Light of Mine

1. The Tower of Light

Father nearly flattened Lauren as he blundered through the kitchen door with an awkward bundle of rolled parchment. Lauren dodged out of Father’s way and managed not to drop her brother’s dirty dishes. Ever since she turned twelve, Mother had given her more and more responsibility. She knew Mother would be proud of her fancy footwork, saving the dishes from certain destruction.

“Aiden, clear the table, please,” Father said with his commanding but warm voice.

Aiden, the family’s middle child, complied by grabbing the side of the cast iron spider pot from the center of the table and pulling it to him. Lauren watched him strain with it, then wrap it up in a bear hug to carry it, which was apparently a bit much for his nine-year-old frame. She stepped over and attempted to help him.

“I can do it, Sissy!” Aiden barked at her as he adjusted the weight. Mother wasn’t going to be happy if he got soot from the sides of the pot all over his plaid cotton shirt and khaki pants. But Lauren wasn’t going to start an argument over it in front of Father.

“OK, OK. You can handle it, but why don’t you actually handle it?” Lauren pointed to the pot’s heavy wire handle.

“Oh,” Aiden replied sheepishly, then set the pot on the floor and used both hands to grab the wire. He could manage it that way much better, so she turned her attention to Father.

Father unrolled and flattened the parchment to reveal building plans and then sat down in his rough-hewn

armchair at the head of the table. Father put his left hand over his mouth and leaned in to rest his elbow on the table. His weathered fingers nearly covered his nearly white goatee.

Lauren glanced at the plans herself, realizing that it outlined some kind of fortification. She returned to her task of washing the dishes. Why would Father be working on defenses at home? Was the Darkness loose on the Heathlands?

Lauren dried the plate she had just washed and turned to put it on the counter. As she worked, she saw Father sit back and rub his face. He must have been lost in thought because he jumped in his chair as five-year-old Ethan hopped onto his lap and asked, “What’s this, Daddy?”

His red hair was a tousled mess as Mother was loath to cut his curly locks, so Father had to adjust the boy on his lap to still see the plans.

Aiden climbed into the chair next to him and leaned over the table, mimicking the pose Father had displayed just a moment ago. “It looks like a tower to heaven!”

Father rubbed the top of Aiden’s head, pushing back his short-cropped blond hair, and smiled as Aiden turned to look at him. “You are close, my son. It’s a lighthouse.”

“A lighthouse?” Lauren couldn’t concentrate on her task any longer, so she wiped her hands on a white apron that covered her pale blue paisley work dress and took a ribbon out of its pocket. She tied back her sandy-brown hair as she bent over the table to look at the plans. They showed three different cross-sectional views of a wooden structure with various lines indicating size measurements.

Mother came through the door with a wooden milk bucket in one hand, startling everyone from their study of the plans. She was careful not to spill any milk on her pale blue dress as she put the bucket on the counter, then joined the rest of the family by the table.

Mother rested her hand on Father’s shoulder, and Lauren noticed Father wince slightly as he looked up into Mother’s brown eyes. Something about that look told Lauren bad news was coming. A wave of anxiety went through Lauren and settled as a tight knot in her stomach.

“Have you told them what it’s for?” Mother asked with a frown.

“There’s no ocean for hundreds of miles,” Lauren interjected. “What would a lighthouse be guiding to safety?”

“Children, I didn’t know how to tell you this,” Father spoke in a halting manner. “I’m going away for a while.”

“What?” Lauren gasped. Ethan began to cry.

“Where are you going, Daddy?” Aiden asked with a hint of fear in his voice. “To Grandma’s house?”

“No, son.” Father put his arm around Ethan and kissed the crying boy on the top of his head. “I’m traveling to Blooming Glen and other places on the outskirts of the Heathlands.”

“Isn’t that where the Darkness is?” Lauren wrung her hands.

“No, Daddy, don’t leave!” Ethan buried his head in Father’s chest.

Aiden jumped out of his seat and wrapped one arm around Ethan, the other around Father, then hid his face in Father’s shoulder.

“Not yet. At least that’s the hope.” Father patted Aiden’s back. “You know I finished my studies last month. I’m now a Master Artificer, and I can craft all kinds of arms and defenses against the Darkness. I’m to help the Mighty Mercenaries defend the battlefront.”

“I know the Mighty Mercenaries are supposed to be the most valiant warriors in Zoura. But if the Darkness falls before you can set up the new defenses, won’t it get you, too?” Lauren asked. At this, Mother came over and put an arm around Lauren’s shoulder. Lauren looked up and saw tears streaming from the corners of her mother’s dark brown eyes.

“That’s why we’ll build this tower here on our farm. As long as the Light shines on me, I will always be safe from the Dark One, and no matter how the Darkness spreads, I will find my way home.” Father took his hand off Ethan’s back and leaned closer to the table to point at the symbol of a lantern at the top of the tower.

Ethan wiped his eyes and looked at the plans again. “Daddy, can I help build? I want to keep you safe from the Darkness.”

At that, tears began to pool at the corners of Father’s eyes. “Of course, son. In fact, you all can help.”

Aiden let go of Father, took a deep breath, and composed himself. “I’m a good builder. I can help too. What are we going to build it with?”

“Cedar,” Father said. “It’s practical and grows right here.”

Despite the change in subject, Lauren still worried about Father being lost to the Darkness. The tales of what happened to people under the Darkness were terrifying: untreatable diseases killing whole towns, dark creatures intent on murder roaming the streets, and people being forced to do the Dark One’s bidding. She didn’t want one of those horrible ends for her daddy. However, she saw her brothers being brave, so she decided to put on a good face for now. She tried to come up with something positive to say, then remembered the cedar chest in which her best dress was stored. “And cedar wood smells good.” The comment didn’t cheer Lauren as she’d hoped.


