Book 1 Flight of the Armada Chapter 5 Part 2
The Christmas Tale
On the Sunday before Christmas, Darien prepared to go to the little church Lloyd Martin’s family attended. The other Thuringi, curious to get a first-hand glimpse of the rituals of this strange Christian religion experience, piled into the pickup and went with him. Monica Martin waited by the front of the church. She led the group inside, and they filled an entire back row pew on one side of the church. His peers followed Darien’s lead and removed their hats and quietly observed the activity around them.
There were many candles lit all around the sanctuary, and boughs of evergreen decorated with bright red ribbons festooned the altar and other areas of the church. There was a wooden nativity scene over to one side of the pulpit, and a large cross hung in the central part of the wall with a painting of a long haired, bearded young man beneath it. He had a kind face and a distant look in his eyes.
Likewise, they were observed. Five tall, broad shouldered, yellow-haired young men and a tall slender girl all dressed in fine clothes sat polite and reserved on the back row - three had strange yellow eyes but beyond that, they were a pleasant group of young people. Glendon picked up a hymnal in his hands and flipped through it curiously. Lloyd Martin came to shake Darien’s hand. “Y’all can sit up here with us,” he invited, but Stuart declined.
“(We should sit back here, unnoticed).”
Lloyd laughed at the thought. “Stuart, the last thing you six are, is unnoticeable.” He returned to his seat after he agreed Monica could sit with Darien. She sat on his lap. As the pianist began a song, they noticed everyone else stood and held the books from the little holders in front of them and sang from notations on the pages. The Thuringi also stood. Glendon recognized the songs from hearing them played over and over on the radio at the Gentry’s store all week and could sing along. Stuart and Carrol recognized the tunes but did not sing out. At the conclusion of the songs, everyone sat down. The man the Thuringi assumed to be the church vicar stood up to address the crowd.
“We are so fortunate to gather together here,” the preacher said. “We are gathering to give praise to the Infant Jesus in this holy season. I’d like to welcome all our church family, as well as all our visitors,” he said, indicating the back row with his hand. As with the usual dictates of the curious, all heads swiveled around to get a look at their visitors.
All were startled at the yellow eyes. As they turned back around the Earthians whispered to each other. The preacher launched into what he later considered one of the most inspired sermons he ever gave. Katie Martin had told him she and Lloyd invited a group of friends who had never been exposed to Christianity before.
“They are kind, intelligent, friendly people who just simply never heard the story of Christ. This is your chance to preach the gospel like a missionary, Reverend McDaniel, and you won’t even have to leave home to do it.”
The good Reverend McDaniel gave it his all, leading the hymns with fervor his parishioners had not heard from him before. His enthusiasm fired up the choir; the choir fired up the crowd, and the Thuringi were impressed by the strength of their convictions. His sermon was inspired. He preached as if no one in his flock had heard the Good News, and one corner of the church was busy with the older men calling out the occasional “Amen!”
Brent had returned to the ranch for this Christmas occasion and was especially amused by these men. His arms draped along the back of the pew and he grinned widely every time one of the elders burst out into an “amen!”
“What does it mean?” Glendon whispered to him.
Brent shook his head. “I do not know, but they take their exhortations seriously.”
Gareth and Carrol nudged each other when they noticed something each thought the other might want to see: the amusing restless children; the woman who kicked her shoes off and on; the man who looked so terribly bored and chewed on something continuously. Carrol thought the candlelight gave a romantic feel to the proceedings, and the music was a lovely aspect to this Earthian Atest. She leaned against Gareth with her head against his shoulder. He sat contentedly and stroked her fingers. Perhaps Denys and Maribel Duncan were right to begin their courtship in a cathedral, where love and kindness abounded.
Stuart paid attention to the sermon and remembered Michael’s explanation of the religion the night of their first arrival. Stuart understood the basis for this religion and thought it was a sweet sentimental tale of hope and humility of service for good.
Darien paid more attention to amusing little Monica Martin with feats of slight-of-hand, than to the preacher. “How does a baby save a world?” he asked Stuart.
