not sad, and they lacked nothing. They never got sick. They had all they needed and more. Many people would scoff and laugh at these stories. It was difficult to imagine and those days, that place, just seemed like fairy tales to the people living here and now.

These days were plagued by people who did not have what they needed to live. For some people in this land, that meant they were hungry many days. Some people, however, had so much food they made themselves sick. Some people, even for some of the kids, did not have a safe place to live. Others lived in homes with high walls and barbed wire so no one else could enter. Some had broken hearts. Still some had angry or lonely hearts. There was great lawlessness and frequent chaos. People worked hard but did not ever achieve what they’d hoped. Whatever the case, this place no longer had sunny, happy days.

There was one family living in this time—the dark time—that had heard the stories of a happy place not so far away with sunny days. Not only had they heard the stories, they’d seen them. Their great-great-great grandfather had written the story down. He had written a book that not only told of the sunny days in the glorious place and plentiful food and happy hearts, it told of a man. He was the main character of great-great-great grandfather’s book. He was known as the Prince of Peace.

It was a fantastic storybook! It told all about this good and kind man who was also rumored to be an heir to the throne of this glorious land. When the family would read about him, they would always whisper the part “heir to the throne.” The story told of how he would concern himself only with loving others. It told of how he would give away riches to anyone living under his rule. It told of how he made beautiful places and delicious foods just by saying a word. He taught people to love one another and live together with joy. And everything he did was for the good of his people living in his glorious land. He just sounded too good to be true.

Great-great-great grandfather Hope had passed the story and the book down to his son and to his son and to his. Now the family of Hope lived here in dark and desolate times and found it hard even for them to believe. They would leave the book on the shelf. They had once read it regularly and found it gave them encouragement, but as the days seemed to grow longer, always with more work to be done, they read the story less and less.

The youngest of the family, however, refused to let go of the Hope family storybook.

His name was Trust. He had, as soon as he was old enough to read, asked every day to take down the story book from the shelf so he could study it for himself. In the beginning, his mother Weary would not often let him see the book. She was afraid that the worn pages would tear and the Hope story would be marred. She also knew that her husband Busy would not be thrilled with the idea. He didn’t object to he book for mere subject matter. He objected because it was one of MANY things he considered a waste of time.

Staying after school for a game of tag—waste of time. Reading the comics—waste of time. Reading books not necessary for work—waste of time. Busy always had more to do and why would he give up time he could be using productively?

Trust was relentless. As days seemed to only grow darker, and longer, Weary would relent. She knew Trust had little to be excited for and he was an obedient boy. She wished for him to have the joy that her own father-in-law had had before he died. Her father-in-law, Provider, had held fast to the Hope family story. As he had aged and grown sick, she thought he might have let go of the Hope story, but he did not.

She knew that Busy would not be home to see Trust read the book, and if he did not see, he would not know about the waste of time.

So like his grandfather before him, Trust would read the story and find himself thrilled by the Prince of Peace. Even when his own school and work day was long. Even when it was well after dark and he felt like his mom, Trust would at least open the book. Though hardly anyone believed the way he did, Trust thought in the deepest, quietest places of his heart that this dark and sad time could not be all that there was. He believed and he could hardly even admit this to himself in his room all alone—that there really was a Prince of Peace and he really did live in a glorious land and he really did take care of all his people and he really was (whisper) heir to the throne.

When Trust was very young he would tell people unabashedly about the story. They would nod and smile and pat him on the head. As he had gotten older people would smirk and stop listening. So he stopped telling. He so wanted someone else to be excited with him. He had often thought of entrusting the story to his very best friend at school—Ornery. Ornery was a good friend though Weary wasn’t always sure about that. What Trust loved so much about him was that once he was your friend, you knew he would never not be your friend. If nothing else, he was loyal.

After much worry and internal debate, Trust decided to share the story with Ornery. It was hard to find time since everyone his age not only went to school, they all went to work for several hours after school. They even worked on weekends. Today was a special early release day from school and they did not yet have to be at work. He had ceremoniously led Ornery to his room, shushed him along the way, closed and locked the door. Ornery was a little confused by the big ta-doo Trust had made but he also thought this must be something good. Whatever it was, Ornery was curious. Trust carefully slid the book out from under his dresser. Trust instantly was overwhelmed with the excitement of the story. He talked fast and furious as explained the book, and the story, and described the Prince of Peace. Even though he spoke so fast Ornery could barely keep up, Trust still whispered heir to the throne.