For the next few weeks, Lauren woke at dawn, determined to help Father in any way she could to keep him safe from the Darkness. She wasn’t sure how the tower would really help if he were in a faraway land, but Father had said so, and he was very wise, so she focused on helping Father by carrying supplies, holding boards while Father cut or nailed them, or fetching water when he got hot. The business helped Lauren take her mind off her anxiety and worries.

While Father did most of the work, with Lauren a close second, Aiden was good at following the plans to lay out supplies for the next piece of work, and Ethan could fetch things like nails when they ran out. Mother kept up with the normal chores, making sure they all had plenty to eat and drink.

As the second story of the Tower began to take shape, Lauren helped Father put in the stairs. She sat on a lower step and held the pleasant-smelling cedar planks in place as Father nailed the plank into the frame with square-topped iron nails. It was precarious work as Father was perched on a ladder that leaned against the steps. When he finished, he reached into his tool belt for more nails while Lauren put the next plank in place.

“Ethan,” Father called with his deep, commanding voice. After a moment’s pause, he called again more forcefully, “Ethan!”

The boy popped his head into the open doorway at the bottom of the tower. “Yes, Daddy?”

“I’m almost out of nails. Can you bring a bag up to me?”

“Daddy, they’re heavy. I’m too little.” Ethan whined. “Ethan, I’ll never assign a task you can’t do. You bear

the Light, son. Right now, I need you to shine that light by obeying and doing something hard. Can you do that for me?” Father replied, his voice level and compassionate.

“OK, Daddy, I’ll do it,” Ethan replied as he shuffled out of the Tower.

Father’s words to Ethan touched Lauren deeply. “Daddy, is that why you’re going away? Did God ask you to do something hard to shine your light?”

Father hung the hickory-handled claw hammer from his belt and put a leather-clad hand on Lauren’s shoulder. She looked up into her father’s eyes and saw tears welling in the corners. This cut deep into Lauren’s heart; Daddy never cried.

“Yes, Lauren, the Lord put a heavy burden on my heart to make sure the Light shines in faraway places. I want more than anything to stay here with the family. Mother would go with me to help…she’s much more than just a prayer warrior, but it’s not safe for you children to come along. The Lord has asked me to do the hard thing, so I must.” Father wiped his eyes with the back of his glove.

At this, Lauren began to cry as well. “But, Daddy, who will keep us safe?”

Father took off his glove and put it in his tool belt, then reached into his pants pocket and pulled out his handkerchief. He used it to wipe the tears from Lauren’s face.

“Daddy! Help! Help!” Ethan cried from outside the tower.

This startled Father, and he suddenly turned toward the door. The movement knocked the ladder out of balance, and Father flailed to try to keep it in place. Lauren grabbed for the ladder to pull it back but missed, and it fell away from the steps and into the opposite wall of the tower.

Father’s head banged against the wall. Lauren saw him hang from one arm for an instant. Then he lost his grip and fell to the floor.

“Daddy!” Lauren cried as she rushed down the completed stairs. She jumped off the last three steps and dashed to Father’s side.

“Daddy! Help!” Ethan called again as he stepped into the tower.

“Ethan! You scared Daddy! Look what you did!” Lauren turned to glower at her brother and pointed accusingly at where Father was slumped on the floor,

shaking his head and rubbing the back of it. “But there’s a frog on my noggin! Help!” Ethan pointed to the top of his head.

Lauren did a double-take. On top of Ethan’s curly mess of red hair was a rainbow-striped bullfrog. The colorful frog sparkled in the light coming in from the open doorway. She had never seen anything like it.

“Come here, Ethan. Let me see this frog,” Father said shakily from behind Lauren. She turned and saw Father pull himself up to a sitting position and lean against the wall.

“Oh, Daddy!” Ethan said as he came to kneel next to Father. He reached up to touch the bump on the back of Father’s head. “I gave you a head egg! I’m sorry!”

Father appeared to be in a daze as he focused on the frog on Ethan’s head for what felt like an eternity.

“Daddy, are you OK?” Lauren asked, worried that he might have really been hurt in the fall.

Father shook his head as if to clear it. “Do you know what kind of frog that is?”

“Daddy, you just took a bad fall. Is this really time for a nature lesson?” Lauren had concern in her voice.

“Yeah, Daddy, can you please get it off my head?” Ethan replied.

Father sat up straighter. “It’s a Zourian Flying Frog. I’ve never seen one outside of a drawing in a book. It is said they are touched by the Light.”

Father took the frog from Ethan’s head and put it on the bump on his own head. Light sparkled all around the frog, and the swelling on Father’s head disappeared.

Ethan clapped his hands. “Daddy! He fixed your head egg!”

Father looked deeply into Lauren’s eyes. “You asked who will keep you safe. The Lord provides for those dedicated to the Light.”

Lauren nodded, amazed at the miracle she had just witnessed.

“Can we keep him, Daddy?” Ethan asked, pointing at the frog proudly perched on Father’s head.

“I’m pretty sure the frog has chosen to keep us, son,” Father replied as he gingerly removed the frog from its perch.

“Oh, goodie, goodie! I’ll call him Sparkle Frog.” Ethan reached for the frog, and Father gave it to him.

“Ethan, why don’t you take your new friend down to the creek for a swim?” Father said with a big smile as he began to rise.

“Are you sure you should get up, Daddy?” Lauren asked. “I can go get Mamma.”

Father stood up carefully and pushed the ladder above him back into place. “Never felt better. Sparkle Frog was miraculous. Let’s go get some water, and we’ll tell Mother and Aiden about our new friend.”


A few weeks later, in May of that year, the three-story tower was complete. It had a peaked roof and shuttered windows; its bottom two stories were enclosed with wooden logs. On the Sabbath, after the tower was finished, Father asked the parson to come for dinner. Lauren really

liked the parson, who was kind to her, answering any question she might have, so she was glad to have him. Also, he occasionally gave the siblings sweet treats. The clergyman, in his forties, wore simple, white linen clothes with a cross pin on his right lapel. Lauren didn’t know how he kept them so clean; Mother only let her wear her white dress to church on the Sabbath, and then she had to change it as soon as she got home. How did the parson keep his clothes so clean?

