In a time and place where his wrongness would lead to him being stoned or burned unto his death, Ezekiel found a way to fulfil all of his duties as given to be him by God, and yet still be true to himself.
This is the story of Ezekiel's Victory.
And so, in the space of less than an hour, Ezekiel the strange and ungainly boy became Ezekiel the man – husband and father with, not one, but two devoted wives, a babe in arms and another on the way.
Hearing noises in the distance, Isabelle looked out through a gap in the curtains.
"It is time," she announced sadly. "I see the torches moving out of the village."
Her announcement cast a chill over the room. They all looked sombrely at each other.
Ezekiel nodded and bowed his head.
"Now it is the time for Ezekiel, the man, to end. I pray to God that He will walk beside me on this night."
Ezekiel turned to Constance and Charity. "My dearest wives! I pray you, do not hide yourself in the darkness but walk always in the light. God will be watching down on you and I shall find my place in His presence and watch with Him. Walk with God in your heart and know that I watch over you."
He stopped and kissed each of his sisters lightly on the lips.
"Do you have any other instructions for your new wives?" asked Charity – attempting to look demure.
Exekiel put on a stern expression but his eyes danced with laughter. "Only this, you should love and honor your husband's father as well as you would your own."
That raised a quiet chuckle from his family.
Then Ezekiel took a deep breath.
"My dear family will you gather around and pray for me. When you finish and open your eyes, your son and brother and husband will be gone and someone new will stand in his place."
Ezekiel's parents and his two sister/wives gathered around him. They each briefly hugged and kissed him and then they formed a circle around him. They linked hands and closed their eyes.
Samuel started quietly and sombrely singing the Lord's Prayer. The rest of the family joined in softly and the ancient words rustled through the simple building, filling it with the power of God.
Ezekiel dropped his head. He grasped the bonnet that he had earlier taken from Constance and tied it carefully around his own head. Then he carefully checked that it completely hid every strand of his hair. Finally he closed his eyes and allowed Ezekiel to slip away. He gasped with joy as he sensed what was revealed beneath as Ezekiel faded.
The prayer finished and the building became silent as those within it waited calmly for a sign that they should open their eyes.
A soft, gentle voice spoke from the centre of the circle.
"Honored Father, I present to you your eldest child, who is now named Grace. You have a new daughter, born this hour, yet suddenly grown."
Samuel opened his eyes and gazed in wonder at the girl who stood before him. She looked very much like his other daughter, Constance. She even had the same little smile and way of standing.
"Welcome, Grace," said Samuel. "My heart is overjoyed to meet you. Yet as I see you, I realize I have known you as my daughter since you were an infant," exclaimed Samuel in wonder. "Surely God has opened my eyes in this moment. Praise Him for this miracle."
He stepped forward and kissed his new/old daughter on the forehead.
"My eyes were also closed," said Isabelle. "I hope you can forgive me for allowing my firstborn child to suffer for so long due to my blindness. But now God has opened my eyes as well and I see you clearly for the first time. I love you, my daughter."
Charity spoke no words but flung herself to her knees and wrapped her arms around her new sister – sobbing silently into the folds of Grace's dress.
"Welcome, sister," said Constance. "I weep that you face such a terrible fate on my behalf. I weep that I must lose you so soon after discovering you in our midst. If we had but known, perhaps we could have welcomed your earlier and shared more of our lives together."
The others murmured words of agreement.
"This was meant to be," replied Grace. "Even if, by some miracle, I survive this night – I would not last long in this world. Should I have been reborn as Grace before this night, it is likely I would not have been here now to fulfil my purpose. If the people of this village would hang Constance based on mere rumors of murder, who knows what they would do to one such as me?"
"Indeed," added Samuel. "To those who don't know you, you would be an abomination, or posessed by a demon. Until God opened my eyes to you, I would have said the same."
The others all nodded sombrely.
Grace shook her head. "Do not be sad. This was God's plan for me and I embrace it. My life may be short but it is full of wonder. I am content."
Constance and Charity welcomed Grace as a sister and clung to her tightly.
Only Grace was not effected by the sombre mood that cast a pall over the rest of her family. She stood upright and proud. She was outwardly serene and inwardly filled with a quiet joy that she was now finally complete. Her feet were now on the path God had laid out for her and all doubt was swept away.
Grace turned to her sisters. "Go! Now! Go to the back room and do what has to be done. If they come into the house they must not see two Constances or all of our planning is for naught. You must now truly become the newlyweds, Ezekiel and Charity, as I have become Grace. Show only those faces to the world until it is safe for you to do otherwise. God will forgive Constance for taking on the seeming of Ezekiel because your husband has commanded it and you are duty-bound to obey. That you are both newly wedded shall not be a falsehood, for you have both married me this night before God and therefore God knows you as sister/wives to each other."
Charity swallowed a sob. "I would say to you, may God bless you, but I see He has already done so. Know that I love you with all of my heart."
