Any comments on this story would be greatly appreciated. This is my first publicly published work and I would really like to improve my writing. Thanks!!
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This is a story, witnessed by two Sheppard children who then related the story to their parents. An angel and a demon were conversing one day. Each was trying to convince the other that their point of view was the correct one. They had spoken at length and then realized that they were in a stalemate. Each had convictions that the other couldn’t’ dismiss, but neither had enough to tip the balance of the argument.
“You mean to tell me that all that has happened and all that is going to happen is part of a grand plan. Each suffering soul has a part to play.” Says the demon to his comrade.
“Of course. It is all a part of the design. Each person, no matter how small, has a part to play in the plan. Each joy and sorrow has its relevance.” Replied the angel.
“What a bunch of crap! You’re just too stubborn to admit that he has no clue as to what’s going on. This whole thing has gotten out of control and there is no way to correct it.” The demon shot back, flicking his tail in agitation. Even the angel seemed a little offended by the last retort. He shifted his position and straightened his wings.
“Ours is a life of servitude and while it may appear that things are not under divine direction, who are we to question it. It’s faith that keeps the plan on track. Faith that we are headed to an inevitable conclusion. It is faith that keeps us from demanding answers from our creator and it is your lack of faith that has caused your fall.”
The demon winces at this last remark since he knows that it is true that his questioning of his faith pushed him towards the road that lead to his fall, but it was the lack of answers that ultimately lead him down that path.
“Your faith didn’t save the world from the flood. Your faith didn’t save mankind when the chosen hung on the cross. Even now faith is merely a convenience of those men in the church to fleece the masses of their gold. You’re all blind.” He spits.
“If we are blind then what are you?” The angel asks condescendingly.
“I am a victim of my own circumstances.” He says sounding wounded. “My lack of faith, as you would call it, has at least opened my eyes to the mess that this world is in. Death and disease roam the land freely and man has only found more inventive and torturous ways to kill one another. All this while your God sits silently on his throne. I may be faithless, but at least I’m not feckless.” Replies the demon, pleased with his turn of phrase.
“So what you are saying is that faith is a convenience that all men use merely to suit their own purposes?” The angel asks.
“Yep, nothing more than that.” The demon replies smugly.
“Very well then, I propose a contest. Over yonder comes a knight, a fallen knight. The details of his fall are inconsequential. It is sufficive to say that he is outcast amongst his people. Among all people. The mark around his shaven head denotes his fallen stature. I propose that we each offer him a choice, a choice between his faith and his desire. Then we will see who is right and who is wrong.”
The angel coolly glanced over at the demon who seemed to be deep in thought. His eyes and expression dulled as he pondered the intricacies of what trap the angel had so obviously laid. Moments passed and the angel feared that he had been to obvious. Maybe his friend wouldn’t take the bet. He was about to try and reinforce his position when the demon spoke.
“If I win, what do I get?” The angel smiled knowing that he had drawn the demon in.
“Whatever your he—“
“Careful!!!,” The demon interrupted. “You cannot grant me what I want without sharing my fate yourself. Do not let your eagerness to trip me up seal your damnation.”
This unnerved the angel since he didn’t expect so lucid an answer. He had underestimated the demon. One should never do that. He was about to ask why the demon had stopped him when he said, “Because we were brothers before the war. Because I would spare you the pain of knowing my fate. Because, for as much as I love you, I cannot resist the temptation of what you would offer me. Even though it would damn you.”
Another answer that visibly upset the angel. The angel saw his discomfort and smiled. Not a smile of satisfaction from malice, but one of sincere affection. Affection for the uncomfortable angel. For even though their ideology set them apart, they still cared for each other. Had Cain understood this of Abel the world would have been a much different place.
“Um-hum, well at any rate what would you like.” The angel said trying to regain his composure.
“Merely your concession on the point of faith. You will agree that faith is merely the topping on an empty cake.” He said.
The angel thought about this for a while and finally agreed with the understanding that if he lost the demon would admit that everything is according to the plan. Both agreed to the points offered and set out to test the faith of the fallen knight.
