“Strip—both of you!” bellowed the constable, sword held menacingly before him.
“Why ya doin’ this?” the woman whimpered: though her concern was not for herself, but for her daughter. Similarly surrounded by armed soldiers, seven-year-old Maria was paralysed with fear.
“Oh by the Elves of Cantala! Just strip, or we’ll cut ya clothes off you!” threatened the constable.
Mother and daughter loosened drawstrings. Threadbare dresses slipped from scrawny shoulders to the cobblestones, so that they stood naked and humiliated amid a sea of hostile soldiers and villagers.
“Not much skin on ‘er bones,” muttered a soldier distastefully.
“Just search them, oaf!” the constable spat.
“Woman’s clean,” the soldier announced after a thorough examination.
“Child’s not,” another said, “sores breakin’ out everywhere.”
Lifting swords, the men circling the girl stepped back apprehensively.
“Mama!” little Maria sobbed.
“Put ya clothes back on, waif,” the constable snapped. Turning to his men, he added, “Torch the hut and evict the child from the village.”
“Me little girl’s all I got left since me husband passed away last winter. Please, don’t send her away,” Helga pleaded while slipping her dress back on.
“You know the rule ‘bout lepers in the village, waif!”
“Mama! Ya said ya’d never leave me--ya promised!” Maria wailed forlornly as the soldiers prodded her towards the village gates with their swords.
Helga stood there, distraught, tortured by thoughts of her precious little one cut-off from her mother as she lived alone and frightened in the leper colony outside the village.
On impulse, she darted through the soldiers and scooped her daughter’s naked body into her bare arms. “I ain’t never gonna leave ya!” She grabbed Maria’s dirty dress and quickly helped her put it back on.
“That’s torn it, waif,” the constable shouted. “Ya skin touched her sores. Guards, evict ‘em both!”
“Come on, Mama, wake up. The elf princess is a coming!” said twelve-year-old Maria, her face obscured by filthy rags that concealed leprosy’s ravages.
Covered with reddish-white sores as well, Helga groaned. “Elf princess? Here?”
“Yeah, down on the road. Let’s go, Mama!” Maria’s small, emaciated hands tugged her mother to her feet, and both staggered from the colony for the nearby road. Drawing close, they observed a crowd of villagers cheering and waving as they surrounded a slim elf girl dressed in white.
“Lepers!” shrieked several villagers on noticing Helga and Maria. They began to pelt the two unfortunates with stones. Helga used her back to shield her daughter.
Refusing to be intimidated, Maria stepped past her mother and shouted with strength that belied her diseased body. “Princess Taeisia, have mercy on us!”
The rain of stones ceased.
Looking towards the road, mother and daughter saw the crowd open its ranks, allowing the petite elf girl to walk up the hill towards them.
“What do you seek, child?” the elf princess asked once she came within arm’s reach.
“Mama and me wanna be well,” Maria pressed hopefully.
Locking eyes with Helga, the elf delved into the peasant woman’s memories, until exclaiming suddenly: “Oh! Never before in the lands of men have I seen such selfless love, dear woman, as the love you have shown by laying down your life for your daughter.” She smiled and reached out slim arms. “Take my hands.”
Helga staggered back. “We can’t touch ya, Princess, or ya’ll catch the sores!”
The arms remained outstretched. “Fear not, but trust in the Living One, for He is faithful and true. Now, come, take my hands, and believe.”
Though shaking with fear, the two lepers reached out until diseased hands make hesitant contact with the elf princess’ perfectly formed fingertips.
Immediately, an unmistakable presence of love and compassion fell from heaven to encompass mother and daughter. Within the space of a heartbeat, their sores vanished and their bodies, minds and hearts became whole.
Jumping with unrestrained joy, Princess Taeisia threw her arms about Helga and Maria. “Rejoice in the Living One, He has healed you! Go, show yourselves to the village priest, and live the rest of your days in the fullness of His love.”
Hearts full of appreciation towards the Living One and the princess, they headed for the village. Helga hugged her daughter. “I lost all me hope, Maria, but ya heart kept a flame burnin’. Thank ya for never givin’ up.”
Delighted by the prospect of their bright future, Maria squeezed her mother’s hand. “No, Mama, it’s me who’s thankin’ you. ‘Cause ya never left me, just like ya said.”
John 15:13 (NIV) Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
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