Even after many days the bird never left his sight, nor veered off course. Jerusalem, it is! he declared happily to himself.
His elation was taken down a notch when a new obstacle appeared on the horizon. He would have to pass directly through Illyrian territory to get there.
Though Illyricum lie within the bounds of the Roman empire, the Empire was in a shambles. Back in the days of the great Caesars, any and all threats were swiftly and severely crushed, but that Empire had grown fat, corrupt, and tolerant of all forms of evil. Ultimately they could no longer defend themselves against the barbarian rabble clawing at the gates and melted away into chaos.
Rome died because she lost the will to live.
Now pandemonium reigned everywhere as heathen warlords separated one-another's head from body for various crowns and treasures. From grand palaces to country villages, it was might-makes-right and every man for himself.
Illyricum ahead was now claimed by both an Ostrogoth Emperor and the Byzantine Empire, yet neither would spare the resources to police or defend it. The place was one perpetual Los Angeles riot from end to end.
Mac Creiche was now seriously regretting his decision not to bring a team along.
On the other hand, the trouble with that plan was they'd have probably have wanted to stop and bring order and righteousness to the heathen. Mac Creiche only hoped to slip past them unnoticed.
Fie! I shall fare just fine! He waved the doubts away, also reminding himself that these were the same people that the Apostle Paul spoke of in Romans 15:19. Any people who had witnessed the miracles of the great Apostle couldn't be all bad. Could they?
Not only that, this was also his first experience visiting one of the places he'd read about in the Bible. Mac Creiche's spontaneous pilgrimage was starting to feel excitingly real to him, and he couldn't let a bunch of riffraff turn him away now.
Mac Creiche jabbed at the remains of the campfire with a stick. The charred log was dark as the surrounding night, with only the dull glow of embers remaining to show its shape.
As quickly as the bright flames faded, so the stars shone brilliantly across the expanse of the sky.
He drew his cloak tight around himself and squirmed in as close to the coals as he dared.
Looking at the impossibly bright stars, he felt so small in the cosmic scheme of things. And yet, somehow, the immensity of creation only served to magnify the size of its Creator. Though huge and frightening, his God was greater still, which gave him comfort, rather than fear.
In that loving embrace, he drifted slowly off to sleep.
Mac Creiche found himself following the goose as it waddled down the old Roman Road just as he expected the journey to be.
Soon, the road veered to the southeast to keep to the coast, but the bird continued on his original easterly course, not knowing, or caring that he was straying from the path. Before long, he was in the weeds by the side of the road and continuing to drift away.
The monk stood at the roadside and called after him, but the goose plodded on.
"What should I do?" he asked, "To follow the path or the guide?"
He waited a long time, unable to decide, and therefore, doing neither.
In the end, he stepped away from the comfortable, known path and followed the wild goose.
It was a difficult track the animal led him on. Through thorns, crossing streams, over boulders, even crossing the Black Mountains themselves. Onward he plodded through the lands of the Slavs.
Into one of their villages it wandered. Following the monk and his animal guide was a wave of curious villagers.
In the midst of the town lie their pagan altar to the god En. Here, the goose stopped, and so did all others looking on -- for the animal at once transformed into a radiant white angel! All those around (including the monk) fell to their knees before the blinding glory!
"Rise up, man of God," commanded the being, "and tell me what you see."
With no small amount of trembling, Mac Creiche stood and looked.
"I-I see a pagan idol." he stammered.
"You know what you must do."
Mac Creiche walked toward the heathen thing to get a better look. En looked back, fierce and alive, with eyes ablaze with hellfire. A chill ran up his spine.
He looked to the angel beside him, who only nodded.
Mac Creiche took heart. He bent over, picked up a stone and hurled it with all his might. Or, at least, he would have. But he hesitated.
The angel looked at him questioningly. "If you throw that stone, the idol shall crumble. But if you do not..." he waved his hand and a new vision swirled into place.
A giant iron bull appeared silhouetted black as pitch in the flames of the burning village. People fled in terror.
The bull snorted smoke and stormed across the land. Its hooves snapped and uprooted entire trees with every step.
Mac Creiche wept for the trouble his hesitation had caused. "My lord, is there no hope?"
"Though trouble be easily slain when small, it becomes a monster when fully grown."
"Is there no hope!??", the monk wailed.
"Listen to my words, for I was also he who led Elijah up to Mount Horeb, and just as the Lord rose up another to take his place, so He will rise up a slayer to take yours! Behold!"
Mac Creiche turned and there was a strange new warrior - a woman! Her long coat snapped in fiery flames. The flame, too, sparkled in her eyes -- eyes very much like his own, he was ashamed to admit. She bore in her hand a bow without string, and three, yea three, companions at her side.
She fired the bow, once, and the mighty beast reared back in pain.
It turned on her, huge mouth agape and ready to swallow her up, but again she fired, causing its head to fall.
Then, a third was loosed, causing the terror to fall to the ground and rise no more.
The crack in the dream was accompanied with a searing pain that hurled him from sleep.
He convulsed in pain, trying to make sense of the pair of leather-wrapped feet that stood before him on the rocky ground.
Another crack and another streak of pain seared across his back. A whip, no doubt.
A command was barked in some language foreign to him, and a number of calloused hands hoisted him to his feet.
The monk was met with the snarling and scarred face of a barbarian military leader. A face like that couldn't be anything but.
The man spoke to the monk in the same tongue as before, but the latter had no comprehension of it. His assailant didn't seem deterred. Rather, he motioned to a body of bedraggled slaves, resting by pile of gear. He jabbed the monk in the chest with a finger and then made the motion for lifting something. As if it still wasn't clear, he pointed again and shoved him in the direction of the slaves.
An aide tugged at the sleeve of the officer's costume. He gave low a whisper in the man's ear.
The commander nodded and turned back to Mac Creiche. Now in stumbling, but passable Latin, he asked, "You... priest?"
"Yes." (Now was not the time to quibble about titles.)
He hesitated. He didn't know whether the barbarian was wanting to know if he would make a good slave, or that his magic was strong and he shouldn't be trifled with.
He decided for a reply like David or Daniel would have given. "I am weak, but God is strong!"
The man snorted but said no more. At least not in any language Mac Creiche could understand. He walked away, pointing and giving orders.
Though he was not put in with the slaves to act as a human pack animal, the monk was herded along at sword point, and his captors were none too gentle whenever he fell behind.
It occurred to him that he was being taken along as some kind of fetish, or good luck charm. But why? Where are they going?
The answer fell into place. The Illyrians were marching to war!
NEXT CHAPTER... COMING SOON!