Slowly trudging across the baked and cracked lakebed the knight keeps his head down. The skin on his shaven head has burned and blistered, but he doesn’t even notice. His mind replays over and over his decent into this hell. How his hesitation on the battlefield led to the deaths of several of his order and how he was branded a coward by his brothers for that act. As signs of his disgrace, they shaved his head and tattooed a black ring around his head. This would signify to all that saw him that he was an outcast, a pariah. It wouldn’t matter what he had done. All who have earned the ring have deserved it. As an added disgrace his brothers broke his sword and tarred his once gleaming armor. This was to let all who serve in the knight hood that he had shamed the order. Not even those knights that were evilly aligned would dain to converse with him. It was as if he were dead. His mind went over and over that last battle. Those precious seconds that sealed his fate. If only he could live those seconds over again. He hadn’t eaten in days. No town would give him food or shelter. He hunted and killed what he could although he could tell that he was wasting away. His mind was so bent on replaying that last battle that he walked by the demon and his spread of foods. The angel laughed heartily at the bewildered demon. Still trudging along the lake bed the knight didn’t respond when he heard a voice. A voice that was speaking to him!!
“Hello there. I said HELLO THERE!!!” An exasperated demon yelled. The knight stopped dead in his tracks. His head still down his eyes shifted nervously from left to right. It had finally happened he thought. He had lost his mind. Deciding that the voice behind him was an illusion that his fevered and tortured mind had cooked up he began walking again.
“Your not insane. I’m really here.” The voice called from behind him. “I’m here and I have fresh food and water.” The voice said enticingly.
The knight thought for a minute. What if this were an illusion. He could be eating and drinking dirt and dust. Of course this may be a traveler. Someone from far away who didn’t know of his shame. He decided that either way, illusion or reality, a meal was a meal and he would rather die quickly on a full stomach of rocks than slowly on an empty stomach of air. Turning he stood to face his benefactor.
The smiling face of a dark haired man stood and greeted him warmly. He looked the knight up and down and beckoned him over to the large blanket upon which bowls and bowls of food rested. The man was dressed strangely in a long flowing brightly striped robe that billowed all around him. It was as he thought. This man was a stranger who didn’t know of his shame. When they reached the blanket the man turned and addressed his guest.
“Come, come. Eat and refresh yourself. I have been traveling these many weeks from the East and I have eaten alone every day. I have prayed to Allah that he would send me a companion for a short time and his name be praised here you are.” The demon looked up to see the angel’s disdain at his use of God’s name. The knight on the other hand barely heard a word. His stomach rumbled and his mouth watered at the sight before him. Large bowls filled with fresh dates and oranges lay before him. There were dishes of beef and lamb and other more exotic dishes. Huge goblets lingered between the dishes each filled with water or sweet wine. Other dishes contained things the knight had never seen. The scents wafted up to his nose and whetted his already raging appetite. His host urged him to sit and eat his fill. The knight was about to when his expression dropped and his eyes fell to the ground.
“What’s the matter?” The man said looking everything over.
“Is there something wrong with the food?” He asked.
“I must tell you.” The knight began in dry cracked voice. “I am a fallen knight of Elis Ra. Disgraced by my brothers for transgressions against my order. I am not worthy to eat at your table.”
“You didn’t murder anyone did you?” The stranger said suddenly recoiling.
“No, my shame is much deeper.” The knight said.
“But not murder, right?” The stranger asked recoiling slightly.
“No. Not directly.” The knight replied puzzled.
“Very well, then.” The stranger replied brightly. “Come and eat. Allah forgives all sins, save murder.” He replied.
The knight accepted. He sat stiffly in the tarnished armor and ate and drank his fill. Both companions ate in silence. When finished the both took shade in a nearby glade to nap and digest the afternoon’s meal.
After a while, as the meal passed and hunger once again started to build, the stranger turned to the knight and said, “You know, you could always just leave your broken sword and tarnished armor and go and live a normal life.”
“What’s a normal life?” The knight asked.
“A wife, children, a clean house, money. You know, the normal things.” Replied the stranger.
“I have spent my entire life defending those things. I never wanted them myself, but I lived by a code that cherished and protected them. I would give anything to have my honor back.”
“What good is honor. At a moments notice, after a lifetime of service your brothers turned their backs on you. They shamed you and cast you out. And for what?” The demon asks. “One moments weakness. You mean to tell me that after all you have endured there is no lenience no nothing for one moment. They don’t deserve your loyalty, this code doesn’t deserve your faith.”
“But what can I do. I can’t go back and I don’t know how to go forward.” The knight stated.
“Well, maybe I can help you there.” Said the stranger with a sly smile and a twinkle in his eye.
