The Other Side of Hope – Chapter One

1,300 Years Later

Ethan walked down the streets of Cayuga toward Elisa’s house. It was a path he’d walked often, one he took every Sunday afternoon after church and sometimes other days as well. Since it was Sunday, all the shops were closed. Church had only just let out and most would be at home having lunch with their families now.

Most, but not all, Ethan saw.

A large crowd had gathered up ahead and he would have no choice but to elbow his way through once he reached it. The closer he got, the more clear the speaker’s voice became.

“The time of our oppression is drawing to a close. Our deliverer is coming soon. He will ride on the clouds and bring the judgment of God down on our enemies. He is calling. Our deliverer is calling you! Will you answer his call? He is calling you to cast off the chains that hold you down, to rise above the fear that holds you back, and strike back at the enemy that defies His name!”

Ethan reached the crowd and pushed his way in. He had to fight the urge to cover his ears against the cheers of approval.

“He did not come to bring peace, but a sword, and that sword will overcome the power of our enemy and bring freedom!”

The words grated on Ethan’s ears. They were all too familiar. The same words that had drawn his father into battle years ago. A battle he had never returned from.

“The Kingdom of our Lord is coming now. It will overthrow the Caliphate and usher in peace for the world.”

Ethan barely managed to choke off his laughter. He may mock the Brotherhood in any other place, but not here, in the midst of a crowd rabid to devour their rhetoric.

“Stand with us, brothers. Become one with the Brotherhood of the Sword. The sword that the Lord Jesus swings against his enemies is the sword in your hands!”

So it was a recruitment rally, not just the usual Sunday afternoon speech. At least that meant the likelihood of a riot erupting around him was reduced. He looked at the young faces all around him and wished he could do something to push them away from this path. Hadn’t they lost fathers in the Turkish War, too? Were they so eager to call down the wrath of the Caliphate down on Lachlond again?

Ethan shook his head and threw one last elbow to free himself from the mob. The memories stirred by the recruiter’s words stuck with him long after the words themselves faded from earshot.

“Jesus didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword, Ethan. I have to follow him and take up the sword against those who would destroy our homes.”

It was amazing how clearly he could hear his father’s words after ten years. He’d said nothing in response. What could he have said? He was just thirteen. A boy. So he’d nodded and watched his father walk out of the door. Out of his life. Forever.

The Brotherhood would have everyone believe that the woes of the Western world—the poverty, the sickness, the violence—could all be laid at the feet of Islam and the Global Caliphate. But the blame for Ethan’s pain fell on the Brotherhood and no one else.

Elisa’s house came into view and Ethan smiled. This wasn’t a time to dwell on the past. Or even on the violent future that the Brotherhood of the Sword prophesied.

It was a time to focus on his own future. With Elisa.

He reached her house and stopped by the outer gate. He couldn’t go any farther without being invited.

As usual, it only took a minute for her to notice him. She came out into the yard and smiled at him.

A smile that never failed to light up his world. Thoughts of the Brotherhood and his father fled his mind.

“Ethan.”

His heart melted all over again at the way she said his name. “Elisa.” Ethan stepped through the gate as she opened it and almost reached out take her into his arms. It felt so natural, so right, to do so. But they weren’t married.

“Come inside, lunch is almost ready.”

 ***

Two hours later, a simple but delicious lunch of lamb, corn, and bread was eaten and cleared away. Ethan and Elisa sat on the roof of her parents’ house. The only place they could have the privacy to talk while maintaining the visibility required.

“Ethan, when are we going to get married?”

She said it with a smile and sparkle in her eye, but Ethan knew there was more to the question than romantic fancy. “Soon. Soon.”

The smile dropped off Elisa’s face. “I’m serious, Ethan. It’s always ‘soon.’ Give me a day. Or a month.” She stood and walked a step. “Or even a year.”

Sounded like she’d been stewing on this for a while. “Elisa, you know what my mother will say.”

Elisa spun back to face him. “I’m twenty years old.” She sat down again after a pause and they sat in silence.

“I’ll talk—”

“I’m sor—”

“You go first,” Ethan said.

“I’m sorry. I’m not mad at you. I just, it’s so frustrating.”

“I know. I’m frustrated, too.”

She sat next to him again. “Are you?”

“Of course, I am! You know I want to marry you.” He wanted to reach out and take her hands, but he couldn’t. Not here.

“Then why don’t you do something about it?”

Ethan looked away. “It’s complicated.”

“Complicated?” She was getting angry again. “What’s complicated about it, Ethan? Either you want to marry me and you do it, or don’t want to and you won’t.”

If only it was that easy.

“You know I have to take care of my family.”

Her blue eyes locked on his. “He left ten years ago, Ethan. Your family will not starve if we get married.”

Ethan shook his head and stood up. Try telling that to his mother. “Like I said, it’s complicated. It’s not that Mother doesn’t like you, she loves you. But she wants Sarah to get married first.”

“Which doesn’t make any sense, by the way.” Elisa came to her feet as well. “You’re older. Who ever heard of the younger sibling having to get married first?”

Elisa stood in front of him with arms crossed, waiting for an answer. But he had none.

“It’s just complicated.”

The blue eyes grabbed hold of his again and he wished he could say more. He wished he could say anything to make her feel better.

“I’ll talk to her again. Try to make her see.”

“Tonight.”

Ethan nodded. “Tonight.”

Elisa’s arms fell to her sides and a smile lit her face. “You’d be better be glad I love you so much, or I’d never put up with how complicated you are.”

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