“He grows up to be that chap in the portrait.” Stuart nodded to the picture below the cross. “He saved it through peace, without calling on military intervention.”
“Well, it did not last long,” Darien pointed out. “There does not seem to be a great deal of peace left in this world.”
The people in front of them turned to look at the brothers, curious about the unfamiliar language with its musical lilt, then back around to face the preacher. At the end of the service, the preacher walked down the aisle to the back of the church to greet the people as they exited. Lloyd caught up with the Thuringi, who found themselves surrounded by friendly Methodists.
“We’re sure proud to see you here,” one elderly lady told Glendon. “So nice to see young folks turn out for services.”
“(Thank you),” was the only reply Glendon could think to give.
“(Amen),” Brent intoned, and Glendon gave him a small kick with his foot. Brent just grinned wider.
"They sure grow 'em big, wherever you're from," said a man to Gareth, who simply smiled.
“Reverend, this is my friend Darien Phillipi and his family,” Lloyd introduced.
“I hope you enjoyed our service,” Reverend McDaniel told Darien, and craned his neck back in order to get a better look at the tall visitor. “I understand you have not attended a Christian service before?”
“(No),” Darien replied. “(Tell me, vicar, just why and how did a child save your people)?”
“Why, he died for our sins,” the reverend said, astonished that Darien did not seem to know.
“(Died)!” Darien roared. “(A child’s death saved your people? Just how weak are you vessels, to demand the lifeblood of the helpless)?”
“No, he was a man when he died and rose again.”
“(Rose again)?” Darien was confused. “(Did he die or not? And who is the king of whom you speak, the mighty counselor? Why did he not) –”
“(Perhaps if my brother listened to your complete sermon, he would have garnered some important points),” Stuart explained to the minister as he urged Darien forward. “(Darien, we are holding up the line. Go on; we can question the good vicar at a more convenient time).”
“(Good, I would like to know more about virgins who give birth, and kings who slay babies),” Darien said rancorously. “(Some religion; it is a story of fantasy and war, not of peace)!”
“(Would you move along),” Stuart muttered as he pushed Darien forward.
“(Well, this is a confusing religion),” they all heard Darien fume as Stuart pulled him toward the pickup. “(Singing angels of God, and shepherds and wise men who worship an infant one moment, then leave him to the whims of fate and a murderer of innocents the next! And where is the young chap who dies for them? They did not even mention that part).”
“(No wonder the Bishop called you recalcitrant; you do not pay attention to a sermon any longer than a blink)!” They were soon mercifully out of earshot after that.
“Is that your brother?” Reverend McDaniel asked Gareth, who was next in line.
“(No, they are her brothers),” he said, passing the buck to Carrol.
“(I am terribly sorry, vicar),” Carrol apologized, “(I am afraid Darien is ill at ease concerning stories of children in peril).”
“You, ah, you do recognize God?” the reverend asked.
“(Oh yes, we revere the God of All),” Carrol assured him. “(We have never attended American services before. I thought it was remarkably interesting).”
“(Amen)!” Brent thundered enthusiastically behind her. Gareth and Carrol went on out, and Brent shook the reverend’s hand with a mighty series of pumps. “(Vicar, what does ‘amen’ mean? Your Elders like to say it, and your songs like to say it).”
“It’s... it means you agree,” Reverend McDaniel replied, and Brent let out a healthy laugh.
“(I like a people who weave an amusing tapestry of tales and punctuate it with song! And I understand a large man in red will be flying in a ship overhead. This is also a part of this tapestry, correct)?”
“No, that, er, that is Santa Claus, and it has nothing to do with the story of the Nativity,” Reverend Daniel said with a helpless feeling. It was his best sermon and it still went over some of these people’s heads. Good heavens! They were friendly and handsome, but they were also dense.
“(Oh, good),” Brent remarked. “(I would not trust anyone flying about in the middle of the night while people are trying to sleep).” He joined the others out by the truck. Glendon looked at the reverend’s hand the preacher gingerly massaged, sore from Brent’s strong grip.
