It was dark. Images swirled through Jonasí mind. Torches flickering. Devlanís triumphant face as he spoke the incantation. A cloud of darkness with glowing eyes at its heart.
Jonas shifted position. He felt bruised all over. Numerous sticks and rocks seemed to dig into his body as he lay on the hard ground. Cautiously, he opened his eyes.
It was still dark.
Jonas blinked several times, but the darkness remained. He sat up slowly, grunting with the effort. "Have I gone blind?" he wondered.
He waved his hand in front of his face but, although he could feel its movement, all he could see was blackness. He licked his dry lips and put his head between his hands. "King Arnon, if you are real, please help me," he whispered. "If you can hear me, please send help."
Several long minutes passed. There seemed to be nothing around him making noise Ė no birds, no tree branches creaking, no animal sounds in the brush. "Where am I?" Jonas whispered.
He thought about starting a small fire, but then remembered that Devlan had taken his fire-starter. In fact, Devlan had taken everything when he had accused Jonas of kidnapping. He could still hear Sarahís cries as the soldiers carried her away. He hoped she would be happy now, with her real father once again. "He must have missed her terribly," Jonas thought as a dull ache filled his heart. "I know Iím going to miss her."
Jonas shifted position and sighed. Wherever he was, it was very uncomfortable. And dark. And much too quiet.
At that moment, a soft sound tickled Jonasí ears. It seemed very loud in the oppressive stillness around him. Jonas listened carefully, then turned toward the sound.
He blinked and then stared. A faint light seemed to be moving toward him. Jonas breathed a sigh of relief Ė he was not blind after all.
As the light drew nearer, Jonas could see it was about the size of his fist. A soft, comforting glow reached his eyes. The fluttering sound grew as the light approached. Soon Jonas could see a curious winged creature hovering in the air in front of him.
"Either Iím dreaming, or you are the strangest firefly Iíve ever seen," Jonas said, staring.
The winged creature chuckled. "You are not dreaming, Jonas, and I am not a firefly."
"What are you then? And how do you know my name?"
The creature made a little bow. "I am an Ursa fairy," came the answer. "My name is Daniel. I know your name because King Arnon sent me."
"He did?" Jonas asked.
"He did," Daniel replied. He flew closer. "King Arnon sent me here to give you this. Hold out your hand."
Jonas studied the creature in silence for a moment or two before stretching out his hand. Daniel landed, then lifted something from the pouch he had been wearing across his chest. Jonas could see a small bottle filled with a golden liquid.
"What is this?" Jonas asked, raising his hand to study the bottle more carefully.
"It is called amat," Daniel answered. "It will allow you to find light even in this darkness and give you the strength you need for what lies ahead."
As Jonas reached for the bottle, Daniel fluttered upward. The bottle was nearly as tall as the Ursa fairy. Jonas wondered how far Daniel had traveled and if the load had been difficult to carry. "Iím supposed to drink this?" he asked out loud.
"Yes," Daniel answered.
Jonas shrugged. "Why not?" he muttered. "It certainly couldnít make things any worse." Carefully picking up the tiny bottle, he put it to his lips and swallowed. The liquid burned slightly as it traveled down his throat, but it was not unpleasant. The warmth spread throughout his body, easing the bruises and stiffness.
"Feeling better?" Daniel asked as he watched Jonasí face.
"Yes. Thank you," Jonas answered. He slipped the tiny bottle into his pocket. "Now what? How do we get out of here, wherever Ďhereí is."
"You are in a labyrinth, deep in the Aphela Forest," Daniel explained. "There is a powerful spell over the trees and plants that grow here. Without King Arnonís help, you cannot escape."
At this, Jonas grunted. "All I need is a little light, which you are so kindly providing. Iíve always had a good sense of direction. I can find my own way out of here." He turned around slowly, studying the vines and hedges on either side. They grew so closely together that they formed thick walls. "That amat stuff makes it easier to see in the dark. In fact, I think thereís a light over there." He began walking along the path, peering ahead intently.