When he finished speaking he stared at Ornery expectantly and nervously. He knew this would not end their friendship but it might make it a little tougher. Ornery stared down at the pages of the book and then at his friend. Slowly a grin spread across his face. This was the best story he had ever heard. It was beautiful and exciting and full of hope. “May I hold the book?” he asked Trust carefully.

Trust was so relieved that Ornery was even interested, he handed it over gingerly and held his tongue on telling him to be careful with it. Ornery turned it over, turned pages slowly, felt them between his fingers. It was an amazing book. What amazed him even more though was the obvious belief that Trust had in the story. He loved the idea of believing like this. He sat quietly looking for a long time. So long that Trust became nervous that his mom would want to know what they were doing.

Finally Ornery spoke. He explained that years ago he had heard his great aunt tell a similar story to his older brother. He had been expected to listen but could not sit still long enough to pay attention. After hearing Trust explain it, all came rushing back. The memory of visiting his great aunt in the Old People Place, the weird smell in her room, her breath that smelled like cheese when she tried to kiss him hello. But now this story was familiar. She had told it with a twinkle in her eye and he had ignored it. Just like his brother Erratic had.

He flipped again through the pages and stopped short as he reached the end of the book. Trust was eagerly awaiting its return. Ornery just stared though. “What about this ripped out part?” he asked casually.

“WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?” Trust replied loudly. “Nothing is ripped. I take great care of that book and mom will kill me if I don’t,” he said as his voice got higher and more nervous.

“Right here,” Ornery pointed.

How he could never have seen it before, Trust did not know. The hours he’d sat studying and pouring over its pages. This was the last page, the very end, next to the cover. As he looked he could clearly see it had not been haphazardly ripped out, it had been carefully cut maybe even with a sharp edge. It was cut cleanly, up until that last fiber near the top of the page. You could see the torn feathered edge at the top part where it had been pulled free at last.

He was appalled, devastated, confused. Trust stared hard and his eyes began to water. First for fear for himself, and then for disappointment. It didn’t make sense. The story ended well, it wasn’t like you finished reading and thought something was missing. Why would a page be gone? Who would take it out? Why? As his mind sped along every theory it could muster he could only murmur aloud.

Ornery looked at his watch. “I have to go,” he said flatly. “The Farmer expects me early since we got out early.”

Trust nodded as he left. He was numb with disbelief. As he began to grasp the notion that someone deliberately removed whatever was at the end of the book he began to think about who it could possibly be. In his lifetime hardly anyone looked at the book. In his mother’s maybe only a few more. Beyond that he did not know.

He had to know and he had to find the missing page.

The following day Trust talked to Ornery about it at school, probably too much. They had to sit out of recess because of talking during the lesson. They did get to sit close enough though to continue the conversation. They agreed that the page had to have been removed for a bad reason. If it was something good, why would it be removed? Then again, maybe it was something someone thought was crazy or too good. They could not agree on motive but they could agree they wanted answers.

Their plan developed throughout the day. The best they could figure was to start with Trust’s house. Since it had been there for years, at least see if possibly someone at home took the page. On Thursdays Weary cleaned the house of their neighbor up the hill. It was one day the boys knew she would not be home for at least a two hour stretch.

Next Thursday they would have to sneak away from school during recess, take a look around, and make it back before the kids were called in. Trust had NEVER considered anything like this before but he could not explain the weight of what he was feeling. This was something so big, he just knew it.

On Thursday they began a frantic search of the small house. Nervous and excited they were still careful to return things to their original positions so that there search would not be discovered. They checked kitchen cupboards, bedroom bureaus, the desk Trust shared with his older sister. They looked carefully through mom’s only personal space at the end of her closet. Nothing. Their time was quickly running out.

Standing in the main hall of the home, Trust realized he had to search Busy’s desk. He’d almost started there. If he was wrong and he messed something up there the consequences would be severe so he’d subconsciously avoided it until now. He began to rummage. It did not take much, however. There were several cubbies on the mid section of the front of the antique desk. There were envelopes standing on end in the second cubby that Busy used for mailing off bills. Slid further back from all the envelopes was a yellowed sheet. He immediately recognized the texture and size and even the cut and torn edge. He motioned to Ornery as he pulled it out.

As he unfolded the sheet he realized it was more than he could have imagined. It had to be the too-good-to be true option. There was a map. There were directions. There were beautiful drawings. He could not fathom what he was seeing. He could not believe it had been removed from the book.