Mother led the parson to the table, and he set the burlap sack he was carrying underneath the table before taking his seat.

After a delicious meal of Mother’s fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, and biscuits, the parson wiped his mouth and said, “Children, your father tells me you are more diligent than the ants of the field. You have built a solid tower in record time.”

“Thank you, sir!” exclaimed the children.

The parson rose from the table. “There is just one thing missing.”

“What?” asked Ethan, echoing what Lauren was thinking. Father’s plans were so detailed. She couldn’t imagine what they’d missed.

The parson bent over and picked up his sack, then removed a metal lantern and set it on the table. “The Light, of course.”

The lantern was a dull bronze color that reminded Lauren of the brass knockers on the church door. It looked about five hands high and one hand wide. The glass faces had a golden stained-glass cross in the center of each face. She really loved that because it reminded her of the stained-glass window in her grandma’s great room. The lantern held no candle, but a small spike protruded from its center.

Aiden set his elbows on the table and leaned closer. “Mama, will you get a candle, so we can light it?”

The parson patted Aiden on the head. “Son, not for this lantern.”

Ethan looked at the parson with a puzzled look on his face. “What does it use?”

Father pointed at Ethan’s chest. “The light for this lantern is inside of each of us. ”

Ethan’s chin went down, then up, and he threw his hands into the air. “I don’t see the light, Daddy.”

“When you love the Lord with all your heart, mind, and spirit, the Good Book says you reflect the Savior’s Light on the world, which pushes back the Darkness.” Father scooted his chair close to Ethan and patted his head. “Would you like to learn a song about how we can shine that light?”

Ethan clapped his hands. “Oh, that sounds fun, Daddy.”

Father got up from his chair and moved the lantern to the center of the table. “We all can sing. I think Lauren and Aiden know the song already.”

Father knelt next to Ethan and held up his index finger. “This little light of mine,” he began. “I’m gonna let it shine.”

For a moment, Lauren thought it was silly to sing this little kids’ song in front of the parson. After all, she was twelve years old. However, she was overtaken by her brother’s excitement and joined in.

Soon everyone, including the parson, joined in. As they sang the song, the tip of the spike in the lantern began to

shine. The longer they sang, the more its radiance increased. By the second verse, about not hiding the light, it glowed as brightly as a Christmas candle.

As they finished with “Shine it all over the whole wide world. I’m gonna let it shine,” a bright blue-white flame engulfed the spike. The radiance filled the inside of the lamp so brilliantly, and it lit the entire house. Lauren was filled with joy and hope. Daddy would be protected by the Light despite his travels into distant lands.

Father picked up the lantern. “Children, as long as we stay faithful to the Lord, this Light will shine over the Heathlands. We must do our work the very best we can as if for the Lord. We must pray, read the Good Book, and honor the Sabbath. We must pay heed to even little things, like watering the animals or cleaning up after dinner. We must do our work obediently, with a happy heart, and the Light will always shine.”

Father carried the lantern to the top of the tower and set it in place. Its light shone out over the Heathlands as if it were intent on banishing the Darkness wherever it threatened to reach.

The next morning, Father left on his mission to help the Mighty Mercenaries defend the Heathlands against the Darkness.

Lauren was determined that no matter what, she would keep the Light shining so he would come home safely.

2. Tragedy Strikes

Two months later

Late in the evening, a storm raged with terrible winds and rain. Thunder boomed, and lightning crashed outside the small cabin, keeping Mother awake with fear for her children’s safety, especially since Father was still gone. Mother kept vigil in the great room, initially comforted by the Light from the tower shining through the window.

However, as the storm grew in intensity, the wind blew so fiercely that the lantern looked as if it would blow out of the Tower of Light. Mother was so concerned about losing the lamp and its holy fire that she battled through the rain to get to the tower and close the shutters.

As soon as the shutters were closed, she heard a deafening boom of thunder that shook the top of the tower, followed by a loud crash. She raced down the stairs to see what had happened. With the shutters on the tower closed and the storm raging overhead, she could barely see her hands in front of her face. She decided it would be better to investigate in the morning and ran through the rain back to the house. The whole incident left her even more unsettled, and she tossed and turned through the night.


The next morning, Aiden woke up to the unfamiliar sound of a kitten crying, “Meow. Meow,” from across the room. He sat up in bed, crinkling the hay-stuffed mattress, and saw Lauren standing across the room, putting a kitten in the right front pocket of her linen paisley work dress.

The kitten looked out over the top of the pocket and wiggled its white-tipped black ears, and cried, “Meow. Meow.”

“Sissy, where’d the kitten come from?” Aiden asked after her as she turned to go down the stairs.

Lauren stopped cold. “Kitten, what kitten?” She looked over her shoulder at Aiden.

“Meow. Meow,” came the muffled cry from the kitten in her pocket.

“The one in your pocket, Sissy.” Aiden hopped out of the bed he shared with Ethan.

Lauren put her index finger to her lips. “Shhh. I don’t know where he came from, and I don’t know what Mama would think about a kitten staying in the loft.”

“She let E keep Sparkle Frog, and I got to keep Daddy Duck.” Aiden’s reply was matter of fact.

“But they don’t come in the house. You know how Mama can be about animals in the house,” Lauren whispered conspiratorially.

Aiden’s eyes bored into Lauren’s as he rebuked her. “You need to tell Mama! Keeping secrets about something you think might be wrong helps the Darkness. With Daddy gone, we have to keep the Light strong.”

She pulled the kitten out of her pocket and held him. “You’re right. I will. But he’s sooo cute and so little, he can’t live on his own. Look at him.”

“He is little. I’m surprised he’s away from his mother.” Aiden stroked the kitten’s back. “You’re such a little guy. How did you ever get up here?”

