Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: STAND UP FOR JESUS (don't write about the song) (04/09/15)
- TITLE: A Thousand Pieces
By Ann Grover
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“Ah, the beautiful Zlata.” A young man, dressed in colourful trousers and jacket, stood over her. A Turk. “What a pleasure to find you here.”
Zlata bent to gather the strewn firewood.
“Leave it. It’s peasant work, Zlata.”
“I am a peasant.” Zlata took a step, but the Turk blocked her. “Please, I must go home.”
“Yes, little maiden, you must go home. With me.” He whistled and a horse emerged from the forest. He swung himself into the saddle and pulled Zlata up in front of him.
“I am Hamid,” he whispered in her ear, and Zlata squirmed to avoid the smell of onions on his breath. “Be still.” In a whirlwind of dust and thundering hooves, they galloped to the Turk’s villa, Zlata clutching the horse’s mane.
“Make her presentable.” Hamid flung Zlata into the arms of waiting women. Zlata closed her eyes, submitting to their ablutions, as the women bathed her, anointed her with perfumed oils, dressed her in a silken robe, and plaited her hair. Jesus, be with me.
When the women brought Zlata to Hamid, he patted the plush pillow next to him, but Zlata stood. “I am quite besotted with you, beautiful Zlata, and I will have you for my wife, mother to my sons.”
“You honour me, Hamid, but I cannot marry you, for you are a Muslim.”
“You shall convert. It’s easily done.”
“I will not renounce Jesus Christ.”
Hamid leaped to his feet and pressed a glittering blade against Zlata’s skin. A crimson drop, a shimmering ruby, slid down Zlata’s cheek.
“I promise you unspeakable torment if you do not do as I wish.”
“You may cut me into a thousand pieces, but each one will proclaim my eternal devotion to Jesus.” Zlata held his gaze, then bowed her head.
Hamid threw down his dagger and motioned to his men. “Lock her up.” Zlata was silent as she was led away.
Hamid introduced a bevy of Turkish girls to Zlata, and they beguiled her with tales of their privilege-filled lives. Unmoved by their jewels and shimmering silks, Zlata said, “My Bridegroom shall be Christ alone.”
Desperate, Hamid ordered Zlata’s parents and sisters to come to the villa, threatening to kill them if they did not persuade Zlata to convert. They showered Zlata with hugs and gazed about, their awe mingled with fright.
“Oh, Zlata, you must accept his proposal!” the little sisters cried.
“Dearest daughter, please deny Christ, even for appearance’s sake. Hamid will have us killed if you don’t,” her father said gruffly, terror shadowing his eyes. “Christ is merciful and forgiving. He knows your true heart belongs to Him.” Zlata’s mother clung to her, weeping and touching her lips to Zlata’s fingers, her cheeks.
“I’m so sorry, but I cannot do as you ask. Christ will be my Father, and His Mother shall be my own.” Sorrowfully, Zlata watched them leave, her mother bent in grief, her father’s arms holding her up, the sisters sobbing. The great door slammed shut.
“What a touching little scene,” Hamid mocked. “You are a foolish girl. And too stubborn for your own good. Perhaps, you need more strenuous persuasions. Come, beautiful Zlata.”
Jesus, give me strength, Zlata prayed as the belt struck her. Blood streamed down her legs, soaking the ground, and pain consumed her like a fire.
“Convert, and this shall be over,” Hamid commanded.
“Jesus will be my Lord forever.”
Days melted into weeks and months. Forgive them, Father, she pleaded, as they tore strips of skin from her arms. Hear my prayer, Jesus, as they passed red-hot skewers into her ears. Purify me, God, as they hung her upside down over a smoking fire.
Finally, Hamid stood before her, his face scarlet with rage. “You are no longer beautiful, Zlata. Why, I do not recognize you at all. Your prayers shall finally be answered.” He fingered a tangled, bloodied lock of her hair and turned away.
They hanged her on a humble pear tree, its fruit sweet and ripe. As her flesh was carved from her bones, gentle autumn breezes carried Zlata’s soul, pure and steadfast, into the waiting arms of her Heavenly Father.
Beautiful Zlata, bride of Christ, faithful handmaiden of God.
“Lives of all saints commemorated on October 13.” Orthodox Church in America. http://oca.org/saints/all-lives/2013/10/13.
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