“(We will not disturb you again, Your Excellency),” Glendon offered. “(I am certain we have been a trial to you this day).”
“Oh no, on the contrary, I’d love to talk to you again. Please come back for Christmas Eve services.” Glendon considered this and bowed.
“(As you wish, Your Excellency).”
“No, I’m just a reverend. Do come again,” the reverend repeated.
“(As you wish, Your Reverence).”
Darien calmed down after Lloyd managed a rapid recap of the overall picture of Christian beliefs. “(This is a violent society),” Darien told him. “(It has apparently not improved in two thousand years, despite this savior of whom they speak).”
“(We have been invited back. I think His Reverence wants to explain himself in clearer terms),” Glendon told them.
“Are you all right?” asked Monica’s teacher, Melinda Evans, to Darien. “You were awfully upset.”
“(You are a charming people with some odd beliefs),” Darien told her. “(Completely confusing in all respects).”
“(You simply did not listen),” Carrol said. “(I understood the story).”
“(Despite the fact that you were distracted by Major Sword and Fist),” Darien came back.
“Well, we’ve got to get home and finish decorating the tree. Santa Claus is coming soon, isn’t he, honey?” Lloyd asked his daughter.
“Yes,” Monica said, clapping her hands. “Darien, do you know about Santa Claus?”
“(No),” Darien told her. “(I am not familiar with the man).”
“‘He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake’,” she sang.
Brent roared with laughter. “(He knows when we are bad or good? Name of All, Darien, we are lost with this fellow)!” He gave Melinda Evans a speculative look. “(But I am told when Darien is bad, he is at his best).” She looked at Darien for confirmation and Darien smiled his wicked smile, which quickly became benign when he realized Monica was present.
Katie edged over to Carrol. “Your friend Brent. He’s… he’s quite a bit different from the rest of you, isn’t he?”
“In what way?”
“Well, in the way that he’s got slits on his neck and webbed fingers.”
Carrol glanced at Katie to determine if she asked out of curiosity or fear. She decided it was the former more than the latter. “Yes. He was born that way,” she replied easily, as if it was a question she answered often, drawing from what she read in the medical books from Michael. “Some people are born with six fingers on one hand, and some are born with extra limbs. Brent happens to have slits and webs. They do not bother him, but it does vex him when people stare too long.”
“Oh.” Katie was satisfied with that. It was perfectly understandable for someone born with birth defects to be defensive, and admirable that Brent was so calm when she discovered his secret. She had wondered this whole time but never had the chance to ask until now.
“I think you boys should come over to the community center for Christmas dinner,” a sweet-faced elderly lady said as she approached fearlessly.
“(You are very kind to extend the invitation),” Stuart told her.
“Well, Reverend McDaniel said you weren’t Christians, and you might want to be saved.”
“(Saved)?” Stuart said. “(Oh, yes. Michael mentioned that. Well, we will speak again to His Reverence and learn more about your beliefs. Thank you).” She nodded and went on her way. The Thuringi got into their truck, and Katie Martin invited them to Christmas dinner at her parent's house.
“(Is this an important event, this Christmas dinner)?” Glendon asked her. “(This is the third invitation we have received, including Michael’s).”
“Well, it’s just a kind of tradition,” Katie told him. “Most American traditions seem to revolve around eating. And at our house, you’re not going to get a little old lady trying to save you all throughout the meal.” Glendon laughed with her. The truck full of Thuringi pulled out for home.
Where are they from that they’ve never heard the story of Christ, thought Reverend McDaniel.
I wonder just how good at being bad Darien Phillipi can be, thought Melinda Evans.
Boy, if they didn’t turn this little church on its ear, thought Lloyd Martin.
My gosh, but that Glen fellow sure is good looking, thought Katie Martin.
The devil’s got that family; just look at those yellow eyes, thought the elderly lady.
“They are a strange collection of people, these Earthians,” Stuart remarked on the way home.