Ornery brought him back to reality as they realized they only had six minutes to get back to the school yard. They ran fast, Trust with a giant smile on a dark day with discontent all around.

That afternoon he soaked it all in. He knew he would have to return the map to its hidden spot or risk being discovered. He recognized locations on the map. Everything did not have the same name now, but he could tell based on a couple of major landmarks in town. He knew where the old church was. It had long since been unoccupied. People worked too hard. There was no time to rest, to go to church. This map pointed beyond the old church and down a side street that no one in their right mind would drive, much less walk down—the Robber’s Highway. These were definitely walking directions. The map’s final destination was what mesmerized. There was a gorgeous colorful picture sketched there. He did not understand all that he saw, but it looked like a golden road, jewels everywhere, trees drenched in fruit he had never before seen, bright light, and oh-so-sunny skies. It was as if that one corner of the map lit up the rest of the dark page.

The road to get there was quite dangerous. Everyone knew that those who had completely given up to broken hearts, to anger, to hunger, to the worst of the worst spent time along the Robber’s Highway. They hid in the darkest places. There were dumpsters and a couple of shacks nearby. There were stories of people stealing, killing, destroying.

This map led down this road and it looked like through a what was drawn to be a dark and scary overgrown forest. At the edge of the bright and beautiful spot it looked as though there was an enormous stone wall. In other words, getting to this place must be nearly impossible.

He looked at the margin of the page and recognized Busy’s handwriting. There were notes scribbled here. One said Strength, May of 1990. The other said Creed, September of 2012. He wondered if Strength could refer to his great uncle he heard about. He was a huge man, powerful, scary if you did not know him. He did the hardest work around with the greatest ease. People from all over would come to him for help and he almost always did. Trust had never met Strength. He knew he’d been in a terrible accident and didn’t live past his 30th birthday. He didn’t know the date of Strength’s death but thought maybe this was what it meant. He just didn’t know if had anything to do with this map or if his dad had used it to jot down notes before he’d realized what he was writing on. Perhaps if he knew who Creed was it would make more sense.

At school that week Trust found that answer without even trying. In his history class they were talking about local historical figures. Turns out Creed was a local lawyer who had been known for his innate sense of justice and his desire for righteousness. He was also known as a brilliant man. Some thought he was a genius. He knew the law inside and out and was able to apply it and use it and help others with it. He firmly believed that if people just knew and understood the law, their land would be a better place.

The teacher explained that after years of service he believed he could find a way to restore their great society. He thought he knew of a way to eliminate discontent. He set out to teach the outcasts that they just needed to know the law.

People thought that Creed had lost his mind as he’d aged. The teacher lowered her voice as she explained that he began to believe in some crazy stories of living happily ever after with a prince in another kingdom, somewhere without lawlessness. That is not something that will be on your test she said. It is only local hearsay she said. Sadly, Creed died out on the Robber’s Highway she explained. The vagrants there did not appreciate being told they needed to obey the law. He was found bloodied and bruised at the edge of the mysterious forest. It was a mysterious story on its own but now considering Trust’s map discovery, it was miraculous.

That evening at dinner was rare because Busy made it home in time to eat before the kids had to go to bed. Trust was particularly geared up over his newest discoveries. Though he thought he might be a bit daring to ask, he could not resist. (They were after all studying this in school.)

“Dad, have you ever heard of Creed? Creed Justice?” he asked at the table. Busy looked mildly surprised and said yes and wanted to know where he’d heard of him.

“We are studying local history and our teacher told about him today and about how he was killed back off the Robber’s Highway.”

“Wow, what are they teaching you guys these days? Why in the world would they give you those kinds of ugly details?” he replied.

“Well, we weren’t supposed to know about how he died or how people thought he was crazy at the end and looking for a way out.”

“Out of where?”

“Here.”

“I don’t know what you mean, son.”

“The teacher said we aren’t supposed to talk about it but that Creed was trying to point people to another place, a better place, ruled by some kind of prince.” Trust said as if he was unsure, even though he was absolutely positive. He didn’t want Weary and Busy to know how much he knew of the story and the implications, much less begin to understand that he actually thought it was all true!

“Well, that sounds a bit much,” Weary said as she stood to collect plates.

“This sounds like a waste of time to me,” his dad replied as he picked up his brief case and headed to his desk. Trust would have been worried except he’d slipped the page back into its spot this afternoon while mom vacuumed. He had copied down every detail of the map he could. He’d tried to recreate the intricate drawing. He written his dad’s scribble notes in the same spot.