“Meow, meow,” the kitten replied as if he were answering Aiden’s question.

Aiden took the kitten from Lauren and looked him in the eyes. “I didn’t understand your answer, little one. How about I give you a simpler question? What’s your name?”

The kitten replied authoritatively, “Meow, meow.”

Lauren took the kitten back. “Well, I guess that settles it. Not the most original name, but I like it. Meow-Meow it is.” Then she put him in her pocket and climbed down the ladder from the loft to the great room.

Aiden looked down at Lauren and Meow-Meow. How did that tiny kitten get all the way upstairs? Lauren always wanted a kitten; maybe Mother gave it to her as a surprise.

Aiden followed Lauren into the kitchen, expecting Lauren to talk to Mother about the kitten. When he got there, he was surprised to see Mother carrying two buckets of water into the house. “Mama, what’s going on? Daddy built the windmill for that.”

Lauren rushed over to help with the buckets. However, Mother just set the buckets on the thick oak counter next to the five-gallon ceramic water crock.

“Last night, the storm knocked the blades off the windmill.” Mother turned toward the fireplace and took her patchwork apron off its hook, and tied it over her white linen shirt and gray wool skirt. “I used the last of what was in the reservoir to fill the animals’ troughs. We’ll have to get water the old-fashioned way until Daddy comes home.”

Aiden ran to the window to look at the windmill. “I can fix it, Mama.”

“I’m sure you can.” Mother smiled as she wiped the sweat from her brow and then tied back her shoulder-length brown hair with a ribbon. “However, the windmill is very tall. Better wait till Father is here to help.”

“OK, Mama.” Aiden’s shoulders slumped as he walked over to the table and took a seat on a three-legged stool. He longed to be the man in the house, but no one could replace Father.

“Lauren.” With her most stern voice, Mother addressed Lauren. “What’s in your pocket?”

Lauren stopped cold. Aiden could sense she was anxious that she wouldn’t be able to keep the kitten. He got up and put his hand on Lauren’s shoulder, which was awkward since she was a head taller. He really wasn’t sure how Mother would react to Lauren’s new friend, but he’d stand with Sissy. Besides, he’d love a new pet.

Lauren reached into her pocket and carefully pulled out Meow-Meow. “A kitten?” she said sheepishly.

“Oh, how precious. Where did you find such a tiny thing?” Mother asked as she came closer for a look.

“He was in my bed this morning. I can’t figure out how he could have gotten there. Can I keep him?” Lauren handed the kitten to Mother.

Mother rubbed his fur against the grain and looked him all over. “I don’t know how he got there, either, but he doesn’t seem to have any fleas or lice, so you can keep him. Does your new friend have a name?”

“I called him Meow-Meow,” Lauren replied with a sigh. Aiden let out his own sigh of relief. He hated to admit it, but he thought the kitten was cute, too.

As Lauren put the kitten back into her pocket, Ethan dragged his feet through the door from the great room. “I want oaka-meal, Mama.”

Aiden stifled a laugh at his brother’s expense because his red hair was particularly obnoxious this morning. He

wondered if Mother would ever cut his hair to a proper length like his own short-cropped blond hair.

Aiden’s contemplations were interrupted by grumbling in his own stomach. He turned to Mother as she poured water out of a bucket and into a cast-iron spider pot, then added two cups of steel-cut oats. “Getting the water put me behind today, Sweet Pea. The fire has just died down enough so I can cook. It will be about an hour before breakfast is ready.”

Mother put the spider pot in the fireplace. “Carrying all that water has me winded, plus I’m out of practice. All of your father’s inventions have made life too easy, I guess.” She scooped hot coals from the fire with a small shovel and placed them over the spider pot. “While we wait, I’ll get started with Ethan’s lessons.”

“Lessons! But I’m hungry!” Ethan pouted.

“We’re all hungry. We’ll have food soon enough.” Mother set the shovel down and then wiped her hands on her apron. “Lauren, do you think you could do the milking on your own?”

“Yes, Mama.” Lauren set down the patchwork apron she’d picked up after she came down from the loft. She could tell Mama was tired from getting the water, so she was happy to help.

“I’ll gather the eggs, Mama.” Aiden grabbed the egg basket.

“I’m so grateful that you all took to heart Father’s admonition to shine the Light in daily activities,” Mother said as she gave each child a hug. She went into the great room and came back with a writing slate and chalk, then sat at the kitchen table with Ethan.

As Lauren walked to the barn, Aiden rushed past her on his mission to gather the eggs. On his way, he noticed the sky was unusually overcast in a way he hadn’t seen since before they built the tower. Aiden was always curious about the weather, so he wondered if that meant there would be another thunderstorm this morning. His thoughts were interrupted when he noticed windmill blades mired in the mud next to the flat limestone path between the house and the barn.

Aiden hurried forward to inspect the blades. The shaft appeared to have melted. He remembered hearing a gigantic thunderclap last night. It was the loudest thunder he had ever heard, and it had shaken the house. He was terrified and wanted Daddy to be home. Had the windmill been struck by lightning?

After poking at the shaft’s molten edges, Aiden remembered his mission to gather the eggs and decided he should talk to Mama about the melted metal on the windmill blades later. Then he ran off to the chicken coop to finish his chore.

As he unhooked the latch on the coop, he looked back and saw Lauren trying to hopscotch across the limestone blocks between the house and the barn. He shook his head as he thought about how girls were always trying to keep clean and proper. He looked down at his now very muddy bare feet and wiggled his toes in the mud, and thought about how much he liked the mud squishing between them.

Then he caught sight of a monster earthworm right by his big toe. He reached down and pulled it free of the mud and let it wriggle around in his open palm. It was the

biggest nightcrawler he’d ever seen. He knew exactly who was going to get this prize…if he was around.

“Daddy Duck! Daddy Duck!” he called, though the duck didn’t always respond. “Here, boy, I’ve got a treat for you.” Wanting to see his special animal friend, Aiden began to wave the worm around in the air.