"I also love you," said Constance, with tears rolling down her cheeks. "I shall pray for your soul that you are delivered from this evil safely into God's arms."
"Do not weep for me for I am Grace and God is with me. Walk with God in your heart. And walk always in the light that I may more easily see you from my place at God's side."
Grace smiled serenely and kissed her sisters. She took Hope from Constance's arms and then gently pushed her sisters away. The two girls scurried into back room and closed the door.
"Now," said Grace to her parents, "Let us face these cowards outside. I would rather not be dragged from this house, kicking and screaming."
With Hope cradled in her arms and her parents flanking her, she walked out through the door.
The three of them stopped just beyond the threshold. A river of torches flowed towards them from the village. The flickering torchlight picked up reflections of pitchforks and angry faces.
Grace glanced about as the three of them stood outside their door.
"There has been much said of duty tonight," she said softly. "A son's duty to his hearth is to stand before the threshold and protect his home from thieves and brigands such as these have become."
Samuel nodded. "Then let us stand here and wait for them and so let my lost son fulfil that duty, also."
"And yet," said Isabelle, "of all of the duties mentioned, the first duty is to hold God in our hearts. Even when faced by such wickedness, it is possible to hold God in our hearts."
Samuel nodded sombrely. "We shall hold God in our hearts."
Grace smiled serenely. "I feel at peace with myself and with God for the first time in my life. It shall not be difficult to hold God in my heart for I search inside myself and all I find is God's love. I am filled with it. My heart is too small a vessel to hold all God's presence that is within me at this instant."
The procession finally arrived and stopped as the villagers arranged themselves into a rough half circle around the front of the house. They growled to see the girl they came for standing between Samuel and Isabelle, calmly holding her adulterous child.
"Why do you come here and disturb our peace?" shouted Samuel.
"We come for the murderess," replied a shout from the crowd. "Adulteress!" shouted another. "Whore!"
"Where is the judge? What proof do you have? I call for a trial?" shouted Samuel
"What need do we have for a judge?" shouted someone. "We've already held the trial!" shouted another. "She is guilty! It is as plain as day."
"I shall pray for all of your souls," shouted Isabelle. "For you have lost your way. No man who holds God in his heart could do what you do this night. You women here tonight should crawl away in shame. You have stepped out of the light and walk now in darkness. I shall pray for you all!"
"Send her to us!" they called, pointing at the girl who stood between her parents. "Send her out, or we shall come and drag her out!"
Grace kissed the babe in her arms and handed her to Samuel. "Hold onto Hope!" said Grace. "And hold onto hope. Tomorrow you must all flee this place as we have planned. For surely these people are lost and you are in peril if you stay among them. Furthermore, our subterfuge would not last long if you remain here, and their anger at being deceived would be dreadful. By all means pray for their souls. But do so far, far from here. Walk with God."
"Walk with God," her parents echoed.
"If it is me that you want," called Grace in a soft but clear voice, "then I shall come with you, freely."
Then Grace stepped forward and walked boldly towards the crowd. The villagers were surprised and didn't know what to do, so they fell back and made space for her. Grace would not meet their gazes, but her head was held high and she walked with bold and confident steps.
Deprived of the chance to grab and drag and maybe even beat her, the villagers surrounded and escorted her with their pitchforks waving and their torches flickering. A few braver souls reached out and poked or pushed her but her lack of reaction unnerved them so they contented themselves with shouting out their abuse and their hatred.
Grace walked amongst them, unaffected by their hostility.
A few of those walking close noticed a small smile on her face in the flickering light of the torches. They were puzzled by the smile on the face of one condemned.
They had no way of knowing that the smile came from the joy of finally becoming who she had always been meant to be – no matter how briefly. And the smile came from thinking of her sisters, saved from the rope and saved from a joyless marriage. And the smile came from thinking of her sisters free to live their lives in a new town as women in a way that she could never have lived. And the smile came from the Grace of God that burnt like a fire within her.
Samuel and Isabelle watched from in front of their door as the parade of torches wound its way away down the track and then off to the right where an ancient tree stood on the hilltop – hidden in the darkness. After a short time, Charity and 'Ezekiel' slipped out of the house and stood with their parents. Samuel greeted them with a kiss to their foreheads. Then Isabelle embraced them both, together.
Together, they watched the procession of flickering torches clumped and massed around the top of the distant hill.
They quietly prayed for the soul of their daughter and sister. And they prayed for the souls of those who had fallen into evil. And they prayed for Abigail whose bitter words had sparked these awful events.
Then they fell silent and watched the distant torches flicker as shouts and jeers drifted through the darkness.
There was a moment of quiet.
Then there was a single great cheer.
Then there was silence.
Samuel, his voice breaking with emotion, softly began to sing the Lord's Prayer. His family joined in – singing in little more than whispers.
Some time later the mob of torches broke apart as the people separated and made their own way down the hill and back to their own homes.
It was done.
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