"Wait!" Daniel cried, fluttering in front of Jonas, causing him to stop. "You must follow King Arnonís directions. Appearances can be misleading in this place."
"What good are King Arnonís instructions?" Jonas demanded angrily. "My mother used to tell me that if I did good things for others, King Arnon would see my actions and somehow reward me. I used to believe that, until I ended up here."
"What happened?" Daniel asked gently.
Jonas was silent for a moment. Then he kicked at a stone on the path. When he spoke, his voice was quiet. "Two years ago, I was heading home late at night. I had been in Maryn, buying supplies and got off to a late start. I had heard reports of wolves in the area, so I had my slingshot ready.
"I was about a mile from my cottage when I heard a strange noise. It sounded like the cooing of a dove. I was curious, so I headed toward the sound. A few moments later, I found myself in a little clearing. There was a stump at the center of the clearing and someone had left a basket there. When I looked inside the basket, I saw a tiny baby."
Jonasí eyes focused on the memory and his face softened. "She was the most beautiful thing Iíd ever seen," he said quietly. "She waved her little hands in the air and cooed at me, as if she was glad to see me." Daniel hovered quietly as Jonas remained lost in thought for several minutes.
Jonas blinked suddenly, as if remembering he had a companion. He coughed awkwardly and continued. "It was then that I heard the wolves; first one, then another. It seemed they had smelled the baby and wanted to have her for their dinner.
"But I fought them off. Iíve always been a good shot and I had a bag of stones ready. I managed to hit their leader in the eye and that seemed to confuse the pack. I grabbed the basket and ran. I had to stop several times to shoot stones at the wolves and one almost took a bite out of my leg. But Sarah and I made it home safely."
"Sarah?" Daniel asked.
Jonas shrugged. "I didnít know the babyís name so I called her Sarah, after my mother."
"Did you try to find her parents?" Daniel asked.
Jonas grunted. "Of course I did. At least, I sent word to a few folks I know. But no one seemed to know who she belonged to so I raised her as my own. Just me and my Sarah-girl."
Again there was silence. Daniel could see that Jonas loved the little girl he had rescued from the wolves. His heart ached for the man before him.
"Four days ago, six horsemen rode up to my cottage," Jonas continued gruffly. "They told me my Sarah was really Diana, the only daughter and heir to Robert of Maryn. Apparently, Robertís wife died in childbirth and his baby daughter had been kidnapped shortly after that. I was arrested and falsely accused by Devlan, Robertís chief steward. Sarah was taken away and I was thrown in Robertís dungeons. I thought Iíd stay there forever.
"Then, last night, Devlan dragged me out of the dungeon and brought me to the edge of the forest. He recited a spell of some kind and a dark shadow-creature grabbed my and carried me here."
Jonasí eyes were flashing now. "My mother always said King Arnon reward good deeds." He waved his hands at the darkness surrounding them. "Some reward! I lost my Sarah and now Iím stuck here! Why should I trust King Arnon? Look what heís done to me!" Jonas angrily reached down, grabbed a stone and threw it away into the darkness. Then he stood stiffly, his back toward the Ursa fairy hovering in the air.
Daniel sighed, then closed his eyes. "Please show me what to do, King Arnon," he whispered. "Jonas has been hurt and needs your healing touch. But I canít get him out of here if he wonít listen." A warm peacefulness wrapped itself around Danielís heart as a gentle command pressed into his thoughts. Wait. Be patient. See what I will do.
Daniel fluttered behind Jonas and waited. For a long time, Jonas did not move. Then he lifted his hand to his face, brushing away tears. He slowly turned back to face the Ursa fairy with a single word on his lips. "Why?"
"I wish I could answer you," Daniel said. "King Arnon does things that I donít understand. My niece, Jemi, was born with weak wings. She can fly, but not very far or fast. At first, I was angry. It seemed so unfair. Why should she have to suffer like that?
"Then, one day, I asked King Arnon about it. He told me that everything that happens is under the control and authority of his father, the Emperor. Nothing ever happens outside that plan and the Emperorís plans are always good. Because King Arnon obeys his father in everything, all of his plans are good, too."