He suddenly heard a familiar “quack” as he felt the whoosh of flapping wings and a tug on the worm. He let go of his bait and saw the golden duck fly off toward the creek.

A sense of dread tightened Aiden’s stomach. Something was very wrong. Ever since the Tower had been built, there was an almost blinding flash of light every time Daddy Duck came around. Today, no flash occurred. He searched his mind for reasons why. Had the Dark One done something to Daddy Duck? He needed to talk to Mama.

This could be bad.

Aiden was so concerned that he ran out of the chicken coop without locking it up. Then he saw the windmill parts on the ground and realized the blades were shiny themselves, or maybe it was just the combination of the tower and the windmill blades. With the windmill broken, there was no light from Daddy Duck.

Aiden heard a clucking noise behind him and realized that he had left the chicken coop open. He raced back and shooed the chickens back into the coop, and then he proceeded to feed them. He could talk to Mama about the windmill when he got done.


Aiden returned to the kitchen with his basket of eggs. “Mama, did you see the windmill blades on the ground?”

“I saw them. It explains why the sink isn’t working, and that must have been the crash I heard last night.” Mother retrieved a cast iron skillet from its hook and put a dollop of lard in the middle of it.

“It looks like lightning struck it.” Aiden wiped off the eggs with a damp cloth. Lauren had already returned from her chore and came over to help him.

“Lightning, you say. How do you know that?” Mama put the skillet on a rack in the fireplace to heat up.

“It was melted like it would be if the blacksmith put it on the forge. Daddy once said lightning could do that.” Aiden pointed out the window at the top of the barn. “Daddy told me we have lightning rods to protect us from lightning strikes like this. He said lightning could start fires if you aren’t careful. He also said it always hits the highest spot.”

Aiden took Mother’s hand and pulled her to the window, with Lauren following them. “But the windmill isn’t the highest spot. Do you think the Dark One did it, Mama? Did he destroy the windmill with lightning?”

“It’s possible, I guess. It was a powerful storm. What do you think the Dark One would gain by breaking our windmill?” Mama grabbed the skillet with a hot pad and set it on the counter. She cracked eggs into the pan with the melted lard.

“Maybe just to make our lives harder?” Aiden sat down at the table. “Daddy said that the Dark One likes to get people to fight and grumble during hardships. That makes their light weaker.”

“You are right about the Dark One trying to weaken us, but I know our faith is powerful.” Mother put the skillet back on the fire and began to fry the eggs. “A few extra chores aren’t going to dim the Light you children reflect on the world, right?”

“No, ma’am.” Their answer rang with youthful confidence.

“Then maybe it’s something else. Daddy Duck flew to me today, and he didn’t flash.” Aiden added.

“Didn’t flash; what do you mean?” Mother asked as she flipped the eggs.

“Ever since we put the lantern in the tower, Daddy Duck seems to flash a bright light when he’s flying toward you, but today he didn’t flash,” Aiden explained as he watched Mother finish breakfast.

“Oh, that is concerning.” Mother put eggs on a plate. “When the duck wandered onto the property, your father said the way he never lost his golden baby feathers showed he was marked by the Light. But Father was never really sure what that meant.”

Aiden was now very worried about the change to his duck. What other changes had happened on the farm that they hadn’t noticed? Did Meow-Meow’s coming relate to the Light as well?

He was about to ask when he heard the sloppy clip-clop of horse hooves in the yard. Who could be coming to visit at this hour?

“Children, I wasn’t expecting anyone this morning,” Mother said as she hurried to take the skillet off the fire and then pull the spider pot out of the stove. “I’m not sure the oatmeal is completely done, but I don’t want to risk it burning.”

Mother rushed the pot to the middle of the table and set it on a clay trivet. Lauren followed her lead with the plate of eggs. “You read my mind, Lauren. Get the plates and feed the boys. I’ll go see who this is.”

A loud knock sounded on the front door. Mother hurried from the kitchen into the great room. Aiden peeked around the door frame from the kitchen and saw Mother look out the small window in the center of the door. She took a step back and opened the door.

From his vantage point, Aiden saw just outside the door a huge man who wore the armor of the Mighty Mercenaries in the colors of Father’s cadre. The man was completely caked with mud, and the color of his uniform seemed muted. The man had a large burlap sack full of something bulky slung over his back. Aiden was concerned about a stranger appearing unexpectedly, but he looked like he was in Father’s unit. Maybe he was a messenger sent by Father.

“Please come in, sir.” Mother stepped back and allowed the burly man to enter the great room. He looked around for a minute, then set the big sack next to the coat tree behind the door. The wool winter cloaks hanging from the tree obscured it from further view.

“Name’s Wrothdar, ma’am; no need for formalities.” The man looked at his feet and shuffled from side to side. “No good way to say this, but by all accounts, we’ve lost your husband, ma’am.”

“You’ve lost my husband?” Mother stated flatly. Aiden watched as she stood stock-still for what seemed an eternity.

Mother’s face reddened, “What does that even mean?” she yelled as she got right up in his face despite their height difference.

The big man took two steps back, which landed him on the porch again. “Well, ma’am, we got hit by the fiercest storm we ever saw up by Clark’s Ford. Night watch didn’t see what happened, but his tent was just gone when the storm let up.”

Mother took deep breaths and stepped back from the big man into the great room. She looked like she was trying to compose herself. Despite that, Aiden was starting to get scared. What was he saying about Father?

“We think the storm washed him away in a flash flood. We set out right away looking, and we found his weapons and armor all washed up on the shore a little way downstream. I’ve been ridin’ all night to get here.” Wrothdar stepped back into the house and continued with a forlorn expression. “Given the storm, we’re not holding out any hope. He’s a goner, ma’am.”

“No! You’re lying! Get out, you liar! Get out of my house!” Mother yelled powerfully as she rushed forward and shoved the man in the chest. Aiden had never seen Mother like this before.