He helped his mother and his sister with the dishes and then hurried to his room. He locked the door and opened the book. He pulled out his hand copied map and studied it some more. What if Strength had also died trying to get to the sunny place where the prince ruled? He thought. I mean, what else could this place on the map represent he thought. What if someone who’d needed help came to Strength because they had heard of the prince and the glorious land. What if he had tried to find the way?

And Creed, he was such a smart man. People thought he was a genius until they thought he was crazy. What if he knew something Strength did not? What if he had recognized a better way?

It was hours before Trust could fall asleep and when he did he dreamed of an amazing place where people did not work all day and all night, where people did not go hungry, where his dad would be willing to waste time. He dreamed of people being kind and helping one another, obeying the law. Just before morning light he dreamed of the Prince of Peace. He felt warm and relieved and peaceful. In the dream he came and looked Trust in the face. Trust told the Prince about the beautiful place he was thinking of and how he longed to find it. The Prince smiled and said, “I am the way.”

Trust woke suddenly. For a moment he thought the Prince was there. He could not handle it. When he realized it was only a dream, his excitement dimmed and yet he still felt hopeful.

As he worked at the grocery the following afternoon, he stared out the window onto the sidewalk. He saw a young boy asking a lady leaving the store for some change or a piece of bread. The lady almost looked sympathetic for a moment and then quickly put her head down and moved past the boy. This boy didn’t go to school. Trust had seen him before but had been told to stay away from him. Someone said his mom had worked near the Robber’s Highway. Trust couldn’t image. He didn’t know how it could be safe. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the second half of his roll from lunch. He reached down for his dustpan and took it to the front door to empty. He didn’t even look at the boy as he handed him the bread and hurried back in.

As the door closed behind him, his decision was made. He was going to try and follow this map. There are too many people with too many hurts. We cannot go on like this. Maybe it’s dangerous. I dreamed of the Prince of Peace. He said he was the way. I have to know. Maybe I’m going crazy like Creed.

But he didn’t care.

He nonchalantly told Ornery the next day that he was going to follow the map. Without missing a moment, Ornery said I’m going too. Trust was surprised and happy. Ornery looked nervous though.

“What is it?” Trust demanded.

“I have to tell you something.”

“OK.”

“I am afraid you will think I am crazy,” Ornery explained.

“Really? After all I’ve told you lately? After saying I want to follow a map to who knows where, a map that leads through some dangerous spots? Please, just tell me.”

“Well, I had this dream,” Ornery began. Trust immediately began to shake on the inside and held his breath without even realizing it. “We were in the beautiful place from the map. And, well, I saw the Prince of Peace.”

Trust stared with his mouth hanging open, eyes welling with tears.

“He talked to me,” Ornery continued. “He said, ‘I—Trust cut him off mid-sentence.

“He told you he was the way, right?!” Trust almost shouted.

Wide-eyed Ornery stared back. Now his mouth was hanging open. “HOW DID YOU KNOW?”

“I had the same dream.”

The began to plan for their trip to find the glorious place. They knew the direction they needed to head and they knew it would be dangerous but did not think it far. Still, they wanted to be sure they had plenty of time to get there without being noticed as gone. The only logical opportunity was next week. On the fourth weekend of the month, kids were allowed to have a Saturday off from their apprenticeship. Rarely, Weary would let Ornery sleep over on that Friday night. Occasionally, Ornery’s mother would let Trust stay over. They decided they would both say they were staying at the other’s home. This way they could leave Friday afternoon. It didn’t get dark until 9:30.

The week seemed to go on for months. They could not wait until their journey.

Friday afternoon finally arrived and the boys met behind the grocery store. They had decided they would not try to bring a weapon of any kind. It seemed like the logical thing to do considering they were headed for the Robber’s Highway. Somehow much of this did not seem logical so they were going without. They did however bring jackets and masks. They thought it best to wear some sort of protective gear for the overgrown area, if they made it through the highway.

The made their way past the old church. Kudzu covered the side of the building and wound up to the roof peak near the steeple. It didn’t feel right. As they looked at Trust’s map the turned the corner and saw darkness ahead. This was more than the usual cloud of discontent. This was a deep darkness, visible everywhere. There were two men ahead on the left side of the road who looked as though they could barely stand. There was a woman opposite them in torn clothes and matted hair. A little boy sat at her feet crying. She rolled her eyes.