"What about your niece?" Jonas asked doubtfully. "How could crippled wings be a good thing?"
"Jemi spends a lot of time sitting and listening," Daniel said. "She hears beautiful music, which she plays on her harp. If her wings were strong, she would be busy doing other things Ė perhaps too busy to write music. And she is gentle and understanding with those who are elderly and move stiffly or with the babies who canít keep up. In fact, babies love Jemi. They seem to sense a gentleness in her spirit."
"But what about her reward?" Jonas persisted.
"King Arnonís rewards are not always the things we expect. We often think of wealth or recognition or success as rewards. King Arnon offers his steadfast and faithful love to all who follow him. He gives peace, courage and wisdom in difficult circumstances. He gives friends and family to comfort and bring joy. All these are examples of King Arnonís rewards. But there is even more."
Daniel smiled and spread his arms. "Our lives are so much more than what our senses take in. Days pass; our bodies grow, change and age. Eventually they die. But our spirits live forever. And King Arnon has promised a special place for those who serve him Ė a place he has personally created for each one of them. In that place, there are no tears, no crippled wings, no sorrow or disease. That is a true reward, one that will last forever."
Jonas nodded thoughtfully. "I remember my mother telling me about that place. She called it Fairhaven." He shrugged. "I guess I always thought of it as a fairy tale."
"Fairhaven is as real as King Arnon," Daniel said.
"Well, Iím not sure if I believe in either one, but Iíd sure like to get out of this darkness," Jonas answered.
At this, Daniel pulled something from a small bag that had been hanging at his side. He held it up for Jonas to see. "What is that?" Jonas asked.
"King Arnon gave the Ursa fairies this mirror. He speaks to us through it and helps us find people who need help. King Arnon will use this mirror to show us how to escape this labyrinth. But we must follow his directions or we will be trapped. There are many dark and evil creatures that live here and their traps are hard to avoid."
Jonas waved a hand in the air. "Lead the way, my little friend." Daniel nodded, looked into the mirror and then set off through the darkness.
As he flew, Daniel held the mirror up so he could see it and the twisting paths of the labyrinth. Jonas peered over Danielís shoulder. At first, he could make little sense of the images in the mirror. But, the more he looked, the clearer the images became. Every time they reached a branch in the path, the image in the mirror glowed blue to indicate which road to take. Traps or false paths seemed to glow red.
They traveled in this way for an hour, then two, then three. Jonasí feet were sore from the rocky, uneven ground. His eyes were tired and irritated from squinting at the tiny mirror. Danielís wings ached and his arms felt heavy from holding the mirror up.
"Maybe we should take a rest," Jonas muttered.
Daniel shook his head. "It is too dangerous. Too many dark things live here. We must keep going."
But Jonas had settled onto a large rock off to one side of the path. He stretched his long legs and worked the kinks out of his shoulders. He was just about to untie his bootlaces to check for blisters when a glimmer of light caught his eye. He sat up and stared. There it was again. "Did you see that?" he asked Daniel.
"That light. Over there."
Daniel stared intently but could see nothing.
"Over there," Jonas said, standing up and pointing. "It must be the way out. Come on!" Before Daniel could stop him, Jonas began walking briskly toward the glimmer.
"Wait! Jonas!" Daniel cried. He held up the mirror, then gasped. The path Jonas was heading toward was glowing a dark, evil red. A giant spider web crisscrossed the path. Daniel could see two glowing eyes hidden in the nearby vines. "Jonas! Please wait!"
Jonas stopped and turned, his hands on his hips. "Will you hurry up? Weíre almost out of here."
"We canít go that way," Daniel said, waving the mirror in Jonasí face. "Look!"
Jonas squinted at the image in the mirror. He was surprised to see the spider web and the glowing eyes. He looked up at the path before him. There was no sign of the evil creature or its web. Instead, twilight seemed to filter through the vines. Jonas even thought he could hear birds singing. "The mirror must be wrong," he muttered, starting forward once again.
"Jonas, no!" Daniel cried.