Now Ethan and Lauren joined him at the doorway.

Mother closed the gap between herself and the big man and began pounding on his chest, pushing him with such ferocity that he backed out of the house and stood just outside. “My husband isn’t a goner!” Mother shouted from just inside the doorway, “If he was, I’d know it. The Light is still glowing in the tower, so he is not dead!”

As if for confirmation, she looked up at the tower. “No! The shutters!” Mother cried. “I left the shutters closed after the storm!” Mother rushed out the front door, leaving it wide open. Lauren and Ethan followed as Aiden snuck into the great room, and they watched out the door as Mother ran past the big man on the porch. Aiden saw her disappear into the bottom of the tower and re-emerge moments later from the top as she began opening the shutters.

Light streamed out of the tower as if a dam had broken. It flowed down the tower across their farm and then washed over the Heathlands. Despite the overcast sky, everything suddenly looked as if it were noontime on a sunny day.

Bathed in the glow from the Tower of Light, even the mud on Wrothdar’s armor seemed less filthy.

The children continued to watch the dumbstruck warrior as Mother returned to the porch. “That’s my husband’s horse, correct?” she asked. Aiden thought her voice sounded flat, like when he did something naughty, and she was trying not to yell at him.

“Yes, ma’am,” Wrothdar stammered.

Mother pointed at Wrothdar, her mind made up. “Tie up the horse and go; I have important things to take care of. Tell your leaders my husband is not dead, and they had better keep looking for him. The safety of the Heathlands depends on his return.”

The big man merely nodded and did as he was told.

Mother came back into the great room.

Lauren stepped forward. “What is happening, Mama?

Why did that man come here?”

Mother cleared her throat and took a couple of deep breaths. “Lauren, sweetie, something has happened to

Daddy. The soldier who just came brought awful news, but he’s either wrong or, worse yet, he’s lying.”

Mother put her arms around the children and ushered them toward the kitchen. “This is all very upsetting, especially on an empty stomach. Let’s get some food in us.”

Mother settled them at the table and doled out oatmeal and eggs to each of the children. Aiden was too shocked by it all to say a word. Then Mother did something unusual.

She cut two pieces of bread and put her eggs in between them, and wrapped that up in a kitchen towel. “I know your Daddy is still alive, and I think Fleetfoot can help me find him.”

Mother hurried to the kitchen counter and packed provisions in an empty flour sack. “The soldiers don’t understand. They are not all followers of God like we are. I doubt they will be looking in the right places or searching for the right signs. Daddy needs me. I’m sorry, but I must go.”

Aiden felt the warmth leave his body as he was gripped by fear. Father was already gone; the soldier said he was a goner. Did the big man think Daddy was dead? Now Mama was going to leave. Who would take care of them?

Mother stopped packing, came over to the table, and put her hands on Lauren’s shoulders. “Lauren, sweetie, I have to ask you to do something very hard. While I am gone, you must watch over the boys.” With a bittersweet look on her face, Mother stroked Lauren’s hair. “Clark’s Ford will be a day there and back and maybe a day of searching.”

“Mama, what are you saying?” Lauren asked as she turned to look at her mother. Aiden had never seen Lauren look so scared.

“Before you children were born, your father and I fought the Darkness together. I have to go help him now. I need you to make sure you and the boys are fed while I’m gone.” Mother stroked Laurens’s hair as she looked into her eyes. “I just baked bread, which should make a couple of meals. There are cut oats for a few meals, and the last of the salted pork is in the smokehouse. You know about the eggs and the milk.”

Then Mother squatted down and pulled Lauren into a loving embrace. “Father was supposed to be bringing home some supplies to get us to harvest, so you’ll have to be careful with what you have. Can you do that?”

Lauren nodded almost imperceptibly in response to Mother’s orders.

Mother looked into Lauren’s eyes. “I won’t be gone for more than a couple of days and will bring more supplies when I come. God willing, I’ll bring Daddy back with me.” Mother stood up and stepped away from Lauren. “Boys, come here.”

The boys rushed from their seats and hugged their mother.

“Boys, Lauren is in charge while I’m gone.” Her voice rang clear and calm, though tears filled her eyes. “You don’t need to be scared; the Light of Truth will protect you. You all are very special, and I love you very much.”

Mother squatted down to their level as if to emphasize the gravity of what she was about to say. “Watch out for each other and keep one another safe. Please do your

chores and stick to your regular routine. If you need help, go to the parson. I’ll tell him what happened as I leave. He will send helpers. You will see.”

Mother held them for a moment and said, “No matter what, make sure the Light stays shining in the tower.”

“I’ll keep the Light shining, Mama!” Ethan declared with tears in his eyes.

“Us, too,” chimed Lauren and Aiden. Aiden hugged Mother extra tight.

Mother paused for what seemed an eternity, then gently broke their embrace. She took the sack of provisions, and the children followed her into the great room as she picked up her small black leather-bound copy of the Good Book from its place next to her rocking chair. Then she left through the door without looking back.

Aiden saw her put the supplies in Fleetfoot’s saddle bag and pull herself onto the horse’s back. Then with tears streaming down her face, she waved and set off at a fast pace.

At first, Lauren and Ethan were frozen in shock, just like Aiden was. Then a sob escaped Aiden’s throat. How could they protect the Light when he wasn’t sure how they would even feed themselves without Mother? And what had happened to Father? Was he ever going to come home?

Lauren and Ethan surely were wondering the same things as they both began to cry. Lauren shut the door, and the three of them collapsed together in the great room under the weight of their fear and anxiety.

3. Life Endures

Ethan was the first to break from their combined grief. He sniffled up his tears and pouted. “I’m hungry, Sissy.”

Lauren composed herself and wiped her nose and eyes on her apron. “Breakfast is still on the table. I guess we should eat.”

Ethan got up and grabbed Lauren’s hand as if he was afraid to lose another connection with the family. She got up, and Aiden pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket, dabbed at his own tears with the corner, then put it over Ethan’s nose. “Blow, little buddy.”