Ornery touched the sleeve of Trust’s jacket. They pulled the masks down over the faces and moved forward. They stayed in the middle of the road and both barely breathed. The lady perked up and half smiled. She asked if they had any money on them. The boys shook their heads no simultaneously. The sped their pace. “You don’t gotta be like that!” she yelled and the little boy cried louder. They heard a scream down the alley. They thought someone was saying help. They looked straight ahead.

The two men stared at them. One whispered to the other as he stumbled their way. The boys moved faster. “Get over here!” The man yelled through crooked yellow teeth. Trust froze. He had always been considered an obedient kid. Sometimes he didn’t like the way he always listened to older people. He knew he didn’t have to listen to this man and he was scared, but for some reason he stopped. The man was in front of him breathing heavy with an evil grin.

“Where you two goin’?” he demanded. “You don’t live around here.”

“No, we don’t.”

“Then WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU ARE GOING?”

“We are following our map, just passing through.” Trust sputtered.

“You don’t know the way,” the man slurred.

“The Prince of Peace is the way,” Trust said trying to sound confident.

Fear flickered in the man’s eyes and he backed away from the boys. He grabbed the other man by the crook of the elbow and they stumbled into the dark together.

Trust grabbed Ornery and the moved off the highway in the direction of the overgrown path at the edge of the massive forest. It was dense and dark, but you could almost see a soft glow deeper in. They were afraid and excited. As they moved closer to what looked like used to be an entrance. They saw massive trees overgrown with vines of all types. There were massive thorns everywhere. It was an immensely tangled mess.

It looked like this was the end. There was no possible way they could cut through this, even if they’d had the tools. It was like nothing they’d ever seen. Ornery was sure he’d seen a snake slither under the far corner. That was unacceptable.

They looked at one another. I don’t know what I was thinking Trust thought. Then he said it.

“You were thinking we’d find a way. You were thinking we’d be heroes. You were thinking everyone could follow us and find relief. Find comfort. Find him.”

“Yes,” Trust replied.

There is no way through he said suddenly through tears. They held onto one another, though they had never done that before. Trust cried not caring what Ornery thought anymore. Ornery patted him on the shoulder. It was quiet and still.

The boys noticed a fragrant smell. Trust breathed in deeply and stopped crying. He looked up at the top of the tangled mess and saw multiple rose blooms. He must be smelling them. He dropped his head again.

He turned from the dense overgrown area and saw a warm and radiant light moving ahead of him. He reached out and grabbed Ornery’s arm hard though he didn’t mean to. Ornery lifted his head. He clearly saw it too. The light moved closer and the closer it got, the more they could see it wasn’t a light, it was the shape of a man—but not like any man they had ever seen. It was him.

The instant they fully recognized who they were seeing, the could not withstand it. They both fell to the ground, excited, trembling, out of control.

“Boys,” came the most radiant, comforting voice they had ever heard.

They both slowly looked up at the Prince of Peace. “Ornery, Trust, get up.”

He knew their names. They could hardly contain themselves as the stood before him.

Trust spoke, “We thought we could find your place. We had a map. Busy said no. Creed might be crazy. There is no way through.” Trust didn’t make sense as he spoke. It seemed clear before the words got tangled on their way out of his mouth.

“I am the way,” the prince answered, just as he had in their dreams.

He moved past the boys and began to walk straight into the thick overgrown path. The boys didn’t know what to think. As he walked he didn’t just glide through, untouched. The thorns began to sink into his skin. He began to bleed.

The boys were horrified. This doesn’t make sense they thought. If this is the way to his place, he knows how to get there. He is not like us, he should not be hurt. But he was.
The snake they’d seen earlier slithered through and under. Clearly the prince was unafraid, but he was hurting. He pushed through and his strength began to move the mass of branches and vines and thorns. He was clearing it as he went. It was not easy, but he was making progress.

He told the boys, “Follow me.”

Carefully they moved ahead.

He continued on. By now his clothing had ripped. The sharp pointed vines and branches were leaving terrible marks on his skin. He breathed heavy.

They followed slowly and suddenly heard a shout. The drunken man from the highway charged at them. He held a bat. He swung wildly and the prince stepped between them and the man. He took the blow. He bent low and then stood again. The drunk man was afraid and fled. There was an immediate bruise across the side of the prince. He turned back into the brush and continued ahead.