“How can you help me.” The knight said. Instinctively, the knight rose to his feet and placed a hand on the hilt of his sword. He then realized that the sword was broken and quickly dropped his hand.
“Now just calm down. I mean here you are branded a coward and cast out by your brethren. I’m just trying to help you get on with your life.”
“And what manner of creature are you that you have the power to grant such a new beginning.”
“Does it really matter. I mean, I’m the first person to come along and not only give you food and water, but offer you a way out of this mess. Does it matter who or what I am? Would you be more comfortable if I was an angel? Or maybe a Jinni to grant your three wishes. Whatever I am I have the power and more importantly the inclination to help you and your situation.” Replied the stranger.
“You would help me. Just like that.”
“Well not just like that. There is a price. A small one.”
“Ah, there is always a price. No, I will bear my shame.” Said the knight turning to leave.
“At least hear what I am offering and what I require in return. You may find that on this occasion our objectives match. At any rate you have nothing more to lose.”
This last statement stopped the knight in his tracks. He stood there for several seconds turning the proposition over in his mind. Then, turning around he faced the demon and said, “What is it you have to say?”
“Excellent.” The demon said. Snapping his fingers he regained his true form. The knight saw this and was unmoved by the transformation.
“Look, don’t get your pitchfork in a frenzy just yet. I haven’t agreed to anything yet and I may not. However, it appears that I am at a crossroads in my life and it would be in my best interest to at least listen to what you have to say; but that doesn’t mean that what you say will appeal to me.” Said the knight solemnly.
“Very well.” Said the demon. “You have spoken truthfully and without frills. I can respect that.” Slowly, he glided over to the knight like a used car salesmen.
“You cannot tempt me to give my soul to you.” The knight warned.
“You know, everyone always thinks that it’s your soul we are interested in. It’s as if I get a prize for gathering the most souls. Like each soul is worth 10 points and if I get one million points I get a free puppy or something.” Said the demon in a frustrated huff.
“Let me clue you in to something secret.” He said placing his arm around the shoulder of the knight. Leaning close, closer than the knight would have liked, he whispered into his ear. “I can’t take your soul because it’s not yours to sell.” The knight violently shook off the demon’s arm and backed away.
“Wh-What do you mean.” The knight stammered.
“Your soul was given to you by God himself. It isn’t yours to sell. It’s his. As such I can’t lay claim to it and neither can you. It’s just a loaner and God wants it back.” Said the demon with a slick canine smile.
“So what is it you want.” Said the knight apprehensively.
“Well,” He started looking quite full of himself. “I am in a position to do you a good turn.” He smiles. “Your right. Good deeds from the likes of my kind don’t happen often, but they do happen and more often than you would believe.” Said the demon pointing a clawed finger at the knight as he finished.
“Why would you want to help me?” Asked the knight.
“You wouldn’t believe the out-of-the-kindness-of-my-heart answer, so I will answer that with to-prove-a-point. Now the exact point doesn’t matter. The only thing that does matter is that you’re in a world of shit and maybe I can help.”
“Ok, what is it you have to say. What can you do to help me.” The knight says.
“Well, as it so happens you and I are in the right place at the right time.” The demon says. “See,” he says pointing to the ground before them. In front of the knight are two paths, one off to the left and another off to the right.
“Now, everything in life is a choice. To make this easier we are just using two of those choices. Now I’m going to explain what will happen if you take the left path.”
“What about the other path.” The knight inquires.
“I have a friend that will explain that one. Our only concern is the left one. Now, pay close attention.” The demon says as he rubs his hands together.
“Now, the path on the left travels for about 10 miles and winds up in a remote village. This village is as far removed from the rest of society as one can get. The people there fend for themselves and don’t much care for the goings on of the outside world. As such, they have no idea that a great war is being fought. Even if they did they probably wouldn’t much care. Their village has been here for many many centuries without discovery. To that end my offer to you is this. Go there, buy some land, farm if you like, set up a house and live there for the remainder of your days. In peace and tranquility.”
“How would I purchase land?” Said the knight.
“Well, this is where the compromise part comes into play. You give me your armor and what’s left of your sword and I will give you enough platinum to purchase a nice sized piece of land and a fairly comfortable house.” Said the demon.