On Christmas Eve night, Darien went to Lloyd’s house. Lloyd only intended for Darien to shake a set of sleigh bells outside the window for Monica to hear. Darien decided to go one better. At the pre-arranged time, Darien dutifully shook the bells. When he saw Monica’s little face appear in the window, he ducked out of sight. He had liberated a plastic Santa and reindeer display earlier from atop a store building in town. He placed a remote device from one of the dismantled ships inside the sleigh and attached a small engine and a rudimentary thruster he lifted from Gareth’s toolbox. He removed the control from inside his coat and made the display soar across the sky. It was just enough out of range not to betray its origins, but close enough for Monica to see it. She squealed and screamed for her parents.
“It’s Santa Claus, I saw him, he’s here, he’s here!” she jumped up and down on her bed.
“Monnie, you have to go to sleep now, or Santa won’t come,” Darien heard Katie tell her.
“But he’s come, he’s here, I saw him, he was right outside the window! And his reindeer; Mama, they flew!”
Lloyd went out on the porch and motioned to Darien frantically. “Did she see you?” he whispered.
“(No),” Darien said, straight-faced.
“Well, something’s set her off. She’s going nuts and I ran into a problem putting her doll house together. Thought I’d be done by now but I’m not even halfway though yet. We’ll have to open presents in the morning. Say, could you read to her or something? She might stay put long enough for me to finish.”
Darien agreed and went back to Monica’s room, where he sat beside her on the bed. “(Your shouts and declarations awoke me, child),” he teased her. “(You should be asleep).”
“But I saw Santa, I saw him,” Monica said excitedly.
“(I know; I saw him as well).”
“You... you did?” she asked, her eyes wide. “Oh, you really are magic.”
“(He told me to tell you to return to sleep with the other good children until morning).”
“What did he sound like? What did he look like?” Monica asked as she crawled back under the covers. Darien adjusted them over her as he thought of a reply.
“(He was as large and mighty as you might imagine),” he told her. “(Now, then. Are you settling down)?”
“Could you tell me a story? I’m not sleepy, not at all,” she said.
“(Er... all right, then. There was in a far away land... a fair princess with golden hair).”
“Cinderella, and she wasn’t a princess yet.”
“(This is my story, child, from my homeland),” Darien told her. “(Be hushed and you will hear a new tale).” She smiled and snuggled under the cover further in delight.
For the next hour he spun a fanciful tale of a beautiful princess who was loved by a wild rascal. This rascal was clumsy of speech and manners, but he could wield a wonderful magic sword. He went on many missions for her, sometimes taking her with him to different worlds of wonder. He flew a powerful ship called the Solenil and fought many great battles with ship and sword. The royal lady was a young girl older than Monica, with the name of Echolinnea, which according to Darien, meant ‘dignified daughter of the brave.’
“And when she grew up, did she marry him?” Monica asked.
“(Why, of course),” Darien assured her smoothly. “(As you know, all fantasy tales must have happy endings).”
“What else did they do?” Monica asked, but Darien shook his head.
“(I believe they put their children to bed),” he told her. “(Now, off to sleep with you, small bones. There will be time for tales on another day).” He kissed her forehead, and he went to the door where Katie and Lloyd stood, listening.
“What was the rascal’s name?” Monica whispered loudly.
“(Why, Darien, of course),” he said with a soft laugh. “(Sleep now, little one).” Monica giggled, and they turned off her light and closed the door.
The Santa gifts were all set up and ready. Darien hesitated, and then asked his hosts, "(And just why it is that you perpetuate this hoax upon your child)?"
"It's like a fairy story, like the one you just told," Katie told him. "There's no harm in firing a child's imaginations and making a few humble wishes come true. That story of yours was a wonderful story. Where did you hear it?”
“(Oh, it is partly a story from my homeland, partly from my imagination),” Darien passed off, “(just a silly tale with which to amuse a restless child. Goodnight, good people, and may your Christmas be happy).”