The boys were undone. “Please, you are hurt. There has to be another way.”

“I AM the only way,” he replied. “Just follow me.”

They both were crying now, watching as he moved slowly, deliberately, powerfully, and painfully ahead.

It seemed like hours. It seemed like evil was all around and yet the warm glow of his presence held it at bay.

Finally they saw a giant stone wall. It was massive and thick and looked like it weighed tons. The more they looked, the more they realized it wasn’t only a wall, but a gate. It looked as though it could possibly be raised but not without some massive piece of equipment. As they strained to see the top, the glow radiating from over the top was incredible. They thought they could hear some kind of music even. They couldn’t begin to fathom what it might be like on the other side.

The prince looked worn. There was so much blood. His skin was torn in places and he breathed heavily. “It’s time to go in,” he said.

“But how?” Trust said almost exasperated.

“I am the way,” he said almost with a smile.

The Prince of Peace reached down and began to lift. It was a struggle, but he slid his fingers that were calloused and worn beneath the edges of the massive stone. For the first time Trust could see his hands were already scarred. He strained and pulled and the sound of the stone grinding on the pieces next to it was overwhelming. The crevice now visible between the ground and the bottom edge was blinding. The light from within pierced the darkness all around. He lifted slowly, steadily.

The boys shielded their eyes.

“Go in,” he said as he strained with his might to hold open the massive stone.

They looked at each other and then walked across the threshold. As they crossed over,
they could only gasp at all the beauty before them. They’d never seen the sky so bright and clear and beautiful. There was not a single cloud of discontent. Birds chirped. The wind whispered sweetly. The air was rich and fragrant. Ripe and glorious fruit dripped from the tree branches and a bubbling brook ran between the trees. Cozy cottages dotted the green hillside. Peace rested on this place. They felt strong and restored immediately as they crossed into the land.

As he lifted further the massive stone gate cracked and was loosed from its bindings. It groaned and scraped and began to fall. The boys looked on in horror as it was began to fall and the Prince of Peace was crushed beneath its weight. It fell back and out and the sound of its landing on the forest floor was unlike any they’d ever heard.

They ran to where the prince lay slain. They screamed and cried and buried their red faces in the folds of his garment. His blood was now on them.

Trust felt a powerful hand upon his shoulder. A more delicate one rested on Ornery’s. They looked up to see Strength and Creed looking down at them.

“He’s dead!” Trust cried out.

“He has opened the way,” came Creed’s reply.

“So what,” said Trust.

“So what? It means everything!” said Strength with excitement in his voice. “This is his land and he has called us here. He called you here but there has never been a way before. He is the way, he made the way.”

“We dreamed there was a place like this and it is more than we could have asked or imagine and now that the door is open, anyone can come,” he continued.

“I thought if I taught people how to follow the law, how to behave and do things the right way, I would be rewarded and people would be allowed in,” Creed explained. “But no matter how hard I tried it was never enough. It only created more lawlessness.”

“My strength was weakness compared to his,” Strength agreed.

“But what now?” came Trust’s quiet, sad voice.

“Now you go and invite everyone in,” Creed said.

“Of course I will, but it will not be the same if he is not here,” came Trust’s reply.

The boys could hardly stand to leave. The slain prince was still beautiful. This place was like nowhere else. They were excited, confused, somewhat frightened, but Strength and Creed helped them up and told them you have to go and tell everyone that the story is true, the way is open, and they are all invited.

Bewildered they made their way home. They passed by the church and found that the vines were no longer growing up the sides. As they traveled, their excitement grew the more they thought of what was ahead. They thought of telling their parents that all their burdens were gone. Weary would find rest. Busy would be still. The angry ones would find peace. The sad people would be happy. The hungry would be full. The sick would be well. The broken would be repaired. The lost would be found.

For the next couple of days the boys told anyone and everyone they knew of all that had happened. They told them they could come along. To their dismay, some scoffed and laughed. Others thought it sounded silly and they couldn’t afford to take time off of work to see if it was true. Many listened. Many thrilled to the idea that they could live a new life in a bright and beautiful place. People talked and readied to leave.

Trust and Ornery led the growing group back across their town and down the Robber’s Highway. They reached the edge of the forest and were delighted to find light breaking out across the hills and through the overgrowth. The way was still open.

When they crossed the threshold again on the third day, every hope was fulfilled. There was joy and laughter and peace. There, on the throne, was the heir. He stood and welcomed them in.

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