“My armor and my sword!!??” The knight says incredously as he slowly backs away. His thoughts wander to when he was given the sword, how much work had gone into his training and conditioning. How long he had spent in mastering his art and his weapon, now to give it up. Not to mention the armor he wears. Hand crafted steel. Each piece a perfect fit. The finest black smiths worked with the finest materials to make a suit of armor that fit nearly skin tight over the knight enabling him to be quicker and heartier than his opponents. The thought of merely handing these over to this demon was enough to make him sick. His very being was the sword and armor. Since he was a boy, he trained to be a knight.
“There is one more part to the bargain.” The demon said solemnly. “You must never pick up a sword and fight again as a knight. If you make this pact you will no longer be a knight. You will be an ordinary person.”
“What happens if I break our pact.” The knight asks.
“Well, The worst thing I could do to you is call you a coward. Since I have the ability to influence men I would make them believe forever and all time that you are a coward and have no honor.” The demon said.
“I have no honor now.” Said the knight.
“True, but I would make it so that your name would be synonymous with cowardice and stupidity. Every time someone would show a lack of bravery they would think of you” The demon said.
“Why would that matter to one without honor?”
“I think it would matter, because for one mistake you would be damned for all time in the minds of all who heard your name.” Said the demon. “It matters, because you allow it to matter. Five minutes ago you were wandering in this desolation bemoaning your misfortune. You could have discarded that armor and sword long ago, but here you are in this heat in full armor. Why?”
The knight just stands there not knowing what to say.
“I’ll tell you why. So if someone finds your body it will be a knight’s burial they give you. Even in death you would be a knight.” The demon says crossing over to the paths.
“I am offering you an opportunity to expand your horizons, to shove off the role of knight and take on the role of human being. Live life instead of worrying about honor and valor. Start living. There are more regular people than knights in the world. They must be doing something right.” The demon says.
The knight just stands there contemplating what has been said. There aren’t many arguments he can think of that would break the demon’s argument. He was right. A life spent in pursuit of honor and valor and now he had nothing.
“Now to be completely fair, I have a friend who is going to tell you about the other path. Frankly, I don’t think what he has to offer is of much help, but that’s my opinion.” The demon says condescendingly.
From behind the demon stands a figure clothed in armor. It is the armor of a knight of Elis Ra, one of his order. The knight sees this and stands there slack jawed. He can’t believe that one of his order would look upon him.
“Oh, that’s low.” The demon says.
“Shut up, your just upset cause you didn’t think of it.” Says the angel.
“You can’t really…”
“Be quiet, you had your turn, it’s my turn now.” As he approaches, the knight recoils a little.
“It’s ok. I’m here to help you through this.” Continuing to walk towards the fallen knight, “This must be a very difficult thing for you to grasp, the two of us here in the middle of all of this. I do need to tell you that only one of us is here to truly help you.”
“Yeah, and it may not be the one you think.” Interjects the demon.
A sharp look from the angel elicits a weak, “sorry.”
“I can only imagine what he has told you. Offered you some life of mediocrity beyond the knighthood. Those of us that have been a part of things larger than ourselves understand the real meaning of honor and valor. My friend, unfortunately, has forgotten what it is like to depend on others for not only our physical survival, but our spiritual survival as well.”
The knight nods absently in acceptance of this as truth. He looks over at the demon rolling his large eyes in obvious disdain.
“Now,” the angel starts again pointing to the right path, “this path leads to a village. This village is a part of our Empire and as such they would recognize your shame on sight. You would get no help, no food and receive no comfort from the inhabitants there. However,” and he pauses here to look directly at the knight who is still very uncomfortable with his presence, “in three days time a group of reinforcements sent from the enemy will be on its way to join the battle. Their path is directly through the village. All will die. All will die, unless someone was to defend the village long enough for support to arrive. This person would probably die in the process, but many lives and desperately needed troops would be weigh laid at the village. One man can save this entire village.”
“So what your offering is redemption for my past indescretion.” The knight says flatly.
“No, not exactly. Regardless of what you do, many will still only remember your actions on that last battlefield. What I am offering is personal redemption. You would have the satisfaction of knowing that you are not a coward. This is only a second chance for you to forgive yourself. Nothing more.”
The knight thought about this for a long time. He stood with his eyes closed and his head bowed deep in thought of the choices before him and the option not mentioned. He could very well turn down both offers and seek his own path. While the knight contemplated his fate and his future both the angel and the demon looked on nervously. The angel retreated into the shade of a large outcropping and fanned himself endlessly, while the demon lounged on a nearby rock and sunned himself. After a long while the knight raised his head and blinked in the sunlight as if waking from a slumber. The two had seen this and joined him to hear his answer.
