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Love's Fire
by Karen Rice
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Fear stalked, sniffed the air for victims. Neatly squashing frustration, it borrowed ancient remnants of patience and paced, hopeful.

A ragged group huddled, fully aware of Fearís touch and countered each with praise of joy which enraged Fear to flail, rant, race through the Spiritual realm's battlefield, searching, searching.

The three weakest prisoners protected in the middle of the circled Christians lay weary heads on the laps of their friends. Even those too exhausted to stand exhaled breath as precious gifts - subtle sounds, rich in blending; an orchestra fine-tuned from hearts aided through the Holy Spirit.

Outside of the grouped prisoners, beyond the wide courtyard, subtle gay strands from instrumental music warmed in preparation for the eveningís gathering. Fear paused and chuckled watching as the captives tensed. The intense summer sun didnít seem to bother them. Hunger, embarrassment, sufferings from beatings left no inner mark. Perhaps this new development would distract enough, give Fear and his emissaries a way in to break them down. Snorting with glee, his eyes flashed.

Carefully studying his prey, he watched as their bodies relaxed again, as they inhaled, exhaling only prayerful words.

Fearís grin dropped into a deep scowl...swore under putrid breath as Godís invisible elect were protected.

Guards, froze into place were careful to follow directives. Wearing helmets and full armor, beads of sweat quickly rivulet-ed into small pools that steamed up from leather metal-studded footwear. Their eyes darted too and fro, none concerned over the prisoners possible escape; a contingency of children alone would easily overcome the detainees.

It was the praises which brought discomfort to the guardís ears. It distracted all mental thoughts of cool water and refreshing seasonal winds embraces. Though it was unprofessional, if given the freedom of choice, who among them would not dare to wiggle their fingers between the tiny spaces of helmets to their ears, plugging them against the driveled prisonersí nonsense? No amount of persuasion convinced this motley group to silence, cower, recant.

The soldiers were denied the luxury of liquid while standing watch beneath unforgiving sun. They became thirsty, dehydrated, irritable, headachy as the cheerful contingency ofí believersí within the circle hammered on.

Fear pulled anger and pushed it hotly through the guard's face-plates, tensing muscles.
The stubborn guarded vestige, scrapped from susceptible areas of communities willing to listen to their infectious words, was now to be held as an example, by Nero.

Soft heavy footfalls of horses cobbled over Caesarís well-planned road, bouncing a wagon filled with rumbling timber. Standing at attention, the guards facing the road followed its track over a wavy mirage of heat, knowing that soon, the entertainment would begin. Their jobs, at least for the day would end.

Horseback, wagons, chariots; the road became a noisy highway as snorting animals pranced and struggled under mighty weights of impatient observers. The Nero's elite, hand-picked, invited by the promise of excitement, publicly preened.

Fear refused to look up. The sky was filled with hosts invited by each word of praise, fortified through the sharing of each word. Their armor clanked as light, crashed against his ears, yet was not allowed to touch him as he moved about.

He knew his limits, could feel the wind of their wings, the push of air from their swords. Careful not to breach a painful reminder, his words bent, twisted as his loyal entourage struggled to keep pace behind him.

Bellows vibrated, screams of terror, anger unchecked, groans of injured echoed in the space set aside for Spiritual struggles. Dark blurs of demons caught on the flat sides of swords swung by The White streaked past, slammed unnoticed into decorated carriages, hung from sturdier garden trees, jettisoned out to rocky inclines, or sent fading terrified screams of allies to the farthest ends of mountainous ranges.

The White were not voice-fully noisy, which always raised Fearís hacklesí; influencing them was impossible. Intimidation with words was a mistake. A quick mind, speed and opportunity were keys to his success. Caution caused Fearís head to continually whip, seeking the unexpected even when The Whiteís words were short, curt, to the point, directing motion, encouragement.

Impatient, ire programmed Fear, short-circuited a need for rest and boosted energy levels. Layering recovered muscle to weary frame, it spotted an opening within the group and slid to negotiate a quick taste of visuals over a nearly unconscious believerís mind: a hint of the eveningís program sent an unexpected tremble through the prone bleeding figure.