Ethan blew his nose into the cloth, and Aiden carefully wiped the tears from his little brother’s freckled cheeks.

Then the three of them took their places at the rough-hewn kitchen table.

Ethan took a bite of his eggs and made a disgusted face, “They’re cold and rubbery, Sissy.”

“The eggs are just fine.” Lauren took a big bite of eggs and then grimaced as she swallowed. “See,” she said unconvincingly.

“You don’t like them either, Sissy,” Ethan shot back.

Lauren’s face turned red. “Well, eat your oatmeal then!”

Ethan’s spoon was embedded in the oatmeal where he had left it earlier. When he picked it up, the entire bowl of boiled oats came out attached to the spoon. For a brief moment, Ethan sat there with his mouth open as wide as he could get it, then he tried to figure out how to orient the

congealed mass to take a bite. Unsuccessful, he whined. “It’s bigger than my head.”

Aiden let out a deep belly laugh, and a smirk pulled the left side of Lauren’s mouth. “Ethan, you are so silly,” she said. “But you’re right. This isn’t very good. Mother wouldn’t be happy if we wasted any of it, though. I’ll try to rescue it for lunch.”

“But I’m hungry now!” Ethan pleaded most pitifully.

Lauren got up from the table and found one of the two loaves of bread Mother had left them with. She cut two thick slices for each of them and put them on a wooden plate. This left just a thick heel from the loaf. Then she put a teaspoon of strawberry jam on each and took the plate to the table.

“We don’t have much bread, so enjoy it,” Lauren told the boys as they began to devour their bread. They finished their meal in silence, then Lauren pulled the serving spoon out of the empty spider pot and used it to scrape their bowls of oatmeal back into it.

Lauren put her hands flat on the table and looked seriously at the boys. “We can’t be wasteful. Mama didn’t leave much bread, and we don’t know how long she’ll be gone. With the summer heat, the chickens aren’t laying much, the crops aren’t ripe yet, and Clarabelle isn’t producing much milk, either.”

Then she got a tin cup and tried to fill it from the crock, but it ran dry before the cup filled completely. “I was going to let this soak a little and try to reheat it for lunch, but we’re out of water.”

“Aiden can get it; he’s strong.” Ethan offered with pride showing in his eyes.

“Aiden has a different job. We let the fire go out.” Lauren pointed to the oven. “I thought you could get the water, E.”

“But I’m just little; can you do it, Sissy?” Ethan pouted at his sister with puppy-dog eyes.

Lauren shook her head. “You’re not too little to bring some water. Maybe you can say hi to Sparkle Frog while you’re down there.”

Ethan’s pouty puppy face turned into a big grin at the thought of seeing Sparkle Frog. “OK, Sissy, I’ll try. But if it’s too hard, you’ll help me, right?”

“It’s not going to be too hard. So, move along. The water’s not going to fetch itself.” Lauren turned to Aiden. “Do you think you can start the fire while I clean up?”

“Sure thing, Sissy,” Aiden replied as he got up from the table.

The boys left the cabin and went their separate ways as Lauren worked on cleaning the kitchen. Father had picked an excellent location for their home. A freshwater stream ran nearby. They used it if the well went dry or the windmill malfunctioned, like now. The house’s foundation sat on a hill that kept the house from flooding during heavy rains. Father also set the barn and other farm structures only a short walk away.

Ethan didn’t see his father’s wisdom because he was whining inside about how he had to lug the wooden bucket for miles and miles just to fetch water. Tiredness made him irritable, and he nearly about-faced to tell Lauren he wasn’t going. Then sunlight reflected off the dew on the grass and reminded him of Sparkle Frog. Father had said that Sparkle Frog was a very rare type of frog, a Zourian Flying

Rainbow Frog. Ethan knew that Sparkle Frog didn’t actually fly, but he had seen him jump at least fifty paces.

Ethan’s favorite thing about Sparkle Frog was how the sunlight reflected from his back as he jumped. The frog became a flying rainbow. The thought of seeing Sparkle Frog motivated Ethan, bucket in hand, to run down the hill.

Ethan’s enthusiasm was short-lived. He stopped in a shady spot next to the creek where the trees completely blocked the sight of the tower. He set his bucket down and called for his friend, “Sparkle Frog, come out and play!” And he looked over, under, and around the tall grasses and creekside rocks for his friend.

His expectant cries turned to disappointment in not finding his friend. He thought about checking the other side of the creek but was discouraged to see how high the creek water was. The recent storms had filled the creek to its banks, and it was flowing faster than he’d ever seen. He crept up to the side of the stream and stared at the rapidly flowing stream.

Fear gripped Ethan in its icy grasp. The stranger who’d come to their door had said Daddy was washed away by the river. If Daddy couldn’t stand up to the flow, how could he? He didn’t want to get washed away, but they needed the water. He just couldn’t do it; he was too little.

Then there was a flash of light from his right and a familiar “quack.” Ethan turned to see Daddy Duck land in a sunlit stretch of water a few paces away. A tree had fallen into the creek, creating a little bay out of the main flow of the water. Ethan walked out of the shade and realized he could get water from there safely.

“Thank you, Daddy Duck. You saved me,” Ethan said with relief.

“Quack!” the duck said before diving under the water.

Ethan struggled with the right way to dip water out of the creek at first. The wood bucket floated, so he had to get it at the right angle to get it to fill up. When the bucket was full to the brim, it was too heavy for him to pull out. After multiple tries, he got the bucket three-quarters full and was able to pull it out and carry it.

“I did it!” he exclaimed to Daddy Duck.

The duck looked at him as if to say, “of course you did.”

Ethan felt so pleased with himself that he immediately sprinted up the hill despite the bucket weighing him down. When he entered the kitchen, he saw that over half of the water had sloshed out all over his pants and shirt, which dampened his spirits again.