Without warning, Jonas found himself unable to move. Sticky threads seemed to cover the front of his body. He could taste them as they got caught on his lips. He tried to pull away, but this only snared him more completely. "Help me!" he cried in despair.
Just then a dark creature with glowing eye left the cover of the vines and began to crawl toward him. Jonas struggled harder, but could not get free. The giant spider inched closer, its eyes dancing in evil triumph.
"In the name of King Arnon, begone, creature of darkness!" Danielís cry filled Jonasí ears. There was a flash of light and the giant spider squealed in terror. Jonas saw the Ursa fairy holding what seemed to be a tear-shaped red stone in his paws. The light from the stone drove the evil creature away from the web and back into the darkness.
Daniel pointed the stone at the spider web. "In the name of King Arnon, be free!" he cried. Jonas could feel the sticky threads snapping. The light from the stone caused them to shimmer and then disappear.
"Are you all right?" Daniel asked as he tucked the stone into the bag at his side.
Jonas brushed at a few remaining threads. "Yes, I think so. Where did that light come from?"
"King Arnon gave me a haima stone," Daniel explained. "He said I might need ti to battle any creatures we might meet on out way out of this forest."
Jonas looked at his friend. "Thank you," he said quietly.
Daniel nodded. "Now, letís get out of here." He held up the mirror once again. "And this time, weíll follow King Arnonís directions."
"A very good idea," Jonas agreed.
The two wound their way through the labyrinth for several more hours. To their right, a golden beam of sunlight cut through the vines. Jonas looked carefully into the mirror but no traps were waiting their time. With a joyous whoop, both Jonas and Daniel headed toward the light. In moments they burst through the vines and out into the open.
"Well done, Daniel!" came a joyful greeting. King Arnon stood before them with two horses at his side. Daniel cheered and flew on weary wings to the Kingís outstretched hand. Jonas, feeling suddenly shy, followed uncertainly behind the Ursa fairy.
"Welcome, Jonas," King Arnon said kindly. "Your pain is deep. I share it with you."
At these words, tears filled Jonasí eyes. He knew he should thank King Arnon for sending Daniel to rescue him but one question filled his heart. "My Sarah-girl . . . I mean, Diana. Will she be all right?"
"I will watch over her," King Arnon answered. "Her return has given her father great joy and a reason to live again."
"But what about Devlan? Wonít he try to kidnap her again?" Jonas asked.
"His evil scheme has been discovered," King Arnon replied. "All is well."
Jonas nodded, then hung his head. "I will miss her," he murmured.
"Yes, you will," King Arnon said gently. "She came into your life so you could learn to love another more than yourself. You have learned well."
Jonas could not speak. A lump seemed to be forming in his throat that choked off all words.
Just then, the sound of childish laughter caught his ears. Puzzled, he lifted his head. King Arnon seemed to hold a moving image between his hands. Jonas could see four children ranging in age from six down to a baby struggling to stand. "Who are they?" he asked.
"They are orphans from Kiara," King Arnon answered. "They need someone to look after them."
Jonas stared at the children, then lifted his eyes to meet King Arnonís. "Would you . . . I mean, could I . . . would it be possible . . . ."
"Would you like the job?" King Arnon asked, a smile on his face.
"Yes, sir!" Jonas said, his heart filling with joy. No one would ever take Sarahís place in his heart. But, having learned to love her childish ways, he was no longer willing to live alone. "Will that be all right?" he added, uncertainly.
"Yes," King Arnon answered. "I will send Ursa fairies to help you raise these children. They are very special to me and so are you. Shall we go to meet them?"
Jonas nodded, a smile on his face. The image between King Arnonís hands disappeared. King Arnon led Jonas to a waiting horse while Daniel rode on the Kingís shoulders. Together they galloped through the sunshine to Kiara where four children waited for someone to love and care for them.
And so, the Ursa fairies learned that those who serve King Arnon and follow his commands will be rewarded for their faithfulness, both in this life and in the life to come. King Arnonís promises are always true and nothing evil can prevent them from being fulfilled. Even sorrow and pain can be used by King Arnon for they, too, are under his command. For King Arnonís ways are wise and his plans are always good.