Encouraged, Fear quickly tried to push closer as three Whiteís rushed forward, claimed hold of praises, tearing the sentences into usable pieces. Moving swiftly, the angels pressed substantial prayer to cup over the weakened Christianís ears; Fearís black coal of deceit was captured. One of the Holy Elect plucked the anxiety free from the makeshift ear-cover, palmed the coal, and crushed it into a solid, perfect, clear diamond.

Fear roared, shook leaves against the far-off oaks, then froze, for the leader of White chose to direct human eyes upward, at the spectacular sunset which blazed with color.

Fear was not impressed, knew that Man no longer paused in wonder of Godís hand under nature. He subtly suggested, twisted hope from such ideals, and whispered that the sunset was programmed as a Ďheavenlyí banner proceeding nightfallís activity; that perhaps the sky artwork was created by a god sensitive to an emissary request. Perhaps Nero or one in his cabinet.

As tiny forms of bodies spilled from west side of the buildings, squeals of the easily impressed broadened acting skills hoping to catch the eye of Nero.

The sun shrank, leaving darkness in itís wake. Fear nodded in satisfaction as he watched his soldiers rearm, mended and healed through the words and actions of Neroís guests.

Off in the distance, a lone wagon was sent to pick up the prisoners. Above them, unseen light flashed, countered, reflected with each joyful obstinate proclamation from the intractable captives. Howls of pain from Fearís best fighters shook land and sky. Metal forged from heaven, metal ripped from the bowels of earth clashed, surrounding the prisoners, the courtyard, all buildings and land as far as the human eye could see.

Obscene threats peppered Fearís directives to his soldiers. Minor demons sneaked deeply into the dark, wanting no part of this particular battle.

Human guards unceremoniously prodded the standing detainees toward the waiting wagon. The stronger prisoners gingerly lift the seriously injured. Even as the guards pushed them apart, they still praise God while crawling into the wagon.

The guards yank the unconscious by their hair, dragged them to the wagon, and heaved them up into the waiting arms of their comrades. .

Encouraged by food, music, Neroís guests were professionally, subtly led back inside. Nero teased, informing that the best surprise must wait until nightfall, when all hint of light was gone.

The wagon rocked forward, closer to their destination. Stopped.

Shoved out to the ground, the prisoners continued to pray.

The guards worked quickly, lining up rough-hued logs next to dug holes surrounding the perimeter of the building which overlooked the garden.

Each prisoner was pushed to a log, forced to lie across it, spines straight against the back of wood. It took two soldiers per prisoner: one to hold straw over feet and legs, one to wrap rope to tightly bind all around the wood, then layer up each torso - straw, and coiled rope.

Three more guards per prisoner struggled and grunted each up, lifting the pointed ends into punched holes, then tampered securely down. More straw was unceremoniously tossed at each base, and then guards gathered lit torches and waited at attention for the signal.

Doors flew open and warm thin bands of light propelled the guests outside. Orange blossoms, grapefruit blossoms, jasmine wafted through the air. Anticipation encouraged motion, lifting party voices over the prepared musical arrangement. Nero, discretely waited in the shadows, signaled an advisor, whom signaled a guard, whom passed on the message to the guards holding the flickering torches.

The crowd sucked in breath as one as flames bit to tease at each timberís base. Small cracks of captured fire sent cannonball messages through the Spiritual Battleground.

Stilled to silent, the battle stopped - all eyes on the prisoners.

In the silence, in the realm of heaven and earth, a voice was heard. Then another and another. As the flames crackled to thick expanding blazes, cheers rose from guests.

Curious, one guest was drawn to hear the voices which refused to cower under the flames. The voices coming from the fallen oaks seemed confident, pleading. They spoke to a God, asking that He not find Neroís guests guilty; to allow them to be witnesses; that God open their hearts; that they should seek His Love; and that Christ was the only way through this, the key.

The sky rained echoes of weakened cries: love....love....love.

The crowd became more boisterous, ears effectively closed by scurrying soldiers attentive to Fearís commands.

In the distance, hidden in the shadows of a sturdy oak stood a lone figure. She looked down at her immaculate gown, fussed over in preparing for the evening. Wide bands of gold circled each wrist, sliding to tinkle against her ears as she quizzically wiped a sudden tear from her face.

ďWhat is it about this love......?Ē

-Karen Rice

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