“Merry Christmas, Darien,” Katie said, and kissed him on the cheek. Lloyd patted him on the shoulder.
“Sure wish I knew what set her off,” he murmured, and Darien hid his grin.
He found the plastic Santa and reindeer where it crash-landed and took it back into town. He removed the engine and the thruster and replaced the display on the store roof. He went home with a cheerful heart.
The next morning, the Thuringi turned on the stereo and listened to Christmas music as they prepared their breakfast. It was a pleasant bonus for the working Thuringi to have the day off, so Stuart declared a holiday for Gareth and Carrol and himself as well. Darien brought out six chocolate bars for them all and explained the Santa myth of bringing gifts and sweets, and his role the evening before.
“No one saw this flying Santa but the child?” Stuart asked worriedly.
“Of course not,” Darien assured him. “Even if they did, they may have accounted it to drink or weariness. They account nearly everything to drink or weariness! Or to flying objects no one believes exist. Now stop your fret, brother. It is Christmas, and time to make merry.”
The Martins stopped by at mid-morning, bringing a gift basket of fruit. Monica rushed in and immediately threw her arms around Darien and showed him her new doll, a shapely blonde doll ten inches tall. “I named her Echolinnea,” she told him. “Oh, will you please tell me more stories about the princess and the rascal? Please?” she asked.
“(Some time I will),” he said, “(But for the now, I am all spoken out).”
“The princess and the rascal?” Carrol asked. “Anyone we know?”
“Not as well as you think,” Darien told her in Thuringi, after he adjusted his translator for the moment. “I just made something up.”
“Oh, I have something for you,” Katie told Carrol and reached into her purse. She brought out a small piece of greenery with small white berries and held it up over Carrol’s head. “See, we have a tradition that if you stand under the mistletoe with your sweetheart, you get to kiss each other.”
Brent took the mistletoe from her and dangled it over Gareth’s head. “(Oh, what have we here, a lonely soul in need of attention from the toes of mistle).”
They all laughed and whooped in raucous delight when Carrol stepped up to kiss Gareth. Gareth took it in stride, and especially liked it when Lloyd suspended the mistletoe from a nail over the doorway to the parlor for possible later encounters.
Monica looked around the front room. "Oh, you don't have a Christmas tree or stockings, or anything!" She gave Darien a kiss on the cheek and a hug. "I'm sorry I didn't get you anything for Christmas, but Daddy said you didn't know anything about it."
Darien gave her a gentle hug. "(Child, you have given me a sweet little buss and a warm embrace. It is all that a man could ask)."
His throat felt tight, and he had to clear it several times before it felt comfortable again. Her sweet gesture flooded his emotions as a latent Arda power gift within him quietly strengthened. For the first time since he felt the anguish of his dying world, Darien Phillipi’s heart felt a measure of healing from the girl’s genuine goodwill.
The Martins went on their way to Katie's parents' house after the Thuringi gracefully declined their thoughtful invitation to come with them. They had a grand feast just the same at Sheldon ranch: Glendon fried some chicken and Brent roasted potatoes as he would friaks. Darien brought up jars of canned vegetables from the cellar and Gareth distributed the fruit from the Martin's basket. Stuart contributed a chocolate cake he purchased at a bakery the day before. Michael drove out from Tulsa just in time to add his contribution of several bottles of good wine and stayed at their invitation.
They sat down to their first Christmas meal. Bowing her head, Carrol quoted from the Thuringi Book of Prayer, and they all closed their eyes and followed the words in their minds. "Oh God of All, we trust in the unseen, unheard guidance of your wisdom. We are grateful for your many gifts and are mindful of our responsibilities in their use. Lead us onward along the journey of life and guide us on the great Path at our journey's end." Carrol paused, then added, "and thank You for bringing us to this wonderful world. Your wisdom endures forever."
"Amen!" Brent exhorted cheerfully, and they all laughed and feasted. They sang their own culture's songs from different festivals and events, and in their own way celebrated without having to observe a foreign holiday or understand a strange belief.