“Well, what have you decided?” The angel asked anxiously.
“Both paths look good on the surface, but if you look deeper beneath all the window dressing, both are poor deals. If I take the left path I get a life of comfort and ease, but no honor ever came from an easy life. The path on the right offers much honor and glory, but no chance to enjoy it or make use of it. Then there is the third option.”
“The third option?” The demon asks quizzically.
“Yes, third option. I can always turn both of you down and find my own path. All of this must be taken into consideration.” The knight turns and faces both paths. “Neither of you has offered me a way out of my predicament. If I were to choose one of your paths I must figure out which one is going to give me more than the other.”
“So, have you decided.” The demon asks hungrily.
“Yes, I have decided. I should also think that the choice should be obvious.” Said the knight.
“Obvious how?” The angel said.
“I choose the left path.” The knight said with a tone of finality in his voice.The demon was overjoyed. He had proven to an angel whose faith is unshakeable that faith was merely a convenience. The angel on the other hand was less than thrilled.
“Bu-Bu-But I don’t understand. You had your honor, you had your faith.” He stammered still struck with disbelief.
“Exactly,” said the knight, “I had those things. I have them no longer. Why should I continually suffer for a faith that has abandoned me, an honor that wasn’t really mine to begin with. Why am I carrying around all this guilt for brothers that can’t even support me when I fall.” The knight approaches the angel and face to face he asks, “Tell me, angel, what is the point of it.”
The angel just stands there. He can offer no excuse or answer for the question posed to him.
The demon is still thinking about the ground he has gained over the angel. He realizes how powerful faith can be and is just now realizing how the lack of it can be equally as powerful. So caught up in his thoughts is he that he doesn’t even see the knight start down the path.
“Wait!!” He yells after the knight.
“We had a deal.” He says grabbing the knight by the arm.
Grabbing a knight was considered an affront to his person and his honor. Under normal circumstances the knight would have drawn his sword, but in this instance he merely smiled and said, “Your right, my armor and sword for this path. Correct?” He asks.
“That and the promise that you must never lift a sword as a knight again.” The demon said.
“Very well.” The knight said and he began to strip off his armor.
Once he had finished he swore to the demon that he would never again lift a sword and fight as a knight. After that the demon gave him a large bag of platinum. Filled with enough to buy a very nice piece of land and a house.
As the knight strode away down the left path the demon stood there looking rather smug. The angel still despondent over the loss was barely able to stand there and watch. As the knight reached the crest of a hill the demon called to him.
“Now, remember your promise. Never lift a sword as a knight.”
Calling over his shoulder he yelled back, “I will remember.” Then stopping he turned and looked right at the pair.
“Of course, you never said anything about an axe. And while I think about it, this money could also buy a nice set of armor. Not as nice as mine mind you, but nice enough to be useful.” He said with the hint of a smile on his lips. With that he turned and started to walk away.
The demon hearing this was struck dumbfounded. When he finally did manage to find his voice he screamed, “You can’t do that!!!!!!!! It violates our agreement!!!”
“No, actually it doesn’t. Our agreement was that I was to never lift a sword and fight as a knight again. You didn’t say anything about lifting an axe or a spear or a mace and fighting as a knight. Just a sword. You weren’t paying attention. You were so bent on beating your friend there that you didn’t pay attention to the fine print.”
“You have no honor, sir.” The demon spat back.
Turning again to face the demon he said, “Well, as you yourself also pointed out, I am no longer a knight.” With that he turned and disappeared over the crest of a hill.
“Can you believe that little bastard!!” The demon screamed. Turning to face his angelic friend he saw the angel bent over in a fit of laughter. This only served to enrage the demon further. Stomping over to the near hysterical angel he leaned in and said, “I beat you. You just remember that.”
Yes, you did,” said the recovering angel. “And all it cost you was a bag of platinum and a fresh start.”
As the sun dips lower in the sky the two argue over the finer points of the days events. The echoes of their discussion are carried on the wind to a young traveler. He looks a little dusty and tired, but there is a carefree look in his eye. As he approaches the little village he starts to whistle a happy tune, the echoes of which are carried back to the arguing pair of friends.