He put the bucket on the counter by the water crock, climbed up next to it, then managed to lift his bucket and pour it into the five-gallon, white-enameled water crock. The quart or so of water barely covered the bottom of it.

Exasperated, Ethan exclaimed, “Not fair! I got the hard job!” as he realized just how many trips it was going to take to bring up the day’s water supply.

Just then, Aiden walked back into the kitchen with pieces of split wood for the fire. That looked even heavier than the water bucket.

Not wanting to seem like a baby, Ethan sniffed up his pout, jumped off the counter, and ran back down the hill to get more water, thinking: If my big brother can get his jobs done, so can I!

As he ran, he tried to figure out how to get the water crock filled up quickly. Father had always been there to help him figure out how to solve a problem. The more he thought, the more he realized that a big part of his problem was how much water had sloshed out when he ran. This time, he took extra care to fill the bucket and then slowly walked up the hill.

Ethan was able to make four trips without incident.

When he got to the kitchen the fifth time, Aiden was carefully blowing at the base of the fire, creating a bigger flame. He turned to Ethan and exclaimed, “I did it! I started the fire!” He pointed at his glowing creation. “Look, E. We’re going to have lunch soon!” Then Aiden went to the table and used the handle to carry the spider pot and set it on the floor beside the fireplace. “Sissy will be surprised that we got lunch ready. Since you got the water, do you want to put it in?”

Ethan got so excited at the responsibility of helping in another way he didn’t really think about what he was doing and just dumped the entire bucket into the pot. It overflowed, spilling all over the floor. Luckily, the oatmeal was still a congealed blob stuck to the bottom, so little of it washed out.

“I did it too!” Ethan exclaimed.

Aiden looked really mad for an instant—as if Ethan had done something wrong. Then Aiden’s expression softened, “You did it too.” Aiden shook his head and chuckled.

As the water began to drain between the floorboards, Ethan asked, “When will it be ready?”

“It shouldn’t take too long; we just have to get it in the oven,” Aiden said as he put the cast iron lid on the spider pot.

Aiden seemed to strain to lift the pot off the floor with the added weight of the water and the lid. “Do you need help?” Ethan asked.

“I’ve got it,” Aiden huffed back. He switched from using the handle to squatting down and wrapping the pot in a bear hug. He was able to get it off the ground, but since the fireplace in the kitchen was a brick oven that was chest- high for Aiden, he had to strain to get the pot in place. He was finally able to rest one of the pot’s three feet on the brick edge of the fireplace and then quickly re-oriented his hands to the sides to keep from getting burned.

Just then, Lauren came inside carrying a slab of ham and said excitedly, “I found the last bit of ham!”

This distracted Aiden; as he pushed the pot further into the fireplace, a foot spike caught on a gap in the bricks, and it tipped toward the fire; water cascaded out. Before Aiden could correct his movement, the spider pot tipped further, and the lid slid off, crashing into the flames and scattering the wood inside the fireplace.

The fire hissed and snapped as liquid engulfed it.

Before Aiden’s eyes, the water extinguished his beautiful fire.

Lauren rushed up to try to help Aiden, ham in hand.

Then the whole thing backwashed ashy water and partially burnt sticks out of the fireplace and all down Aiden’s shirt.

The floor was already wet from Ethan’s spill, and the ashy sludge added to the slippery mess. Lauren’s leather- bottomed shoes slid, and she prevented herself from falling

by dropping the slab of meat and catching the side of the oven. The ham landed with a plop in the middle of the ashy slime.

At the same time, more smoke and steam than could be handled by the flue billowed out of the oven, cloaking the kitchen into momentary darkness as it obscured the light from the window.

“Aiden!” Ethan yelled. “How are we going to have oaka-meal now? The fire’s drownded!” Not only had the fire died, but now he’d have to fetch more water.

“Aiden, what were you thinking!” Lauren blurted out as her whole face went red. Ethan could almost feel the heat radiating off her as she yelled. “That was our last ham! It’s ruined.”

“I guess I didn’t lift it high enough. I couldn’t really see. It was really heavy.” Aiden turned red, his eyes downcast.

Lauren paused for a moment, taking a deep breath as if she were composing herself. A tiny gust of wind cleared the smoke and steam. Then she said evenly, “Maybe next time, don’t fill it so full and let me help you.” Lauren put an arm around Aiden’s shoulder to give him a hug.

“I’m sorry,” Aiden said as he hung his head. “I didn’t mean to mess things up. I had a real fire and everything. We were going to do it on our own to surprise you.”

Lauren pulled both brothers close. “I appreciate that you wanted to surprise me, but we can’t afford to waste a thing right now. I know you want to be strong like Daddy. But he always says sometimes, being strong is knowing when you need to ask for help. Ask for help next time, OK?”

Aiden nodded.

Ethan realized that he was going to have to get more water, and now his stomach was really growling. “I want oaka-meal, and I want it now! I’m hungry, and getting water is hard!” Ethan stomped his foot. “I need food.”

“Let’s not fight or get grumbly,” Lauren said as she squatted down to Ethan’s eye level and put her hands on his shoulders. “That’s what the Dark One wants.”

“OK, Sissy,” Ethan replied sheepishly. “But what are we going to eat?”

Lauren looked around the kitchen and shook her head. “It’s going to take a while to clean up the mess to be able to make another fire.”

“I’m sorry, Sissy,” Aiden apologized again.

“It will be alright.” Lauren patted him on the shoulder. “I really wanted to keep the bread for the Sabbath as I’m not sure I can make the overnight oatmeal work, but I guess we’ll have bread and jam again now and find out about the oatmeal tomorrow.”

As Lauren reached for the bread knife, they heard the squishy clip-clop of hoofbeats from out the kitchen window.

Ethan wondered who could be coming to their house. Was Mama coming home? “Sissy! Let’s see who it is!” Ethan cried as he rushed out the kitchen door, and Lauren and Aiden hurried to follow.

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